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Raising Boys in a World of Toxic Masculinity

Photograph by Twenty20

Something happened a few weeks ago that I'll never forget.

I was at the park when I heard a father yell at his son for crying when he fell off the slide. "Stop crying. Toughen up, boy! Don't be a baby!" he said to his 2-year-old who, to many, would be just that: a baby. I couldn't help but wonder if that little boy was a girl, would he treat her the same way? And what's the potential long-term impact of teaching that boy to stuff his emotions?

Like many parents, I've grown concerned about raising my kids in this crazy world we seem to be living in. It's to the point where I'm now scared to turn on the news. And as a boy mom, it feels extra terrifying. Because, like it or not, most of these horrific stories have to do with a man.

If we aren't talking about toxic masculinity when it comes to mass shootings and many of of the other horrible events in the news, then we aren't paying attention to what's really going on today.

Stephen Paddock—a man—was responsible for the largest mass shooting in United States history. And lest you forget, 98 percent of mass shootings before Las Vegas was also the result of a sad, lonely, potentially mentally ill man.

And then there's Harvey Weinstein, a legendary Hollywood producer, who abused his power, paid off sexual harassment and assault accusers for decades, and allegedly treated women like they were objects to be taken regardless of their thoughts or feelings. And the accusations just keep on coming.

So, now what? Do we just wait for another mass shooting? Another man in a position of power to take advantage of dozens of women while the rest of his colleagues turn a blind eye? I don't know how this will ever end if we, the parents of this next generation of boys, don't step up.

They don't NEED to be strong every day. They don't NEED to be in control. And if they aren't in control, they don't NEED to be ashamed.

I’ve heard the saying “boys will be boys” often but they will not just be boys; eventually, they will be grown men. They will be husbands, fathers, friends, partners and colleagues. And it's up to us to make sure they are good people. But how do we raise good men in a world like this?

I believe the single most important thing that parents of boys can do is to combat this epidemic of toxic masculinity is to teach our sons to show emotion and not close off their feelings.

They don't NEED to be strong every day. They don't NEED to be in control. And if they aren't in control, they don't NEED to be ashamed.

Because as time goes on, this becomes a toxic brew of emotions. Add in violence, social media and the media's stereotypical portrayal of what a successful man looks like into the mix and you can see why we have the problem we have. The societal pressure to constantly "be a man" is resulting in men hurting others with a complete disregard for anyone else.

So, let your son be sad, disappointed and hurt. Let him cry when he falls down the slide and tell him it's going to be OK even if they aren't even "really" hurt. Because it's these life experiences and feelings that will guide him and give him that connection with others in the future. Let him be open with you when he's talking about his emotions. Teach him empathy. Model it in your everyday life.

We can raise good humans. We can.

Just like any boy mom, I have fears and take heavy responsibility when it comes to raising a son. I’m setting my son apart from the definition of “toxic masculinity” by reminding him he doesn’t have to be the strongest in the class. He is allowed to not be “tough” some days.

He doesn’t always have to be mask his emotions to show that strength. He doesn’t have to be the breadwinner or the most powerful Wall Street executive. He can still be a man and show human expression. It’s OK to not walk with your chest in the air.

I'm teaching him to never put a woman down and to be an ally instead. I’m teaching him to be nothing like all of those horrific men we read about in the news.

So, here's my advice to fellow boy moms everywhere: Support them when they struggle. Perhaps this is how we all make a difference for the next generation—because, clearly, something has to change.

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