A new study from the University of Guelph has turned stereotypes on their heads, but researchers shared a few cautions. It gauged parental comfort as children of different genders expressed their negative emotions.
Exposing the Bias in Exposing Bias
Researchers who conducted the study emphasized their findings focused more on thoughts than actions. While some might assume thoughts will impact how mothers treat their sons, that wasn’t included in the research. Instead, moms and dads were asked to rate how comfortable they were with photos of children expressing themselves.
The assumption was parents of both genders would be less comfortable with boys’ emotions based on the known stereotype that “boys don’t cry.” Then researchers uncovered a surprising trend. While dads were just as comfortable with girls and boys expressing negative emotions, moms were not.
In a study of 600 U.S. and Canadian parents, mothers showed a distinct preference. They supported girls’ displays of anger and sadness, but when it came to supporting boys, moms’ behavior supported cultural stereotypes.
How Gender Stereotyping Emotions Hurts Boys and Girls
The stereotype of “Boys Don’t Cry” causes serious problems. According to the American Psychological Association, gender-based emotional stereotypes pressure boys to commit violent and sexually aggressive behavior to prove themselves.
Emotion stuffing is key to problems that exist throughout a man’s life, including:
- Lack of adversity, and
- A lack of emotional control
In an attempt to churn out stoic little soldiers, we are robbing boys of essential coping skills. Worse? When combined, these problems lead to higher risks for substance abuse and suicide among boys and men.
How to Help Boys Express and Process Their Emotions
Helping boys acknowledge and deal with their emotions isn’t as simple as you might think.
Immediate suppression of negative emotions is a natural response common among men. This isn’t a flaw, but necessary space they need to prepare to deal with the ways they’re feeling. In these moments, boys need support and space.
Using analogies and stories can help boys explore and express their emotions too. A boy might say he feels like a balloon about to pop–or caught in the breeze, blowing out of reach.
And of course, being physical and burning adrenaline helps boys (and girls) process their toughest feelings. Punching a pillow, going for a long walk or scribbling in a journal can all help boys express themselves instead of stuff those feelings.
That’s something dads can encourage them to do. They can help moms encourage them too by identifying mixed messages and giving suggestions for healthy ways to process negative emotions.