Men’s Health Week is an opportunity to recognize that men have unique health concerns, and mental wellness is often an area that is either overlooked or minimized – men are more likely to be told to “suck it up” and that their mental health issues are “all in their head” – but in a dismissive way. Men are far less likely to address mental health issues with their physicians and are significantly less likely to seek out psychologists/ therapists. As a result, they frequently have untreated depression, anxiety, and increased rates of addictions and abusive behaviours. Their rates of heart disease and stroke are higher than women. The conversation about positive masculinity needs to change at younger ages.
Toxic masculinity has been a focus of significant attention through the media in reaction to various mass shootings and the rise of the #MeToo movement. #MeToo is a powerful, valuable, and critically important movement that has been a powerful agent of positive change in our society. Unfortunately, some men feel personally attacked by this movement (and there are various reasons for that feeling), while others are strong allies. What makes the difference? How can we encourage positive as opposed to toxic masculinity – many men feel villainized by the #MeToo movement, which can result in feeling of alienation, fear, and anger and, coupled with social pressure to not seek out help, some men turn to more hostile responses? A focus on positive psychology is critical in helping men to express their masculinity in positive and productive ways!
Boys often receive the same messages as men- “be tough,” “suck it up,” “don’t express emotions – that’s weak,” “man up!,” etc. These messages are ultimately harmful to boys & girls and subsequently, men, women, and society. More positive approaches – encouraging positive masculine characteristics such as protection, strength, confidence through emotional expression, etc. – is strongly encouraged. Only approximately 15% of elementary school teachers are males. More positive role models need to be made available to boys and can be scout leaders, coaches, tutors, Big Brothers/ Mentors, and community youth leaders, among others.
Things Parents and Educators Can Do:
· Encourage expression of emotions in behaviour, not just language (boys tend to struggle more with expressing emotions verbally; let them express emotions without using a lot of language).
· Role model positive masculinity – men can model strength in how they help others, how they interact respectfully and positively with women.
· Avoid shaming – boys are often feel shamed for engaging in play/ activities deemed to be “feminine” – real masculine strength lies in being comfortable with oneself and one’s choices.
· Boys may be very competitive – focus on competing fairly and enthusiastically, decrease the focus on the win (which, of course, means there must be a loser – be a good respectful winner and respect the competition as much as – if not more than – the win)
· Boys can be uncomfortable talking about their feelings and may express their discomfort by avoiding eye contact, quickly agreeing to “shut down” the conversation, acting out in anger, etc. Try to put on your “boy” lens and incorporate a distracting activity into discussions about emotions – play catch, play a video game, build something while talking and listening – an activity helps boys avoid eye contact without being disrespectful. It decreases the emotional intensity and you may get WAY more out of the interaction (plus, it’s fun!)