Is there a better way to raise boys to avoid toxic masculinity?

Taylor Mooney

Watch the CBSN Originals documentary, "Speaking Frankly: Raising Boys," in the video player above.

Roe Anderson, a lifelong Tennessee resident and mother of a 10-year-old son, sits at her dining room table and recalls the earlier years of her son's childhood. She was excited to find out she was having a son, believing that boys were easier to raise than girls because they were tough enough to fend for themselves without a lot of support.

To foster that, she put her son in male-dominated sports. "It started maybe at the age of 4 or 5. I began to toss him in sports. I started throwing him into baseball, football, all of these sports and thinking, 'Well, you're a boy. Boys do this. Boys are tough. Boys are supposed to be aggressive and this is how you learn how to be aggressive.'"

Roe believes her initial understanding of what it means to be a man came from social conditioning she experienced growing up surrounded by more traditionally masculine men, and her situation is not unique. Many parents of boys and gender-nonconforming children are contending with these conceptions of masculinity and are trying to figure out how to balance allowing their kids to express themselves authentically, while trying to protect them from bullying they may experience from their peers. 

of mass shootings across the country, often after being involved in domestic violence. Bunch believes it's connected to their feeling isolated and powerless. "[Gun violence] gives them power, because they're taught, and all men and young men are taught, that you're supposed to have power, that's part of what being a man is, dominance, power," he says.

Dr. Michael Reichert, a psychologist and author of "How to Raise A Boy," says the attitudes embodied in the Man Box are seriously harming boys and men. "Those guys in that Man Box are the most unhappy, the most anxious, the most vulnerable to both being bullies and being bullied, the most often perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and most often prone to suicidal thinking," he says. "It's not a happy place to be."

The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention reported that in 2017, while women were 1.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, men died by suicide 3.54 times more often than women. Non-heterosexual men and transgender individuals are also more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender heterosexual men. 

"The research is really clear that boys and girls at the outset of life… experience the same emotions just as vividly, just as profoundly," says Reichert. "It's not the experience of emotions that's different between males and females, it's the expression of emotion. Expression of emotion follows what we call 'feeling rules.' Those feeling rules are culture. We tell girls, 'Don't be angry. Be a lady.' We tell boys, 'Don't be scared. Don't be vulnerable. Don't cry. Don't be weak. Be strong. Be stoic. Keep it inside.' That is so profoundly damaging of how we actually keep our minds present."

Reichert believes that adults are responsible for changing the narrative and creating a healthier environment for boys to thrive. 

"We are the ones that created boyhood, not our boys," he says. "We're the ones that are managing boyhood. Males as well as females. If we want to change the outcomes that boyhood produces, we can't look to the boys. We actually have to look to us and the message that we give them."

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Calendar: Week of December 9