The growing up years of children are marked by various physical and emotional changes. However, these changes manifest themselves differently in case of boys and girls. Males, especially adolescent boys, have a higher likelihood of exhibiting intense feelings of aggression and resentment. Quite often, emotions like anger may actually indicate the underlying feelings, such as sadness or loneliness. Therefore, young boys may need to be guided to identify the correct emotion and then manage it constructively.
From a young age, boys are made to conform to traditional masculine norms which often mandate emotional detachment and suppression of feelings. While girls are allowed to express their emotions, boys risk appearing feminine or weak if they do the same. Maintaining peer relationships, impressing others, and establishing their masculinity are important factors influencing boys’ emotional detachment as they grow older.
Emotional well-being leads to sound mental health, higher self-esteem and a positive attitude. As the United States observes October as the Emotional Wellness Month, it is an opportunity for parents and caregivers to remind their children, especially boys, to recognize their own as well as others’ emotions to build meaningful and long-lasting relationships.
Children’s emotions should not be suppressed
According to Meg Meeker, pediatrician and author of several books on parenting, teens and children’s health, parents may often have the urge to tell children to suppress strong emotions like grief, jealousy, anger and bitterness. She emphasized that this should not be done; instead, parents should support their children so that they feel safe in expressing their emotions.
Once boys are able to recognize a particular feeling, they should be encouraged to talk about it. It is not easy to express emotions verbally, and if boys are able to do that, it is a significant step forward which will enable parents to guide them. Guidance, however, should not involve giving advice or lecturing. Parents should only help their sons sort out their emotions. However, it should be emphasized that using physical force against others is improper, and there can be other harmless ways to give vent to their aggression or frustration.
Niobe Way, a professor of applied psychology at the New York University (NYU), has done an extensive research on boys’ emotions and intimate relationships with other boys. According to her, earlier in adolescence, teen boys forge emotionally intimate friendships where they share their deepest feelings and secrets. However, during late adolescence, boys adopt society’s norms of masculinity and usually shun close male friendships despite wanting them. This increases their level of loneliness and depression, adversely affecting their mental health.
Developing boys’ emotional capabilities
According to Way, there is widespread social isolation in the American society. The prevalent culture impairs the capacity of boys and girls to empathize and build emotionally strong friendships. Although social norms regarding boys will not change overnight, parents and educators can help in the following ways:
- Adults should examine their own emotional/relational beliefs and challenges. This will make them better-prepared to guide boys in navigating their emotions. It should be emphasized that expressing emotions is not unnatural. Boys should also be encouraged to maintain strong friendships with other boys.
- Positive relationships between adolescent boys and their teachers help boys in staying connected with their emotions and relationships. Teachers need to be proactive in approaching boys and taking an interest in their lives beyond the classroom.
Seeking help for troubled teens
Many a times, parents do not want their child to get any negative feelings. In their attempt to protect the boy, they try to change or “fix” his feelings, which exposes him to the risk of developing behavioral issues, such as low self-esteem, oppositional defiance, eating disorders, etc.
If you have a teen boy or you know a troubled teen boy, who needs behavioral treatment, White River Academy (WRA) can help. Based in Delta, Utah, WRA is a boarding school for boys aged between 12 and 17 years. We integrate multidisciplinary strategies and offer evidence-based treatment to promote lasting physical and emotional health. Call at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our experts for more information on the leading troubled teen boarding school in the U.S.