Friday, 21 March 2014

Boys don't cry

I was covering at a different pool a couple of days ago where as well as their main pool they also have a kids pool or "training pool" as they call it.

I was watching the training pool when a guy came in with his two children. A girl of around 7 or 8 and a boy of no more than 3 or 4. He seemed like a nice enough fella and a pretty good dad too. Not as affectionate as I would be with mine, if I'm blessed enough to have children in the future. But a fairly good dad all the same.

However, at some point when they were all playing a catching game and the boy was getting frustrated at the obvious age and height advantage his sister held over him, the dad turned to his son and said "don't cry". & he was right. Of course the kid was very young but there was no need to cry and in a very nice way his father told him so.

However, obviously the story cannot end there (that wouldn't be much of a tale now would it?). A few minutes later the young boy was on the verge of tears for a second time. At which point I personally thought that the dad ought to have told his daughter to be a bit nicer to her little brother and let him catch some of the rings he was throwing in their direction. But who am I to question his parenting? It's not like I have any children of my own. 

However, I have to admit that what he said next really frustrated me. I really wanted to say something. I didn't because it still wasn't my place but kids or not I could see how damaging what he said was where he couldn't. Because this time when he again told his son "don't cry" he didn't stop there but said "don't cry, only girls" (cry)! 

Now I know that there will be people reading this thinking what's the big deal. But this is a massive deal! In this case the young boy was overreacting and should have been told there was no reason to cry but telling young boys stupid things like "boys don't cry" or "be a man" can be so mentally damaging to them. Young men in this country (and world wide of course) are already under too much pressure without this nonsense on top!

As you can maybe tell, men's mental health is very important to me. In this country and right around the world too many men are dealing with depression and anger issues and a lot of them are dealing with these issues alone! Men just don't know where to turn and so the male suicide rate in this country is criminal! (Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 50 in England & Wales). That's why I will be using my big swim to raise money for CALM - a men's suicide prevention charity.

Now I'm not a psychologist but it seems pretty clear to me that this 'be a man', 'boys don't cry' attitude is having a massively negative affect and confusing the hell out of young men everywhere. Boys are not taught to deal with their emotions the way girls are - or at least not given the freedom to express them correctly. Masculinity teaches the opposite, it teaches you to ignore your feelings and suppressing feelings NEVER helped anyone!

Young boys - and men of all ages - need to know that it is ok to get emotional, to show those emotions, to cry and to ask for help. It is also important for men to understand that it is perfectly normal to get angry sometimes but that it is crucial that the anger stays within proportion to the situation. It's when it is out of proportion - and through a lack of effective communication - that problems start to occur.

There are a lot of angry, confused, depressed and lonely men in this world and something needs to be done about it. If you need more convincing - and even if you don't - maybe watch this VIDEO about the phrase 'be a man'. & this is a very good ARTICLE too. Because what does 'be a man' mean anyway? What is our role in modern society supposed to be? We need to be forthright and ruthless in the office, soft and gentle in the home (but not in the bedroom). We need to protect our families and make them feel safe. But at the same time we need to be sensitive to their needs and effectively communicate ours (which of course must come secondary to theirs). We need to look after them financially and emotionally making sure that they know we care (all while not really understanding what our own feelings mean or how to deal with them).

Through wonderful charities like CALM and events like the 'Being a Man' festival held at the Southbank Centre last month (I was really annoyed not to be able to make it along to this - hopefully I can speak next year!) I think people are finally starting to realise how important this issue is. But of course we can always do more. I hope that I can do my part!

And I want to leave you with a promise. That if I ever have a son, there are two things that he will NEVER hear me say: 'boys don't cry' & 'be a man'!

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