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Hands up if you’ve heard or used one of these phrases lately: “Stop being such a sissy.” “Grow a pair.” “You’re such a wimp.” “Man up!”
Even if you haven’t used them, I bet your teen son has heard or has been told some of them. Because that is the kind of society we, unfortunately, live in.
Growing up, society had very definite gender roles and expectations. Men were supposed to be strong and tough. No crying, no whining and definitely no talking about emotions. Those were considered signs of weakness and doing any of that brought serious scrutiny on your manliness.
Not much has changed and boys and young men are still held to these narrow and limiting expectations of masculinity. Society punishes boys who deign to show emotion and looks down on men who express emotions. They are ridiculed, shamed and hazed, all in an attempt to “toughen them up.”
When It Backfires
Part of the tragedy of our culture is that young men are shamed for not being manly enough. We push them to play certain sports or force them to pick up hobbies that we think will make men out of them, even when it’s blatantly clear that isn’t what they want.
But telling your teen to “man up” can actually bring him down, resulting in:
- Feelings of invalidation. No one likes to be told that their feelings don’t matter but that is the message we send when we tell teen boys to man up. They already find it difficult enough to express their feelings and instead of listening, we invalidate their struggles, making them feel worse.
- Mental health issues. Men have always been pressured and encouraged to be strong and unrelenting- to show no emotions. However, grief, sadness, loneliness, and guilt are all natural human emotions and “manning up” doesn’t make them go away. It only encourages young men to bottle up their feelings. Asking for help is interpreted as a show of weakness so it’s no surprise that more women seek mental health help than men. Emotional suppression has also been linked to higher rates of violence and suicide in males.
- Emotional detachment. A lifetime of hearing that their feelings are wrong and shouldn’t be expressed can easily lead to emotional detachment. Because feeling too much hurts, your teen son eventually learns to shut down emotionally. This can lead to problems forming and maintaining relationships-not to mention future mental health problems.
- Behavior problems. Having their feelings constantly invalidated and ridiculed just for being themselves is the perfect recipe for behavior problems in teens. With no healthy outlet, their pent-up frustrations can make them act out and seek unhealthy coping mechanisms including drug and alcohol abuse.
Changing The Message
We men need to change this cycle of misery. We can raise strong, independent, well-adjusted men who are comfortable expressing themselves. Let’s teach our sons to be confident in who they are instead of hiding behind a fake façade that society insists they wear. I am ready to do that, are you?
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