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- author Jackie French

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Guest Post: Jessica Sanders on Supporting Boys To Feel Free To Be Themselves

I wrote, Be Your Own Man to support boys (and their parents) to move towards creating a new world where boys are free to be themselves and to support them in navigating a changing landscape for males. I intentionally reframed soft qualities, the ones that boys are told to fear such as asking for help or vulnerability to be both brave and strong. And in the book, I hold the readers hand as together we break down male stereotypes and rebuild a new male identity that is grounded in softness, respect for others, and authenticity.

In order to give young people the freedom to be themselves we as parents, educators, and role models need to unlearn our unconscious biases. We all have biases that restrict our thinking and that we unconsciously project them onto others. The best way to start is by being aware of your language and the expectations you have of your children and stay curious. I think asking ‘why’ is the key. For example, if you find the idea of your son doing ballet a bit jarring, ask yourself why that is? It always comes back to the stories we’ve learned our whole lives around what it means to be a girl, boy, woman, man. Once you start questioning and unlearning those stories you won’t look back and it will become a natural process. It’s also really beneficial to have those same curious conversations with your children. This will give them the critical thinking skills to see through gender stereotypes and form an identity that feels right for them.

Children need emotional intelligence skills in order to feel free to be themselves. The most common theme I’ve observed across all the workshops I’ve facilitated in schools is that boys ignore or suppress their feelings whereas girls talk about them. 

Talking about our feelings is an incredibly important part of well-being and builds emotional resilience. When we share our feelings we relieve the weight of them and if the person we shared with is a good listener we feel supported. 

Boys often don’t feel safe to talk about their feelings or even have the language to do so. As a result, they are emotionally disadvantaged. As an adult, you can be a powerful role model for a young person by talking about your feelings in an age-appropriate way. You are also providing boys with the language to talk about their feelings. This is incredibly important. We can't express our feelings and ask for help without the emotional language required to do so. You should be talking about feelings every day, multiple times a day. It’s also really great to have a specific space or time of day to talk about feelings. It could be at the dinner table or just before you read a bedtime story. 

If there’s one thing boys are scared of being called it’s a girl. Why? Because our society has ascribed softer qualities like vulnerability and sensitivity to girls and women and we don’t value those qualities, we see them as a weakness. This is a real problem because not only are softer qualities just a part of being human and applicable for all genders, they are actually what brings us together as a community. In order for boys to be able to respect the softness within themselves and others, we need to show them the strength that exists within it. For example when we lean into vulnerability, when we are our authentic selves, we give others permission to do so as well. By simply being yourself you can improve the life of another and I think that is really powerful. 

Jessica Sanders is a best-selling, award-winning author and social worker who creates resources to help young people reach their full potential. She is the author of three books, Love Your Body which was wildly successful internationally, Me Time: a self-care guide to being your own best friend, and her latest book, the Be Your Own Man.

Another wonderful recent picture book release by Australian author / illustrator, Scott Stuart promotes these very sentiments; embracing self-acceptance and empowerment in boys as much as girls. Read Dimity's review (from DIM'S re VIEWS) of My Shadow is Pink to complement this growing library of self-empowering children's books.