My parents told me I needed to lose weight when I was 11 or so. The words were said with love, but they still hit hard. Young girls hold onto single comments like that longer than we should. I can’t help but wonder how it shaped who I am today.
Just like girls, boys internalize the words their parents say to them. And some words have not only hurt boys on an individual basis but negatively formed an entire generation of young men. Being a man in today’s society is difficult in part because of these 3 words that parents say way too often.
“Be a man.”
Think about when somebody says those words to a boy. “Be a man and stop crying.” “Be a man and go punch that kid who took your bike.” “You’re a virgin? Be a man and do it.” Beneath the surface, “be a man” tells boys to disconnect from their emotions, objectify women, and resolve conflicts through violence. Boys are being taught what being a man in today’s society should look like when we use these words to connect their behavior to their masculinity.
Beneath the surface, “be a man” tells boys to disconnect from their emotions, objectify women, and resolve conflicts through violence.
Few people are saying “be a man” to encourage boys to be men of honor or humble strength. If we want to repair the damage that has been done, we should start saying things like “Be a man and tell the truth!” “Be a man and hold the door!” “Be a man and admit when you’ve messed up.” For more positive phrases, iMOM’s free 10 Compliments for Your Son printable is a great resource.
Here are five other things today’s society says to our boys that send the wrong message about being a man.
1. Man up.
Instead of telling boys to man up when we want them to do something scary or unpleasant, we can tell them to step up.
I know you don’t want to pay for that window you broke, but you need to step up and accept responsibility.
2. Stop crying.
No one likes to be told how to feel or how to express emotions. If you want to stop the tears, give your son a chance to tell you why he’s upset in the first place.
It’s OK to cry, but I can’t help you unless we talk about what’s going on. Are these tears because you’re angry, frustrated, hurt?
3. Don’t be a wimp.
Your son might not want to play football or jump off the top step of the monkey bars, but that doesn’t mean he’s a wimp. Encourage him to show strength where it matters.
I know you don’t want to get a shot today, but you’re going to have to be strong.
It took a lot of strength to call and ask for a ride because your friends are drinking.
4. Pull yourself up.
Being a man in today’s society (and for decades, really) has meant relying only on your own strength. But real strength can be shown through humility and admitting you need help.
Your brother is really good at math. Ask for help. When he needs help with his science project, you’ll get a chance to teach him what you know.
5. Don’t let anyone disrespect you.
This phrase often comes before a boy is encouraged to defend his honor by fighting. There’s nothing wrong with defending yourself, but some fights aren’t worth having. Your son should know that strong men are not ruled by their emotions.
What words do you try to avoid saying to your son?