Is there a crisis with our boys? Expert says they need love, not discipline

Produced by Kate Murphy and Gabriel Noble

“Dear Men” is a weekly show hosted by Jason Rosario, creator of media lifestyle company the Lives of Men. “Dear Men” explores how men are navigating the evolution of manhood. You can watch the current week's full episode of “Dear Men” every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Roku.

The first step in dealing with issues of toxic masculinity is to stop sending boys toxic messages about what it means to be a man. Studies show that boys are struggling to find their footing, in part because of pressure to live up to what society tells them a “real man” should be.

So why are young men struggling? As a society, we don’t encourage boys to explore, understand and articulate their emotions, and we fail to provide them with healthy outlets to express themselves.

Jason Wilson is the perfect expert to discuss this issue with the Yahoo News show “Dear Men.” Wilson, who runs a Detroit martial arts academy, has dedicated his life to empowering young men, teaching them to get in touch with their emotions and training them to become more “comprehensive men.” His work with boys is so powerful, it even inspired a scene in NBC’s hit show “This Is Us” that shows a father doing pushups with his son on his back.

“Instead of just allowing them to be defined by what the world calls a ‘man,’ usually as someone who’s defined only by masculine attributes,” said Wilson, “we want to create a more comprehensive person. Where you can be courageous but also compassionate, strong but sensitive.”

He encourages boys to express their emotions to get at the heart of some of their fears, anger and frustration. In one viral video from Wilson’s training sessions, a boy struggles to punch through a board. As his frustration mounts, he starts to cry. This is something Wilson openly welcomes in his dojo.

“When they see men who cry, they have permission to cry. So I don’t never hold back my tears when I'm feeling an emotional overload,” he said. “This gives them a different freedom. ... It’s about changing the culture, more so than just trying to fix the problem.”

When Wilson first started the Cave of Adullam martial arts academy, he implemented training programs that were discipline-driven. “I quickly discovered that our boys didn’t need more discipline, they needed to be loved,” he recalled. “I was able to show them what it feels like — what it looks like — to be loved by a strong man, to be guided by someone you can trust.” Of his group of boys, all graduated from the eighth grade despite predictions that six wouldn’t make the cut.

For young men who don’t necessarily have a safe space like the Cave of Adullam to express their emotions, it can be complicated. “Dear Men” asked boys and young men if it’s OK for them to cry.

“I just had friends who were like, they would call you a bitch if you cried. And they weren’t good friends in all honesty, and I’m not friends with them anymore,” said Alex Rando, 17.

“I kinda feel like boys have more pressure because the idea of men is you gotta be tough and you gotta hold everything in,” said Rashun Pearson, 17. “With females, they can easily show emotion, but for boys you have to keep all that in and not speak on it.”

We have to rethink how we are raising our boys. They don’t require more discipline and they don’t need less love. We need to learn how to love boys differently, and it starts by learning how to listen to them. Let’s empower our boys to view their masculinity not as a burden but as a gift to be developed and offered to the world.