An interesting article recently appeared on CNN.com discussing ways in which parents need to reevaluate placing gender stereotypes on our children, specifically boys.
William Pollack, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and author of “Real Boys,” believes that for boys to be happy and healthy, they must be allowed to have feelings, to show empathy, and to be able to express the range of emotions encouraged in girls. Pollack is concerned that parents are continuing to adhere to what he calls “The Boy Code” in raising our young men – bringing boys up to be stoic, hide their feelings, to become quickly independent of their parents (their mothers especially). In short, not to be like girls.
Pollack is not saying that we shouldn’t respect the differences between boys and girls, whatever we perceive them to be. But the idea of defining male and female as opposites (as we do in this culture) is misguided and leads us into trouble. It implies that boys must not only separate from their mothers but reject the qualities associated with them.
“We know what we get when a boy is raised with the code,” says Olga Silverstein, family therapist and author of “The Courage to Raise Good Men.” “A mask of masculinity, false bravado, the need to be aggressive and to win, and to ignore or repress feelings of vulnerability. These are the men who seem strong but who are, ironically, weakest in many ways because they’re hiding or are unaware of their neediness and are poorly equipped to engage in any kind of honest relationship.”
Silverstein goes on to suggest some important ways to ensure that our sons grown into whole human beings:
- Continue to talk to them about our feelings and their own and not let them get away with putting us off.
- Do not be afraid to demonstrate our affection or anger or disapproval.
- Be honest about what we like and don’t like about the way they act, supporting empathy, self-knowledge, and respect for feminine qualities.
- Help them understand that both men and women can model how to raise a good person.
A child who is fully and deeply loved, who learns to acknowledge his feelings and is well equipped to express them, and who learns to take responsibility for his actions, to value compassion and live it daily – this is the boy who will grow into a man who’ll make a loving companion. That’s good for the woman he marries. Even better for the man he becomes.