TOWARD A NEW BOYHOOD
I usually toss out the alumni-magazines-slash-pleas-for-money that come from my family’s assorted alma maters. Surprisingly, this cover article from The Penn Gazette entitled, "Toward a New Boyhood," was well worth the long read.
The piece profiles Michael Reichert, the founder of The Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives and a child psychologist who has devoted his entire career to studying and counseling boys and young men as they navigate what it means to be “masculine.” His new book, How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men, sums up his findings as he attempts to break down damaging stereotypes and impart emotional literacy. His work empowers boys to admit vulnerability, allow for weakness, identify and name their feelings, and share them openly. In other words, allows them to be a new kind of "boy" with a chance at evolving into a different kind of emotionally attuned yet decisively masculine "man."
Most humans, particularly boys, are raised in a culture that tells them consciously and unconsciously to “stay strong," “be independent” or “to figure it out alone.” They don’t know how to ask for help, treat each other well and repair relationships that have been damaged. The science behind Reichert's approach reveals that boys need explicit direction, as do girls, and they need examples and group instruction in order to learn. His program, implemented at schools across the nation, teaches boys to thrive in interpersonal relationships while also instilling the belief that they are central to happiness and personal success.
"This generation,” Reichert says, "knows that their mental health is at least as important, probably more important than their physical health. They want tools, and they want skills. And they recognize, I think intuitively, that holding things in and trying to be stoic is not a very resilient way to be.”
Women, naturally, benefit from this shift toward emotional literacy as they all too often deal with the frustration and fallout of stunted, if not absent, male emotional capacity. A widely shared article in Harper’s Bazaar, “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden” makes the point. The author states, “There’s a persistent idea that feelings are a ‘female thing and it has left a generation of straight men stranded on an emotionally-stunted island, unable to forge intimate relationships with other men. It’s women who are paying the price.” Michael Reichert agrees but insists that men pay the price too, as do our families and society at large.
We all need emotional tool kits to grow. Our boys deserve emotional tools to thrive alongside our girls. Cheers to anyone cultivating a new generation of boys to men that celebrates emotional fluency.