Whoever said "men are tough and do not cry?" What rubbish!
As parents, it is our role and responsibility to support our children to have the confidence to know who they are, and the skills to live this, in spite of the fierce pressures to fit in which we know they will encounter through their life. That kind of labelling makes it very hard for them to be the sensitive young men they actually are. Instead, it asks them to ‘toughen up’ and this toughening up that men feel they have to do, most likely feeds into the ever-increasing number of mental health issues that too many young men are suffering from today. This pressure can be around from a very young age as an unspoken agreement in society that can be seen when boys get together in groups, it is like a 'pack energy', and is how they fit in and feel accepted amongst peers. It can be seen in families, friendship groups, class groups at school. This pack energy explains why, as parents, we may find our sons doing things which shock us, things which we would never have imagined them considering on their own, let alone acting out with others.
It is as though they become foot soldiers, obedient to the group and leave their sensible brain at home!
When boys get into groups, they conform to a dominant group agreement that rules by force, no words are needed for everyone to know what is expected and what is not. They can become intoxicated with its power, as a result of living in fear of being the weakest link, they become disconnected from what they know is right and cannot recognise the behaviours they are going into and the hurt and damage they are causing. Separately, they genuinely do not want to hurt each other. But in the pack energy, they do so, relentlessly under the guise of humour or 'that's just how it is'.
Case study A teacher on camp witnessed Fred ridiculing one of his friends Jim in front of their whole group, everyone was laughing, except for Jim. He was trying to put on a ‘brave face, but it was clear he was deeply hurt and very uncomfortable at being ridiculed within the group. The teacher spoke to Fred when everyone had gone. Fred shrugged it off saying it was done in good fun, it was 'banter' and Jim was ‘fine’. When asked to consider that perhaps he wasn’t fine, that perhaps Jim was very upset but didn’t want to show this, Fred paused and was genuinely shocked at the possibility of this being true. Fred shared that in the moment it hadn't occurred to him, or likely the group, that there was anything wrong with what they were doing. But in retrospect, knowing that Jim was a very sensitive boy, Fred was shocked that he could have hurt his friend.
Ultimately the 'pack' knows you want to fit in because it has a radar for who it perceives to be the weakest link, the one most likely to be targeted and under no circumstances is it safe to be that; it is very primal. Therefore, being part of the pack feels like it satisfies a biological imperative for safety - making it less of an option and more of a need.
You spend most of your adolescence trying to fit in, and then the rest of your life trying to stand out!
If we treat our young men as the exquisitely tender, sensitive people that they are, it can invite and support them to feel comfortable about being who they truly are; the more this happens, the greater the opportunity for it to become their 'normal'. In this way, they are then being role models for their mates, who are, in turn, being offered the opportunity to make different choices to the ‘pack’ - to just be themselves.
Accepting that you are innately tender, sensitive and caring does not make you weak, it means you have the strength to stand by your values and standards regardless of the pressure to conform.
Tools and Resources
Talk as a family about what can happen when groups get together.
Consider the importance of being able to walk away in situations we don’t want to be a part of.
‘Hang out’ with your boys!
Appreciate each other.
Let each other know you care, don’t give up.
Listen to each other without judgment.
Be honest and share when you don’t have answers – this is gold, as it provides a chance to connect with each other in being open and vulnerable to what is going on.