Is it just me, or does it seem that boys are flying under the radar lately when it comes to conversations about self worth, personal value, and body image? Not a word do I see about fostering their own body confidence, in my near-constant scan of articles on Facebook. To be fair, I am guilty of perpetuating some of this myself, frequently writing about saving my daughter’s body image and setting a good example for her to emulate; trying always to be the mother who exercises for health benefits only and shares a grilled cheese at the pool.
But what about our boys?
I could never forget the power struggle we overcame in our own home, with our then 7-year-old son and his issues eating several years ago. And yet, why haven’t my three boys been at the forefront of my mind when it comes to teaching them to love who they see in the mirror? Why was that a conversation we tend to reserve for girls?
What about the boys who, like girls, may refuse dinner as a display of control over their mothers and fathers? What about my son who abstained from French fries after his father, in a gentle, teasing tone, warned he may get plump if he ate too many? It was a light joke that would have brought laughter from any other child in our family, and remained easily forgotten — but to my oldest son, it wasn’t funny. At 7, he began his two-year abstinence of the seemingly harmless, yet now perceived “dangerous” side item.
This was a boy, not the “perilous” girl we wring our hands over as mothers, writers, and researchers at large.
And where are the Mean Boys? Are they an enigma, as well? We’re so used to talking about the mean girls that potentially lurk around every corner, yet boys seem to be placed in another category. Why aren’t we more clued in to the research about boys who are the victims of bullying, and the effects this might have on them later? I have seen little documented about their emotional struggles, and I wonder why they have not been accounted for? We eat up articles like “Why Technology is Hurting Our Sons” and fret about screen time and if video games lead to violence and whether or not they’re getting enough fresh air. All of this is important certainly, but I wonder if we’re forgetting that our boys are sensitive souls, too, with a lot more brewing deep within that they’re perhaps not articulating.
This year I have promised myself to delve more deeply into the emotional trappings of my second- and fourth-grade sons, along with the myriad of underpinnings that are just now forming their psyches. I make time to sit and talk with them one on one after school. But most of the time, I just sit and listen — and that’s when I learn what’s really going on in their little worlds, well after they board the school bus in the morning. My eldest happily eats his snack as he talks, spilling about the day’s events, talking about the boy who is nice to adults but vicious to kids on the playground.
The articles we read and write about empowering our daughters and teaching them how to respect themselves are moving, enrapturing, and heartfelt pleas. Believe me, I love each and every one of them. I just worry about how our boys get lost in this conversation, flying under the radar. Our little boys become young men, after all; and then husbands, fathers, and citizens of the world.
Are we preparing them for all that they can be, as we’re now preparing our girls who will work alongside them — one day, (hopefully) as equals? Right now, they are all members of the same small group. They are innocent and impressionable. They are vulnerable and sensitive. They are people who are developing so rapidly in a world that moves even faster.
Let’s remember to keep close watch on the emotional needs of our sons, just as we do our daughters. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that creating a society where both genders are equal means raising them with equal care.
These little girls and boys of ours will grow up to one day run the world, and we are shaping their hearts and minds with our very own hands.