Discover more from Smart Writers
Fears for tears: why do we tell boys not to cry?
Around the age of 12, boys receive more parental disapproval when they cry than girls do.
A few weeks ago at a soccer game, I was coaching, my team got trounced. They are 7 and they are not used to losing. As soon as I called the game and they realized what had just happened, two of the boys burst out crying.
The first one cried loudly, and desperately. He was upset because he hadn't run hard enough passed enough or scored enough goals. It was the cry of a battle commander who had let his troops down, and his father hugged him proudly. The second boy cried because of a minor injury and a general sense of exhaustion. His mom gave him a stern face and whisked him away to the car.
Do we care if our sons cry? When I asked that question on Twitter, a handful of moms immediately wrote me back to say: Of course! I want my son to cry! But I suspect that only applies to the kind of parents who follow me on Twitter and even less so for the dads. The most fulsome and possibly honest answer I received (from a dad) was: "I don't mind at all when my 11-year-old cries when he is overcome with emotion. I do mind when he cries over small injuries.”
On the other hand, one person said “Tears are considered a sign of weakness. And boys are taught to stay strong. One of my friends was going through some hard times recently. Rather than showing his weakness to the world, he chose to end his life, devastating his family and friends. I would much rather the boys cry and express all the feelings they have as humans than stay “strong” when it’s impossible to be so”.
According to Forman, the first step in healthy emotional development involves both boys and girls learning to accept that all emotions, including the so-called ‘negative ones’ such as sadness, disappointment, frustration, worry and anger are completely normal and don’t need to be avoided, suppressed or feared. The second step is teaching them how to express all their emotions constructively, rather than destructively.
“Crying is a very healthy expression of feelings such as sadness and disappointment. If we tell boys not to cry, they may begin to suppress, avoid or shut down these emotions, as they are not encouraged to express them”.
This can lead to boys becoming disconnected from these feelings and absorbing the message that it is not okay for them to have them. Over the long term, this can hurt their ability to manage these emotions and, of course, this will hurt their mental health and possibly their ability to form close, open and honest relationships as adults. They may also begin to internalise the damaging stereotype that to be a ‘real man’ they need to be tough and invulnerable, which may be completely at odds with their authentic selves, which may be sensitive and gentle.”
Why do people cry?
There are some reasons why people cry.
To keep your eyes healthy
- throughout the day we produce tears that stop your eyes from drying out. These tears are known as basal.
To protect your eyes
- these are often a response to environmental changes, for example when you get dirt in your eyes or you're near some chopped onions. These tears are known as reflexes.
To express emotion
- this can be a reaction to any extreme emotion. Humans are thought to be the only animals to have this ability. These tears are known as psychics.
Some people say they also feel better after they cry - this may be because psychic tears release a natural painkiller in the body.
Others say they feel relieved when they release emotion they may have been bottling up.
However, some people find crying uncomfortable - they may fear being judged by others or think that crying makes them appear weak or vulnerable.
Society teaches males from an early age not to show emotions. Men are supposed to be tough and don't be a crybaby. However, I cry 3 or 4 times a week when I was young. I used to feel embarrassed about crying in front of my friends, co-workers and family. I had to learn to accept that my expression of my emotions is a part of who I am. It doesn't mean someone is weak or less of a man.
We want to know what you think?
Smart Writers is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and great insight on social issues, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.