5 tips for cultivating positive masculinity in the next generation of men

Motherly Collective

I was with my mother when my obstetrician called to tell me the sex of my baby. I wasn’t with my husband at the time, and so I handed my mother the phone, putting the pressure on her to find out the sex, and hold the information until my husband and I could find out together. My husband came home and my mother delivered the news: “Are you ready? You are having a BOY!” 

I am not exaggerating when I say that we were both completely shocked. I even exclaimed, “NOOOO!” Not because I was unhappy, but because—for some reason—I was so surprised. Yes, I understood that there was essentially a 50/50 shot of giving birth to either sex, but it somehow seemed impossible and implausible.

My gut reaction to finding out I was going to be raising a boy showed me that I had some work cut out for me. My husband and I both grew up in families with only sisters, and I had been studying the negative effects of masculinity on boys and men for years in my doctoral program. Let’s just say we felt more prepared to raise a woman than a man.

I realized I only knew about the harmful effects of masculinity and didn’t feel empowered with techniques to turn my knowledge into tangible, helpful and positive strategies for raising my son. A couple years into the process of raising this little man, and many years into the process of researching men and masculinity, I’m ready to share my ideas for how to cultivate positive masculinity.

How to cultivate positive masculinity 

From an early age, boys are often taught to be strong, self-reliant and stoic—showing vulnerability is often discouraged. These societal expectations perpetuate the idea that seeking help or expressing emotions is a sign of weakness, leading men to suppress their feelings. These and other gender norms limit men’s opportunities, and I don’t want the next generation of men to feel these limitations.

1. Embrace emotion 

Teach boys to recognize and validate emotions not just in themselves but also in others. Embracing emotion can help boys develop a deeper understanding of empathy, fostering kindness, compassion and connection

2. Cultivate strength 

Nurture boys’ inner strength and resilience. Teach them to embrace (and not shy away from) traditional masculine qualities such as determination, perseverance, self-confidence and the ability to overcome challenges. Teach boys that strength especially includes socioemotional development and skills.

3. Break stereotypes

Challenge the societal expectations and preconceived notions about what it means to be a boy or a man. Encourage boys to explore a broad range of interests, emotions and behaviors that are free from the constraints of traditional gender norms and stereotypes. 

4. Foster gentle resilience

Nurture boys’ ability to navigate challenges, setbacks and adversity with a compassionate and resilient mindset. Promote strength and resilience over and above resorting to aggressive or harmful behavior. Teach boys to recognize and manage their emotions effectively.

5. Teach respect 

Instill the understanding and practice of treating others with dignity, fairness and consideration. Teach boys to value and honor the inherent worth and rights of every individual, irrespective of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other characteristic. This is the most obvious, yet arguably the most overlooked and most powerful trait in a man. 

Addressing these issues requires collective efforts from parents. Start implementing these 5 foundational starter tips at home. Let’s raise the next generation of men with positive masculinity so they can feel free to reach their full potential. 

Remember: gender norms are unavoidable, but they don’t have to be harmful.

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