Sunday, June 8, 2008

Strib: Boys Still Face Emotional Challenges

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

By JEANNE JACKSON DeVOE, Newhouse News Service
June 6, 2008

By fifth grade, boys know that there are certain rules on the playground. They know that they're not supposed to cry, especially in front of other boys, or show they are scared.

"If a boy doesn't do something he normally would do -- he's scared to play tackle football -- some people would yell at him, 'sissy' or 'baby' or 'wimp,' " said 11-year-old Thomas (not his real name).

Thomas said he burst into tears recently because other kids were teasing him and he got into an argument with one of his friends.

"I totally burst out crying after lunch, but normally boys try to keep that in or hold it until they're alone," Thomas said.

Even in this new millennium, boys struggle with the unwritten, unspoken rule that it's not acceptable for them to express sadness and other emotions, said psychologist Dr. Dan Kindlon, co-author with Dr. Michael Thompson of the 1999 bestseller "Raising Cain."

"Emotions become this foreign territory for boys," Kindlon said in a recent lecture.

Feminists helped broaden the definition of what it is to be feminine in the 1960s and '70s, Kindlon said. As a result, everyone accepts that girls should be able to play sports and do math and that they can have careers and be wives and mothers, he said. That has given girls the flexibility to know they can be leaders and still be emotional and nurturing.

But the definition of masculinity has not evolved as much, Kindlon said. Boys don't learn that they can be strong and nurturing and they still view displays of emotions as weak. So they are less flexible.

"We've got to expand that if we want our boys to be more mentally healthy," Kindlon said.

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