Emotional Issues In Teen Boys: Getting Teen Boys Talking About Emotions
A NYT article addressing men and emotional honesty begins with this anecdote:
“Last semester, a student in the masculinity course I teach showed a video clip she had found online of a toddler getting what appeared to be his first vaccinations. Off-camera, we hear his father’s voice. “I’ll hold your hand, O.K.?” Then, as his son becomes increasingly agitated: “Don’t cry!… Aw, big boy! High five, high five! Say you’re a man: ‘I’m a man!’ ” The video ends with the whimpering toddler screwing up his face in anger and pounding his chest. “I’m a man!” he barks through tears and gritted teeth.
The home video was right on point, illustrating the takeaway for the course: how boys are taught, sometimes with the best of intentions, to mutate their emotional suffering into anger. More immediately, it captured, in profound concision, the earliest stirrings of a male identity at war with itself.”
Emotional Issues in Teen Boys and Being a “Man”
Culture, family, environment, and peer relationships all factor into the way boys perceive what is “masculine”. It is not that boys’ brain development is so different from girls that they don’t experience a wide range of emotions, but rather what they learn to associate with being a man. Too often young boys are shown the stereotype of a “real” man, the swaggering hero whose only visible emotion is anger. Emotions like sadness or fear are perceived as being weak. Girls are often encouraged to be in the nurturing role, while boys are pigeonholed into the protector role. And you can’t be the protector if you are weak. What so many boys don’t realize is that being able to connect to and express their emotions will make them much stronger in the long run.
Encouraging Boys to Connect with Their Emotions
While connecting with teenage boys can feel challenging, there are ways that you can help them understand and express their emotions.
- Schedule a Time: For teens who are unaccustomed to talking about their feelings, being blindsided by an emotional conversation can cause them to feel threatened and shut down. Again, there is that perception that emotions are a weakness, so they may feel that you’re trying to point out their weaknesses. Instead, have a topic you’d like to address and let him know you’d like to talk with him about it at a certain time. This gives him time to process and prepare. Maybe you’re concerned about the amount of time he’s spending online and would like to understand the reason behind the increase in time. Is he having problems with friends and it’s easier to just interact online? Allow him the time to think about what his feelings are around the topic.
- Choose Your Environment: Sitting down face to face can feel very intense and intimate. Maybe if you want to learn more about what’s going on in his day, you can take a walk together or go for a car ride to grab a milkshake after school. These activities feel more low stakes, and give him something to do with his body while you talk. He can look out the window of the car or focus on the action of walking. This can give him a buffer to talk while staying engaged in the conversation.
- Find Positive Role Models: Show your teen all the different ways he can be a man who expresses his emotions. Maybe he’s creative and you can talk to him about male artists and how they use their mediums as a form of expression. Maybe he’s into sports, and you can talk about how basketball player Dwyane Wade has been vocal about his feelings and support for his trans daughter. Or maybe it’s closer to home, and the males at home can model for him how they express their emotions in a healthy way.
- Follow Up: Boys frequently process and release feelings in a quick burst of energy, and often in conjunction with physical movement. In a moment of overwhelming emotion, this can look like anger or slamming the door. In that moment, understand that he won’t be able to process what is happening for him emotionally. After the physical release, give him some space to calm before following up. It is important that your teen knows that you want to understand what happened that caused the behavior. Often they will fall back on “I was angry”, but try to get them to discuss the events or emotions that lead up to the anger. Maybe you corrected him in front of his friends and he was embarrassed. Instead of being able to vocalize that he was embarrassed, it escalated to anger. When you address the underlying causes, it can help your teen realize that when he communicates, you can change your behavior too. Now the next time you feel the need to correct him, you know that it will be much better received at home than in front of his friends. It’s another way that you can show him that you respect his feelings.
Equinox RTC Can Help
With decades of experience working with emotional issues in teen boys within a residential treatment setting, our founding team developed a clinically intensive, trauma-informed, neurologically-based and adventure-filled program focused on the specific challenges and needs of young men. The Equinox Difference focuses on respected, evidence-based approaches to the recovery from trauma, loss, depression, anxiety, relationship deterioration, and impulsive and addictive behaviors. Our holistic approach–which treats the mind, body, and soul–is just one aspect that sets us apart from other treatment programs for troubled teens. For more information please call (828) 471-0248.