Emotional Issues In Teen Boys: Getting Teen Boys Talking About EmotionsBeginning from when most children are able to walk, talk, and begin to express themselves they are assigned and enforced upon gender roles. Gender roles are unwritten “rules” created by our society that speak to how boys and girls should behave dependent on their biological or perceived sex. While of course gender roles may vary for both women and men, they are typically centered around the idea of femininity and masculinity. These concepts indicate that there is some biological basis for the development of gender roles, however, they are mainly socially constructed, and some of the beliefs they hold can do damage to the development of our young children. Masculinity refers to the attributes, behaviors, and roles that men and boys are expected to adopt based on their sex. Society expects heterosexual men, in particular, to conform to gender roles, oftentimes meaning they must present themselves as manly or a “tough guy”. Expressing too much emotion or explaining how you feel is considered feminine. Crying or feeling afraid is seen as a sign of weakness in men. Men are expected to be strong and fearless protectors, therefore taking the time to express or address emotions is not in the rule book. Because of this societal expectation, men have resorted to suppressing their emotions as they have been told this is the manly thing to do. Unfortunately, the reality is suppressing your emotions does not make you any manlier, instead, it makes you more at risk for mental and physical health problems including cancer and premature death. This harsh reality poses a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of developing boys and men. As parents, it is important to teach your adolescent boy the real consequences of suppressing emotions and how it is okay and even healthy to be able to do so.
Importance of expressing emotionsHaving emotions and the ability to identify and express them is important to our ability to connect with ourselves and have healthy relationships with others. When we are able to identify an emotion, we are better able to cope with and overcome that emotion. Expressing your emotions to others is one of the best ways to cope with emotion. Others can provide helpful insight, advice, or simply just a shoulder to cry on, all of which can serve as emotional support. Additionally, in the instance of conflict, being able to express your feelings in a healthy and mature way is essential in your ability to overcome conflict. Learning to express emotions in a healthy way has incredible benefits to your health and wellbeing, including but not limited to:
- Improves the ability to connect with self and others
- Improves relationships with others
- Improves decision making and problem-solving skills
- Increases resilience
- Reduces stress & anxiety
- Improves confidence
- Reduces depressive symptoms
Healthy vs. Unhealthy ways to express emotionWhile we have already addressed why it is so important that our society as a whole encourages the expression of emotion, particularly for males who have been denied this expression, it is important to note that there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to manage emotions. Unhealthy ways to manage emotions typically involve the harm of yourself or others as an outlet for emotional release. The following are examples of unhealthy ways in which someone may deal with negative emotions and healthier alternatives.
- Denial. Denial is one of the most common ways men in our society “deal” with their emotions. Sometimes we “deal” with our emotions by not dealing with or accepting the circumstances we may find ourselves in. This is a common way society has taught men to handle their emotions, causing them to not even acknowledge the emotions they are feeling. Over time feelings begin to become ‘bottled up’ and may cause a person to “explode” or act out in a poor manner due to emotional suppression.
- Withdrawal. In some cases, emotional distress can cause people to withdraw from social activities and obligations. This can happen because the person’s emotional distress has caused them to become overwhelmed, and social situations may exacerbate this feeling. However, especially in the long run, withdrawal does more harm than good, triggering extreme loneliness, anger, and distorted thinking.
- Bullying. Bullying is when a person uses aggressive behavior with the intent of causing some form of harm to others. Bullying includes using threats, gossiping, name-calling or inappropriate comments, attacking someone physically or verbally, ostracizing, and more.
- Self-harm. Self-harm includes any act that intentionally injures or does harm to your body. This can include cutting, burning, starving oneself, or participating in dangerous behavior. Many people choose self-harm because it provides them with instant or temporary relief, but it will not help the problem in the long-run, and instead will lead to more emotional pain.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet
- Talk with a licensed counselor
- Confide in family or friends
- Participate in relaxation activities such as yoga, reading, or breathing techniques
- Find and practice hobbies
- Volunteer for the greater cause
- Write a gratitude list
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Vent about your feelings
- Ask for help
Encouraging emotional expression in boysWhile educating your son about the importance of expressing emotions may do him some good, it might not be enough to incite behavior change, particularly in teen boys who are beginning to adopt more gender roles likewise to their peers. Emotional diversity is the experiencing of a wide variety of emotions, including a mix of both positive and negative feelings. Adults who report experiencing a greater diversity of both positive and negative emotions showed lower rates of depression and hospitalization time. This indicates a deep understanding and ability to identify our own emotions, a key component of emotional intelligence, is a protective factor to mental wellbeing. It is to no surprise that women have higher emotional intelligence on average as compared to men. The association between emotional expression and femininity has done much more harm to men than good. It has caused boys to grow up in a world where they are allowed a narrower range of emotions but eliminating the expression of these emotions does not make the emotion itself go away. The following are some ways in which parents may be able to help their son shy away from societal expectations regarding emotions:
- Encourage boys to read books that promote empathy
- Show vulnerability amongst other grown men in your child’s life
- Talk about feelings, starting as early as possible
- Let them know it is okay to ask for help
- Practice mindfulness or other healthy emotional coping mechanisms