“Stop crying! Boys do not cry.” This parenting gem is dished out to kids all the time- over and over society tells boys not to cry.

A school soccer coach remembers an incident a few weeks ago. The team that he coaches was defeated by the other team. His team is made up of young boys aged around 7 years and they are not used to losing. As soon as the whistle went off and the game came to an end, two of the boys burst out crying.

The first one cried loudly, and desperately. He was upset because he hadn’t run hard enough or passed enough or scored enough goals. It was the cry of a battle commander who had let his troops down, and his father hugged him proudly. The second boy cried because of a minor injury and a general sense of exhaustion. His mum gave him a stern face and whisked him away to the car.

Study after study shows that boys and girls differ in some parts of their temperament, but not in others. Boys and girls don’t differ in how shy or fearful they are, or in how angry, sad, happy, or emotional they are. Young boys and girls don’t differ in how much they cry.

Mums, for example, discuss feelings of sadness for longer and in greater detail with their daughters than with their sons. More often than note, boys are frequently reprimanded for crying and showing sadness.

Let’s face it, boys do sometimes feel sad. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Before puberty hits, boys are more at risk for depression than girls. 

As parents, we often teach boys that sad emotions are something only girls are allowed to express. This shapes their emotion schemas- those ideas we hold about what emotions feel like, how they should be labeled, and how they should be expressed. We aren’t born with these schemas, we are taught or they are impressed on us by society. For boys, they are taught that sadness is not okay, and expressing sadness is definitely not okay.

We have to understand that emotions don’t evaporate; they have to be expressed somehow. We have to teach our boys to deal with them. Expressing emotion should be “normalized” by parents. Telling boys that they “cry like a girl” can be harmful to their mental health in later life because it means they lose touch with their feelings.

As boys grow older and transition to men, they often suffer from anxiety, depression and relationship trouble stemming from the inability to understand and process their feelings. Issues of rage, anxiety, depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms like heavy drinking often manifest when men don’t understand their feelings or don’t give themselves permission to have them.

What if we let boys express sadness when they feel it and have a good cry every now and then? Here are 10 reasons why its important to let our sons cry:

  1. If they don’t find a way to express themselves, they will act out: Instilling the notion in your son that he’s a sissy for crying will force him to subjugate those feelings for fear of ridicule, usually resulting in his acting out in other ways to compensate.
  2. Labels can be self-fulfilling for a young mind: Eventually he becomes what you’ve programmed him to believe he is. If you keep calling him a sissy – a sissy is what he becomes, plain weak.
  3. Self-expression is important: Dissuading him from self-expression or engaging in activities that may not agree with your concept of masculine behavior will discourage him from developing skills that would have otherwise brought fulfillment and even a vocation as an adult. It is good for boys to have a healthy level of empathy,
  4. Trust is a huge factor in a parent-child relationship.  When you keep telling your son not to cry and losing your cool, you can irreparably sever this bond by violating his trust with what he will see as rejection when he cries.
  5. By telling your son not to cry he may cry even more! What may just be a passing phase or innocent exploration on his part might transform into a fixation by virtue of your declaring it taboo.
  6. You’re in essence sending a message that it’s not OK for a boy to express things like sensitivity, fear, or compassion. These are not incompatible with genuine manhood, and should be encouraged, not judged.
  7. Labels also have a tendency to spread; and when they start at the top, from a parent, they roll downhill quickly and with a big head of steam. A parent’s words carry so much weight with a child and can last a lifetime. It’s important to choose them wisely.
  8. It affects how they will parent in future: What we teach our children with our words and deeds is transferred to future generations. Negative labels perpetuate stereotypes. Our sons therefore go on to raise another set of men who cannot express themselves.
  9. Many of the virtues that we have historically attributed to the female gender can also benefit males as well as society at large; but they need to be not only nurtured but permitted in your son at an early age.
  10. We are not so much at risk of raising effeminate children by allowing them to develop their minds and hearts naturally, as we are in danger of handicapping them from developing healthy relationships and a sense of self-worth if we continue to prohibit them from doing so.

Let’s encourage our sons to cry if need be, and more importantly help them work through their emotions, express themselves rather than stifle them. Our sons expressing themselves through crying, is not a form of weakness.

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