Boys do cry! Boys need to learn how to grieve. Grief is the birthplace of compassion. Boys need to learn how to recognize and manage their emotions. So why do we say to a four year old boy who has fallen down on the playground and ripped the skin off his knee to “suck it up”, “be a man”, “boys don’t cry”? When our little girl falls down, we scoop her up, wipe her tears as she cries, use a tender voice and tell her it's ok. Why don’t we do the same with our little boys? Because that was the way we were raised? Because that is what the feedback from society is telling us? “ Nice guys finish last, no one will ever give you anything, fight for what you want, don’t be a girl, only girls do that, and never, ever let someone see you cry”!
The meaningfulness of telling children what is acceptable and what is not acceptable based on your gender does not go unnoticed by the child. We all respond to what we are encouraged or discouraged from doing as conforming to that desired behavior. At around age four, ninety percent of little girls are more interested in relationship play and 90 percent of boys are more interested in fighting the enemy, explosions, and what is called rough and tumble play. A boy will relationship play with a girl for a short while, but will eventually go to rough and tumble play with other boys once the opportunity arises. No one taught them how to do this, it is just how boys and girls are wired. Where it goes wrong is when the other ten percent are discouraged for acting against the norm. Where it goes terribly wrong is when boys are told not to show or talk about their emotions. Too many boys grow up without the ability to feel, and to be aware of their feelings that are being caused by their emotions and how to deal with them. The feelings just get buried until one day they arise in an uncontrollable wave of emotion.
Take the story of Kevin Love. Successful NBA basketball player who by all accounts had made it big and was living the life little boys dream about when they imagine being a professional athlete. Except for one thing. He was told at a very young age to “man up”, to ignore his emotions and just power through life. Until he couldn’t power through anymore. He broke.
Kevin Love wrote about his severe anxiety in The Players Tribune article titled Everyone is Going Through Something. He states, “I know it from experience. Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to “be a man.” It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook. And look, I’m probably not telling you anything new here. These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they’re everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water. They’re a lot like depression or anxiety in that way.”
After suffering an anxiety induced panic attack during an NBA game last year, Kevin finally sought help and discovered that talking about and understanding his emotions is just as important as practicing his jump shots. Mental and emotional fitness is much like physical fitness and skill training that he had implemented in his daily life. Under the guidance of professional help, Kevin learned that the death of his grandmother, whom he was very close to, had a profound effect on him. He says, “ I was devastated for a long time. But I hadn’t really ever talked about it. Telling a stranger about my grandma made me see how much pain it was still causing me. Digging into it, I realized that what hurt most was not being able to say a proper goodbye. I’d never had a chance to really grieve, and I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years. But I had buried those emotions since her passing and said to myself, I have to focus on basketball. I’ll deal with it later. Be a man.”
So the next time your little boy falls down, please go to him, hug him, tell him that everything will be ok. Let him know that it is ok to cry. It is ok to show your emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, love, kindness and compassion. Strong boys, as well as strong girls, understand their emotions and can name the feelings that they cause. That same young boy will grow up to be a strong man who is not afraid to love himself and in return show love to others. Showing your emotions is a sign of strength. A sign of possessing great emotional intelligence, A sign of a leader who knows who he is, has confidence in himself, and knows how to be kind, loving and compassionate to others. Someone who can man up and cry in front of others.