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Big Boys Should Cry.....

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Big Boys Should Cry.....

Post  Guest on Wed 7 Apr - 1:50

From The Times

April 6, 2010

Big boys should cry

Why your teenage son needs to show his emotions

There are five boys downstairs in my house, aged between 11 and 14, behaving, as far as I’m concerned, exactly how they should: two of them are wrestling and the others are trying to beat each other at Wii tennis, because that’s what boys do with their friends. Isn’t it?

Years of academic study, combined with what most of us would consider our own common sense, have helped to create the consensus that girls have friends with whom they share secrets and are terribly emotional, whereas boys have friends with whom they play games and sport, against whom they work out their place in the hierarchy but with whom they don’t talk about intimate things.

Now a psychologist at New York University claims that our understanding of male bonds is wrong. Professor Niobe Way has just spent 15 years interviewing teenage boys for her book, Deep Secrets: The Hidden Landscape of Boys’ Friendships, and has found that this stereotypical view of boys as unempathic, only interested in action and superficial, slap-on-the-back type friendships isn’t true. She found that boys between the ages of 11 and 15 are just as sentimental and emotional about their friends as girls and have no problem expressing their importance. As they grow older, these become inappropriate feelings for men so they lose the ability to maintain close friendships, something that Professor Way says creates untold misery in their lives.

Professor Way is not the first to research boys’ friendships, but she is the first to say that we are wrong as a culture to maintain the gender divide that says that boys are not as emotional and relational as girls, and that encouraging boys to lose their emotional language as they grow up is linked to depression and suicide.

As the mother of sons aged 13 and 11, I’m surprised at the gentleness with which the boys treat each other. My younger son’s best friend e-mailed him to say he was worried he’d be laughed at school in his new glasses and my son replied: “Don’t worry, you’ll always be the same to me.”

I recently watched a 13-year-old unselfconsciously slip his hand into his mother’s when she picked him up from our house.

Professor Way agrees that she was taken aback by the language the boys use to describe their relationships in her research. “It’s what you’d expect from someone talking about love,” she says. When asked what they liked about having a best friend, typical answers were “he won’t laugh at me when I talk about serious things”, “he’s someone I can share my secrets with” and even “sometimes you need to spill out your heart to someone”. “And thank goodness,” says Way, “because close friendships are essential to children in developing a sense of self-worth, learning how to socialise and eventually how to have a romantic relationship.” And reaching puberty is probably exactly the time you need all the help you can get.

At about the age of 16 or 17, though, Professor Way says boys distance themselves from their friendships and shut down their emotional side. “That is the age when they can no longer resist the ideology of what it is to be a man in American and British culture, and that means being stoic, unemotional and self-sufficient. Think movie heroes such as James Bond and all the superheroes: they go it alone and a big part of their strength is not wanting or needing anyone. Intimate friends fall by the wayside and those lovely emotional boys turn into the stereotypes we’ve come to expect — sport-mad, inarticulate, only interested in sex.” Way says it is awful to witness: “Their astute and sensitive voices become wary, and words such as ‘love’ and ‘happy’, so pervasive during early and middle teenage years, give way to expressions of anger and frustration.”

And this, Professor Way says, is lethal because, right at the moment in development when the suicide rate among boys increases to four times the rate of girls, boys speak about losing their closest male friends and of their growing distrust of their male peers. And teenagers without close friendships are at risk not only of suicide and depression but of dropping out, drug use and gang membership.

Professor Way has received letters from grown men who heard about her research, lamenting the loss of their great friendships. One man in his seventies told her how much he missed having the friends he had as a teenage boy and that he has spent his life trying to connect to others in the same way. She believes this sadness and loneliness is what ultimately destroys marriages. “We put so much emphasis on romantic love and the nuclear family that we believe all we need to be happy is to find a partner, which works for a while. But think of the uplifting conversations you have with women friends and then think of the isolation for men without intimate friends, with only their wife or children to talk to. It’s no wonder so many men abruptly leave a marriage, blaming their wife because something is missing. What they’re searching for, of course, is their friends.”

Valerie Grant, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Auckland, would argue that men have to differentiate themselves from women to compete for the most “favoured” females, and having to compete with their peers is what makes them distance themselves from other men. And as women get tougher, she says, it becomes more difficult for men. “There is very little space for men who need to strive to be tougher — the only place left for them is to be ‘strong and silent’. Only sport fulfils the fundamental need for male competitiveness and striving; and, with global media coverage, winning the village cricket match doesn’t mean as much any more.”

Professor Way, herself the mother of a ten-year-old son whom she describes as sport-obsessed, as well as a daughter, doesn’t deny that there is a basic biology to boys but insists that is only half the picture. “The way we interpret biology varies across history. Currently, we don’t tell our sport-mad boys it’s OK to be sensitive as well as to want to win. By making emotions female, boys are threatened by anything that could make them be seen as feminine or, since the late 20th century, gay.”

By continuing to assume that boys are not born with a capacity for emotional literacy, we are missing a huge part of the story, she says. “Adolescent boys already know this about themselves, but we knock it out of them and make them distance themselves from their own nature to get them to buy into the idea that the lone, autonomous cowboy is the ideal one. We have to find a way of allowing them to stay the same as they are at 12 or 13 as they enter adulthood, to prevent them suffering such loss, psychologically and socially.”

Deep Secrets: The Hidden Landscape of Boys’ Friendships by Niobe Way will be published by Harvard University Press in the autumn

How to create more emotionally rounded boys

1 Be careful not to reinforce stereotypes by saying such things as “big boys don’t cry”.

2 Encourage empathy. Let them know that they will get more respect from their peers if they stick up for the person who is being bullied.

3 Model healthy close relationships for your children.

4 Help your son to create and maintain close friendships. Sharing feelings does not make you a girl or gay. It’s what most boys do with their friends.



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Re: Big Boys Should Cry.....

Post  Susan on Mon 12 Apr - 20:49

Thanks for posting Schnuffel...very interesting

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