Boys will be boys – how to break the stereotype

Boys will be boys. We often come across this statement in support of erring behaviour by boys. For a change to happen we must change the way we raise our boys. Boys must be taught to resist stereotypes created by society - and here are some tips that can help.

My niece's son is a typical 6-year old, an image of the stereotypical boys that we have grown so used to seeing. The young lad loves cars and superheroes. He loves all the action packed and violent video games. He pretends he's Captain America and Superman and Hulk and what have you, all in one package. He jumps on the furniture, spits out food and is famous for his tantrums. He burps loudly and gets encouraged by all the laughter his action generates. He is a typical boy, encouraged to do all the wrong things, by his doting parents and grandparents. And of course, there's that ubiquitous pride that he is a boy – aka boys will be boys!

My thoughts appear to be biased; after all, he's just six. Am I being too judgemental? Here's the thing, he is a kid, and I don't blame him for his behaviour, but I find fault with those around him for creating, yet another, typical male. What does a 6-year know of what is appropriate and what's not? He gets his cues from the adults, who laugh and encourage his behaviour. They help him build an image that over a period of time will become difficult to destroy.

Every child grows up physically, naturally, but every child's psychological growth is based on experiences. Boys grow up with fixed ideas of manly behaviour, because of typical behaviour they encounter when growing up.

Here are a few random phrases I have heard in the recent past:

  • Boy's don't use pink colour
  • Are you a girl? Boy's don't cry
  • Don't be a sissy, behave like a man
  • Stop plucking flowers, you're not a girl

These are lessons to young boys from people whose influence matters. Who made these gender rules? Boys feel pain too – so why should they not cry? The movies and the video games don't help either – the flagrant lessons that young boys get is that they have to be a certain way, to prove their masculinity. Emotions are for girls. The sad fact is that boys end up learning what society expects of them.

Look at books and movies, advertisements and television serials. There is a stringent formula for males – they have to be tough, they have to be intelligent (read nerds), they have to be brave and they have to be lazy (at home) and they have to be clueless. The last bit is sure to raise a few hackles, but I am not changing my view. Don't blame me for being opinionated; blame the media for churning out stereotype males.

Recommended reading: How to deal with a child's tantrum

The stark reality is that there is some bit of truth in these male stereotypes; the media isn't lying. But, the thing is there is a tremendous lot of damage that is done by restricting portrayals to a stereotype. If young men don't measure up to these one-dimensional frames created by society, they are seen as weirdoes. Consequently, they learn to master the art of being the perfect male – they cleverly conceal the little facets that make them different, so they do not stray outside the frame.

Parents play a big part in shaping their young boys. They can counter all the falsehoods about the stereotypes, by letting boys follow their own instinct. By making them responsible and allowing them to express, rather suppress emotions.

Teach them to be capable

Most Indian television serials and movies and books and advertisements are sexist. A hulk of a man not being able to find his tie or not being able to get himself a glass of water or find his car keys. How ridiculously chauvinistic is this? The horrific bit is that we idolise such behaviour. The fact is that this paints men as being incompetent beings, incapable of looking after themselves. It also shows women as the 'eternal attendants', which is yet another stereotype.

The way to tackle this is to exhibit exemplary behaviour at home. If you are a father reading this, change the way you behave. If you are a mum, discuss the issue with your partner and work out ways to introduce change at home. Men need to lead by example and get involved at home. Young boys need dads who can debunk this typical male stereotype behaviour.

Apart from this, point out news reports where celebrity fathers are seen actively involved in family life, without qualms. Also highlight instances, when other males within the family and friend circle show adeptness at carrying out tasks that were hitherto considered a woman's responsibility.

It becomes easier to confront the negative images that the media can easily conjure in a youngster's impressionable mind. Negate the stereotype, by emphasising how the father, or the uncle or the grandfather behaves. Make real men into role models, instead of the larger than life characters portrayed by the media.

Censor violent media

There is a certain power in violence that makes kids emulate it. Censor or limit anything that promotes too much violence. Video games or television serials and movies that demonstrate that it is fine to adopt violence, to resolve conflicts, send a message that fist fights and gun wars are standard ways to settle matters. Young kids at an impressionable age should not be allowed any media that propagates violence.

Adults cannot censor (though I've recommended it) all violent media, but they can limit the exposure. They must simultaneously stress on positive methods of dealing with problems. Parents must speak to children about the consequences of violence, and help them differentiate between fantasy and reality. In the fantasy world, there is no telling what happens afterwards, in real life, there is always a price to pay for violence.

Recommended reading: How to correct social meanness in adolescents

Speak against objectification of women

Boys grow up thinking of women as objects of desire. Suggestive songs, raunchy dance numbers, vulgar dialogues – images of women in revealing clothes on display on billboards, all objectify women. Vulnerable minds are fed with the wrong image of women. And it is not something that can be avoided. Your teen, for instance, will probably be discussing girls with his peers.

In the face of this, it becomes important that parents openly show their displeasure at the portrayal of women by the media. Centre discussions on respect for women, and how important it is for men to respect women. In all this, make sure to introduce your boys to examples of real girls/women who do not use their womanly wiles to make it big. When positive reasoning come from parents it leaves a positive impact on the children's mind. Constant lessons on respect and on how women should be treated will discourage them from being hurtful and/or insulting to women.

Encourage emotions

Men are not very emotional. How often have you heard it being said, 'he feels it, but he doesn't show it'? Emotions are a very human trait, but somewhere down the line, it became unmanly to show emotions. Crying or expressing excessive joy, is not the 'macho' thing to do. Why does a young boy have to be taught that boys don't cry? If it was true, it would be instinctive, as so many of our other emotions are. Why must a man not be able to show sorrow through his tears or cry in joy?

Boys are taught to suppress emotions that spring up naturally – emotions arising from financial instability to medical issues; they learn to hide behind a façade, of all is well! This is actually dangerous as emotional distress when left suppressed can cause mental disturbances, such as depression.

Parents must encourage the display of emotions. There is nothing wrong in crying – it doesn't make you less of a man. It, in fact, displays a human side.

Recommended reading: Teenager behaving weirdly – could it be depression

Discuss superheroes

With rippling muscles and super powers, all superheroes are a figment of the imagination. Adolescents and youngsters do not understand this and are enamoured by the prowess they wield. It is a myth that body image relates to women. More and more young men suffer from complexes driven by unrealistic images of superheroes. They too dream of ripped abs and biceps bursting out of their seams. They liken such physical attributes to masculinity and can become disturbed when their bodies do not meet their expectations.

Parents can talk to their young boys about masculinity and manliness having nothing to do with muscles. They must lay focus on qualities that really count, such as kindness, responsibility, manners, independence and education etcetera. Give an example of real life heroes who aren't all muscled and are yet successful.

Also, point out that many cine stars and models with ripped bodies use artificial means to bulk up. They could be using muscle enhancing hormones, taking energy enhancing drugs and have personal trainers.

And finally

As parents, your job is to not swim with the tide but to help your boys create their own path, through 'healthy' choices. We cannot follow the maxim that 'boys will be boys' and then wonder what is happening to society. We need to step in and make a change, and the change must begin right in our homes. Set examples not just for your boys, but for your family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and strangers to imbibe.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 548 articles authored by Juana

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