Ep 162: Could You Handle an Emotional Teen?

Andrew Reiner, author of Better Boys, Better Men, explains the new rigid rules for boys and how we can help our emerging men feel secure in a masculine identity. Plus, tips on how to build emotional resilience in our male teens.

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Full show notes

We’re all familiar with the term “boys will be boys.” It’s often used when guys are physical, detached, aggressive, and violent. making it seem as though these behaviors are the norm. Much of society acts as though these traditionally “masculine” tendencies are simply intrinsic to male DNA...which can make us feel like there’s nothing we can do when our sons get into trouble for it.

But what if there was a way we could talk to our boys to help them realize that this behavior is not the only option? What if we could show them that, by slowing down and thinking about the situation at hand, they may find it wiser to simply keep the peace instead of causing a ruckus? This week, we’re revealing how you can sit down with your son and prevent all the brawling before it starts, or get through to a teen boy who’s masculinity might need a makeover.

Our guest is Andrew Reiner, author of Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency. Andrew is a professor at Towson University, where he teaches a seminar entitled “The Changing Face of Masculinity.” His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR and more. He speaks at schools and conferences around the globe...but today he’s sitting down to speak with us!

Andrew and I are discussing why it is that boys are compelled to react with violence or aggression when triggered. We’re also diving deep into the importance of vulnerability, and how we can help our sons accumulate a supportive community where they can express their emotions without fear.

Taming Toxic Masculinity

Although we often think that unruly behavior is rooted in male biology, Andrew argues the contrary. As he says in the episode, male and female brains are almost 98% identical– in his eyes, it's our cultural norms and societal pressures that push boys in the direction of violence. That means that if we take the right steps, we as parents could create a generation of men who don’t feel like they have to fight their way through life! But how can we help topple this toxic masculine mentality? 

To start, Andrew explains that we have to get to the bottom of where aggressive male tendencies originate. He believes it all begins with the way we teach boys, in subtle ways, that they can’t be weak or vulnerable. Then, when someone calls them a name, cuts them off in traffic, or bumps into them in a crowd-making them feel weak–they don’t know what to do but feel ashamed! This shame provokes them to want to get the upper hand, to handle the conflict with aggression, says Andrew. 

If we want to free our boys from letting shame control their lives, the first step is to have an intentional conversation, Andrew explains. It might help to remind them that when another guy insults them, or tries to rile them up...it’s not personal. Whatever's going on with that guy is not their problem! They don’t have to feel any shame–and letting them know that can make all the difference, says Andrew. If we can help them see that their strength or dignity isn’t on the line just because someone else wants to ruffle their feathers, they’ll be able to keep the peace instead of throwing fists.

Now, getting guys comfortable with vulnerability is a lot easier said than done. Andrew and I give some tips in this week’s episode to help boys feel at home with their own emotions.

Making Vulnerability Viable

Having been raised to believe they have to live up to society’s toxic masculinity standards, many young men struggle with vulnerability. They’ve been taught to associate it with weakness! It’s not always easy to help them change their way of thinking and become open to being open. However, encouraging our sons to both process and express their emotions can help them be much happier and healthier. Plus, it might even save their lives–many young men are ashamed of feeling anxious or depressed and don’t reach out for help, causing suicide rates among them to rise in recent years.

Interestingly, Andrew points out that humans cannot compartmentalize our feelings. If we repress the negative ones, we’ll also repress the positive ones, says. This keeps a lot of our boys, who feel they can’t have intense feelings, from displaying their sadness, but also their joy! Andrew and I talk about how young men often take cues from the media, the same media which shames prominent men for exhibiting deep sadness or happiness. If we want our boys to believe they can feel freely, it might be wise to encourage them to think critically about the dialogue they see about men online and in the news.

Andrew advises talking to your son through the physical and spiritual effects of emotions. Why do certain things make them angry while others make them want to jump up and down with excitement? Helping them understand and communicate the way they feel can be a great start to free emotional expression. Although it may seem odd,  Andrew actually suggests that boys talk to themselves about their feelings! Sometimes, it’s the only way they feel safe to start talking things through at all!

Whether or not they’re working through things on their own, having a supportive community can help. Andrew and I talk in the episode about how you can help your son build up a safe network and share what he’s going through.

Creating a Safe Community

When we think of a group of young men who hang out regularly, we might think of a sports team, or even a group of boys who play video games together. Although these can be good sources of community for young men, Andrew talks about how there are often some elements of misogyny among these groups, or even an atmosphere of toxic competitiveness that pits guys against each other. Behaviors like trash-talking or one-upping each other are pretty common among these communities.

Oftentimes, this leads men to turn towards women or girls for deeper emotional support, whether that be a female friend, girlfriend, or a woman in their family. And while this can be helpful, Andrew emphasizes the astronomical comfort men can find from friendship with other men! Even when men have one or two close companions, they often don't feel a deep level of trust with them. If we want our boys to live emotionally healthy lives, encouraging them to be vulnerable with other guys their age can be a good way to start.

As Andrew says in the episode, the script for how boys are supposed to look, act, and feel is stricter than ever. It’s no wonder our sons feel the need to act out–they aren’t being taught to handle it all! Luckily, with Andrew’s advice, we can change that.

In the Episode….

Andrew has a lot of unique ideas about how we can transform visions of masculinity in our society. In addition to the topics mentioned above, we also discuss:
  • Why boys are so worried about “social perfectionism”
  • How most male prisoners have one essential thing in common
  • Why testosterone behaves differently than commonly believed
  • How you can help your son feel comfortable opening up
I really enjoyed my chat with Andrew and it definitely made me think about what rules men are beholden to in the present day. Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe and we’ll see you next week.

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Ep 162: Could You Handle an Emotional Teen?
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