Did you see the recent study that examined boys' and girls' thoughts and opinions regarding problem sharing?
The first line of a related news article elicited a strong, "No duh!" response from me. Check it out:
"A new University of Missouri study finds that boys feel that discussing problems is a waste of time."
As a mom of four boys and the ex-spouse of one overgrown boy, I can confirm for you with absolute certainty that the above statement is true. I'll also safely hazard a guess and say that you're most likely not exactly surprised by the study's findings either.
But if you dig further into the study and associated news reports, you'll find some nuggets of information that are useful for parenting boys.
For years, the study authors said, psychologists have advocated creating "safe spaces" for men and boys to talk about their problems -- but the real problem may actually be that much of the male population sees no benefit in talking through problems.
So where does that leave us, as parents?
Well, I've learned that I need to erase the idea of talking as a panacea. Boys (and men) generally don't find as much solace and support in verbally sharing their problems as girls (and women) do. On a day-to-day level, this means that the odds of one of my sons pouring out his heart to me because he felt slighted by a friend are minimal, at best. That doesn't mean that my sons might not be hurt by their friends' actions or inactions; it just means that my boys are more likely to express their distress in other ways.
It means that I need to let go of the rejected feeling I sometimes experience when my boys rebuff my attempts to discuss their problems.
It also means that I, a mother of future men, need to teach my sons the value of talking through problems. They may never consider sharing their problems verbally to be emotionally therapeutic, but at the very least, I want my sons to learn that talking can be a good way to identify the root causes of problems, to brainstorm possible solutions and to problem solve.
I also want my sons to know that there are times when verbally expressing feelings is preferable to physically expressing them. In other words, I want my sons to learn that saying, "I'm upset because Joe ignored me at lunch today," is much more productive than stomping around the house or hitting their brothers.
It's a tough row to hoe. Our society programs girls to accept emotions and to talk through problems; it expects our sons to be strong and stoic. I'm working against cultural conditioning, and years of male indoctrination.
But I want to teach my sons that there are other ways of being male. I want them to know that being male doesn't have to equal denying your emotions and suppressing your inner thoughts. I want boys who feel safe being boys, but who are also unafraid to act against male stereotypes.
How about you? Will you join me?