A 2019 study by the American Psychological Association found that our culture’s version of masculinity produces sickness and violence. Boys learn to stuff emotion, never show pain, never appear needy, and see risky behaviors as manly.
The unhealthy aspects of how our culture treats boys is a factor in why 90% of violent crimes in the U.S. are committed by boys and men. And because our culture encourages men to not admit weakness, boys and men are less likely to seek out medical and mental health treatment.
Yet, we know how to raise boys who will become more healthy, more civic-minded, and more productive. Here are just six of the many strategies that work.
1. Openly support and give examples of the positive and good aspects of traditional manhood. Men are taught to be leaders and have courage. That’s great. Give boys plenty of positive examples of true leadership and courage–like tennis pro Arthur Ashe working against apartheid in South Africa or baseball’s Lyman Bostock who donated his one-month salary to charity after he hit only .150 or amazing men like peaceful war hero Desmond Doss and the codebreaker, Alan Turing and Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and so many others.
2. Reject the harmful and false aspects of traditional manhood. “Boys who drink, take drugs, and have sex outside marriage are not normal teenagers,” says Dr. Meg Meeker, Ph.D. She says those boys have succumbed to unfortunate aspects of our culture. Healthy boys strive for virtues like integrity, responsibility, and self-control. Let’s challenge bad behavior and provide boys with positive behavior options. Let’s encourage boys to identify, understand, and deal with their emotions positively.
3. Be present as fathers, father figures, and mentors. According to the Children’s Trust, children who bond early with their father or a father figure possess sharper thinking skills, are better problem solvers, and perform better at school. Find a boy who needs a positive male role model and be that model.
4. Encourage men who are so inclined to enter the helping professions. We’ve done better opening traditionally male careers (building trades, for example) to women than we’ve done opening traditional women’s careers to men. The National Center for Education Statistics says only 11% of elementary school teachers are men. Let’s encourage men to explore “new” roles in caring professions like nursing and elementary school teaching.
5. Learn more. We’re fortunate. We have plenty of people and organizations already doing great work to help boys and men become healthier, smarter, and more productive. Learn about programs like Boot Camp for New Dads (325,000 graduates), Men of Strength Clubs (helping young men become allies in preventing men’s violence against women and girls), Becoming a Man programs, and others.In Plainville on April 28 or June 2 you can attend Daddy Boot Camp. Bristol, like a slew of Connecticut towns, provides many youth services to strengthen the healthy functioning of boys, girls, and their families and provides opportunities for youth to become responsible members of the community. In Hartford and across the country, the Boys & Girls Club of America offers a 14 session program called Passport to Manhood that engages young boys in discussions and activities that reinforce character, leadership, and positive behavior.
6. Don’t do a lot. Do a little. Women are rising and that’s both terrific and long overdue. That doesn’t mean we can neglect boys and men. You don’t need great power or deep resources to affect the problems of boys and men. You make the world a tad better with every small positive act you take. Be dependably present in a boy’s life. Listen and show empathy for a boy’s concerns. Add something inspirational or educational to a boy’s day. Tutor. Volunteer at a school. Teach a boy a skill. Spread the stories of boy heroes like Oklahoma 11-year-old Davyon Johnson who saved two lives in one day or California’s Jonas Corona who at age 6 created a nonprofit that’s helped more than 20,000 homeless children.Don’t let what you can’t do prevent you from doing what you can do.
Chris John Amorosino of Farmington helped raise three boys and for the last five years has served on the Main Street Community Foundation’s Men & Boys’ Fund Advisory Board in Bristol.