Masculinity and muscle
A Pew Research Center study from 2019 showed that teens deal with a number of challenges. Anxiety and depression are on the rise. Academic pressures and career choice loom large. Drug and alcohol consumption present threats to navigating teenhood. Bullying continues to be an important factor with 50% of teens saying they have been bullied at school or online. More than half of U.S. teens say they are worried about the possibility of a school shooting.
When one of his sons was 4, Bill and his wife hosted a birthday party for some of his son's friends. Both boys and girls attended. As they arrived, Bill observed the behavior of the children. Girls placed their presents in a corner of the living room then played quietly in the den. The boys rushed in, tossed their gifts in every direction and ran to the den swatting the balloons and pushing each other. Kids are pretty similar at very early ages, but already by the age of four, Bill could see distinctly different behavior patterns.
Too often we tell our boys to “be a man” and “get out there and compete.” Patterns that children learn and emulate can cause problems in later years. Boys can be discouraged from showing emotion, disparaged for having “sissy” attributes or ideas or playing in a way that might be considered girlish.
Bill's dad was loving and present in his life. But he still remembers being told to “buck up” when he was being tormented by another kid at school. He learned to keep worries and fears to himself or, on occasion, share them with his mother.
School sometimes brings trauma to young boys' lives, something we refer to as Locker Room Identity. It involves the heavy identification of boys with athletic prowess and assignment of success on the field or in the gym as a measuring stick for success in life. Likewise, the emphasis on sexual prowess among boys can alter how they see themselves and how they view girls.
Boys learn behavior from role models and especially from each other. We believe it is time to rethink what we teach our sons and the importance they place on power and control that have caused harm in societal activities and human relations. We need to expand the space around boys' image of themselves and allow for and promote a broader, kinder, more expressive model of behavior. This could help us reduce conflict, improve how we view each other, and live the Golden Rule.