After the post I wrote about the prevailing message we send to little girls that their appearance is the most important thing, got such a strong response, I started thinking about what messages we send to our little boys.
While I don’t think it’s as strong of a message as the one that girls receive, I think the message to boys, “Be tough!” can be just as dangerous.
From the time that they are little, we expect our boys not to be too sensitive, not to cry for too long, not to be as emotional as girls.
I think some of this comes from the inherent differences between boys and girls. My son often falls, whacks his head, or hurts himself in some other way and will just bounce back up and keep right on going without so much as batting an eye. My daughter would have been wailing.
But how much of it is taught, from a young age, that boys need to be strong, tough and not show too much emotion? That only wimps or sissys cry?
My son is only two, so I don’t really think he’s been affected much by these messages yet. But the other day we were at the playground and another little boy came up to Brenden and asked, “How old are you?” Bren answered, “Two”, and the little boy said, “I’m three, so I’m bigger than you. I have muscles and you don’t because you’re two and I’m three.” And ran off.
Brenden chased after him, and the little boy started climbing up a big slide and yelled back, “I have muscles and I’m big, so I can climb up this slide, you can’t climb up because you’re two and don’t have muscles!” And proceeded to climb up the slide.
What happened next shows my son’s strong willed personality. He got on the slide and climbed all the way up, with the little boy yelling at him, “You don’t have muscles, like me. I’m big!” I just laughed!
I know kids are kids, but why is such a young boy trying to be stronger and tougher than my son? Where does that come from? I only wonder what will happen as Bren continues to interact with older children, and eventually will start school. Will those messages become even stronger?
Studies have shown that boys who don’t know how to express their emotions, or don’t feel like they can freely express their emotions are more likely to be sad and depressed, and that depression can lead to violence, either in the form of suicide or violence against others.
I do think that society is becoming more and more accepting of boys and men showing their emotional side. I want to create the kind of home where my son feels safe to be himself, where he doesn’t always have to be strong or tough, and where he can express his emotions however he needs to.
What messages do you think our society sends to boys, and what are the effects of those messages?
One dad wonders: why are parents so concerned about “proper” boy and girl behavior?