Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Boy-vs-World

I recently talked about the Greatness Book for Boys. One of my pet peeves is when children are told that there is a certain range of interests that are for boys and another for girls. This limits the way that children of both genders can express themselves and share their talents with the world.

Just as girls who like dinosaurs or race cars are told, “You can’t like that, it’s for boys,” boys who like arts and creativity are often told “You can’t like that, it’s for girls.” One of the most touching things I’ve ever heard was when a college senior stood up in front of a large group of students during chapel and talked about the journey he’d taken learning to accept himself. He has a wonderful, fun, bubbly personality that makes him a joy to be around. But, as he was growing up, he was often told that he shouldn’t “act that way,” because being enthusiastic and caring was perceived as unmanly. Finally, as a college student, he learned to love and accept the beautiful spirit that he was born with and to see it as a gift.

He’s not the only boy who gets this message. Just as our products and media messages are telling girls that to be feminine they must focus on their looks and sexual attractiveness; these messages are telling boys that their worth lies in physical strength, material possessions and money, and often in being romantically involved with attractive females.

For boys in early adolescence, this can be very confusing. Developmentally, it’s very normal for early middle school boys not to be that interested in girls. But, when the TV shows and movies that they’re seeing depict success as a male tied to romantic relationships and with attractive females, they feel pressure. We see boys at this age being told that if they’re not involved romantically, then there’s something wrong with them.

Those of us who live and work with children need to keep sharing a different message with them. We need to let boys know that they have a set of talents that is all their own. If the world doesn’t get to see that, because they’re hiding it behind a façade of pseudo-masculinity, then everyone loses out. We need to let boys know that there is no pressure to be involved in romance until they’re ready. There’s plenty of time for that! Let them enjoy their childhood and learn to accept themselves as the amazing person they were made to be. We need to help boys embrace the beauty of their individual spirits as unique and important, whether they like sports or dance, cars or painting, dinosaurs or fashion design. If they like it, it is for boys! Let’s help them proclaim this.

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5 comments on “Boy-vs-World

  1. Dawn Bertuca
    July 27, 2011

    Amen Jen! It concerns me that Disney channel and Nickelodeon shows, aimed at middle school and younger children, heavily emphasize dating, kissing, and getting attractive girls to like you. I totally agree that this is confusing for boys who aren’t interested in girls yet. I have even banned a certain Disney show in my house because the male characters repeatedly use the word “hot” to describe girls. Unfortunately I also see parents of early middle schoolers allowing and even pushing dating on younger kids. I wish more parents were interested in preserving childhood!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 29, 2011

      Julia and Dawn, thanks for the support! I just hate seeing kids being forced into little pink and blue boxes. There’s so much diversity in talents and strengths, and both boys and girls need to be free to explore those.

  2. Julia
    July 28, 2011

    Ditto Jen and Dawn :) Boys and girls are having a strange time in this pendulum swing of cultural gender norms, it is such a great comfort and encouragement to read that others agree that helping both boys and girls to be internally motivated, empathetic, thinking individuals is desirable, as aposed to encouraging them to fit in at school/society by complying with manufactured ideals aimed at getting money out of people.

  3. flighered06
    July 31, 2011

    Good post!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      August 1, 2011

      Thanks, Byron! Still looking forward to that guest post from you. Maybe something on this topic?

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