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Society is constantly telling boys and young men not to express their emotions in order to preserve a view of what it is to be masculine—strong, tough and stoic. The problem is, of course, that boys have the same emotions girls do, so telling them not to express them is not only unfair but futile.

In order to keep from looking weak, boys and men can keep their feelings bottled up, and when they do come out, they’re sometimes expressed in negative ways.

“Young ladies are trained to be more empathetic and in tune with their feelings, and they tend to express them in healthier ways,” says Joshua Bailey, program manager of youth development at Men Can Stop Rape, a nonprofit organization dedicated to redefining masculinity in an effort to prevent men’s violence against women. But as Bailey points out, many times, boys learn to show emotion through anger, aggression and violence. The key to preventing violence against women, he says, is teaching boys about empathy.

“We believe when young men are more in tune with who they are and able to express empathy and love toward not only women but also their male counterparts, they’re less likely to commit acts of violence,” he says. “Once you understand empathy, you can understand the harmfulness of violence.”

5 Things You Can Do as a Parent

Widespread change will take a societal shift in how we view masculinity and how it’s portrayed in the media, but parents, teachers, coaches, youth worship leaders and other authority figures can make a difference on an individual level. Here’s how:

  • Ban “don’t cry” from your vocabulary. Instead, help boys find the words to describe what they’re feeling, whether it be sadness, embarrassment, fear, jealousy, anger, etc., and help them work through it without dismissing the emotion.


  • Be a role model. Teaching boys empathy isn’t just about what you tell them. It’s about what you show them. Tell your male friends how you feel, ask them how they’re coping with X, Y or Z, and be understanding. Boys will learn from observing how you treat others.


  • Be available. When a boy wants to talk about his feelings, stop and listen. He may not try again.


  • Try a feelings chart. Young children are not equipped with the vocabulary to truly express all their emotions. A feelings chart, which allows them to point to a picture describing how they’re feeling, can help them learn and help you understand what’s going on inside.


  • Read together. There are plenty of children’s books on the market to help little ones learn about emotions, like Glad Monster, Sad Monster, which comes complete with expression masks to wear while you’re reading, and The Way I Feel, which explores a broad range of emotions, including pride and thankful.