Raising healthy boys

A Psychologist's Guide To Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys | Henry Ford Health

Posted on December 23, 2021 by Henry Ford Health Staff


Being stereotypically tough, not showing weakness, fear or vulnerability—and not crying at all costs—are characteristics that have been drilled into the minds of boys for years. While this ideology is changing, we still have a long way to go. And in the meantime, this toxic masculinity narrative can have serious consequences, both mentally and physically. 

“When you bottle those emotions they’re going to come out somewhere, and likely in unhealthy ways,” says Kelly Melistas, a child and adolescent psychologist at Henry Ford Health. “Boys who have anxiety or depression and aren’t able to talk about their feelings or get the help they need can end up turning to addiction, violence, self-harm and in some cases suicide.  

"Completed suicides are more common in men than women, and right now we are seeing emergency department visits and suicide at an all-time high, especially between the ages of 10 to 24. We don’t want to blame all of this on repressed emotions, but there is also a correlation between bullying and abuse toward women and not having effective ways to cope with emotions and frustrations.”

Emotionally healthy people try to make sense of where their feelings are coming from. They ask themselves whether a particular emotion is helping or hurting them. Acknowledging and releasing emotions that are holding you back is so important for mental and emotional health.

Here, Melistas offers seven tips to raising emotionally healthy boys.

  1. Share your days. “Every day, in my family, we share the best and worst parts of our days,” says Melistas. “It shows our kids that adults have good days and bad days, too. You aren’t always going to be upbeat and happy and that’s okay. It also teaches kids communication skills and gives them an open platform to talk about anything and everything.”
  2. Don’t trivialize how they’re feeling. You might chalk up your child’s angry or sad emotions to developmental phases. But children have big feelings—and they are valid. “When we show our kids we’re invested in how they’re feeling, the likelihood of them continuing to talk about their feelings increases,” says Melistas. “If we’re sensitive, attentive and thoughtful, they’ll come back to us. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you when they’re eight years old, they most likely will not feel comfortable talking to you when they’re 17 years old.”
  3. Spend time with them without distractions. Give your child quality time together and let them choose the activity, whether that’s going for a walk, playing basketball or completing a puzzle. It creates a safe, open environment that allows them to open up in ways they might otherwise wouldn’t.
  4. Let them know it’s okay to ask for help. “One of the most important things we can do for our children is to demonstrate that they don’t have to deal with their problems alone,” says Melistas. “When I was growing up, the mindset was different. Our parents made sure we were okay, but they had more of a tough ‘you’re fine, keep going’ approach. That mindset doesn’t work for children in today’s world. There is a lot more they are dealing with and trying to figure out and it is causing increased stress.” If they don’t tell you they need support, look for it in behavioral changes—an outgoing kid who isn’t playing with friends, or a child with a hearty appetite who isn’t hungry. What’s going on inside is usually reflected on the outside.
  5. Defy gender norms. If you are married or co-parenting, let your child see an equal partnership. And if you’re a single parent, let them know they can do and be whatever they want, regardless of gender stereotypes. “Your kids are watching,” says Melistas. “We don’t think they’re paying attention, but they are. Dad can do the dishes, mom can mow the lawn. Dad can be a nurse, mom can be a doctor. We see it so much now with girls. We tell them to be strong, powerful, to break the glass ceiling and take these traditionally male jobs. But we aren’t seeing the reverse as much with boys.”
  6. Fathers, confide in your sons. Talk about the unique pressures and experiences of being a boy. “It’s just as important to talk as a family about cancer history as experiences relating to mental health,” says Melistas. “When your children see that you may have had similar experiences as them, it makes them more willing to open up—and they may feel comforted by the fact that their situation isn’t unique to them.”
  7. Give them a solid foundation to fall back on. Your kids might see themes of toxic masculinity in movies, TV shows, video games. You can’t put them in a bubble and shield them from everything, but you can give them the tools to know what is right and what isn’t. “We don’t want anything more for our kids than to be healthy, happy and well-adjusted members of society,” Melistas says. “In my mind, that’s the goal.”

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To find a pediatrician or behavioral health therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Kelly Melistas is a child and adolescent psychologist who sees patients through Henry Ford Health’s Pediatric Behavioral Health Integrated Care program.

Categories : ParentWell

Tags : Behavioral Health, Kelly Melistas, Pediatrics

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On Raising Confident and Healthy Boys

Raising boys today is no easy task. When it comes to masculinity, our society still adheres to traditional and antiquated stereotypes. Boys are supposed to be tough, strong, and stoic, as opposed to weak, emotional, or vulnerable.

But in reality, assigning these attributes to a gender is random and dangerous. Ignoring emotions and disavowing vulnerability is extremely problematic. With that said, here are five suggestions for raising healthy and confident boys.

  1. Nurture feelings. Allow your children to experience their feelings—whatever they may be. Validate and acknowledge them while focusing on effective behavioral strategies. Use language like, "Billy, I understand that you are upset that Bobby took your toy. It’s normal to feel sad when something you love is taken away. Let's try to figure out a way to ask for it back." This will allow and encourage boys to feel good about having different types of emotions and see emotions as a guidance rather than a nuisance.
  2. Allow failure. Failing at something is a great way to learn how to overcome challenges. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could sanitize our children’s environments so that they would never experience adversity or struggle and be successful in everything they do? Unfortunately, as most well-adjusted adults know, this is not the reality of the world, and if you did so, your child would probably end up with some issues. In fact, never allowing your children to do poorly at something prevents them from developing the adequate skills to navigate difficult situations—which are inevitably going to happen again and again.
  3. Encourage asking for help when necessary. Help boys accept that sometimes they need help and that it's okay, and even admirable, to ask for help. Emphasize that asking for assistance is normal, and can even help you to learn new things. Asking for help in the appropriate situations can help to resolve an issue—it’s okay not to know how to do everything.
  4. Channel feelings of aggression in healthy ways. Anger is inevitable. Everyone experiences anger. But how we handle anger, and how we regulate this emotion can make a huge difference. Help your kids learn emotion regulation strategies that are effective, and even fun. Encourage kids to participate in things like karate or yoga, physical activity, or even just deep breathing. Set an example for your kids: “Today I got super angry that a car cut me off. I felt like honking at them for 60 seconds, but instead I took a few deep breaths and put on a song that I like.”
  5. Teach appropriate intimacy. Intimacy, in all its forms, is an important part of life, and an important aspect of loving relationships. Teach adolescent boys about the appropriate use of intimacy with appropriate people, as well as the role of sex in self-expression, when they’re ready. Adolescents and young adults who learn about these things from their parents are more likely to treat intimacy and sex in a healthy way, incorporating it effectively into relationships.

No one ever said that parenting is easy. And, if they did, they don’t have kids. Gender roles and how boys and girls are “supposed to be” can be toxic to a young person’s character development. Helping your kids, regardless of their gender, to accept, manage, and express emotions, and effectively navigate difficult situations will help set them up for success in every realm of life.

How to Raise Healthy Boys

When a child is born in a family, the basic care for him does not depend on whether he is a boy or a girl. All children need good nutrition, outdoor activities, fun games, exercise and parental love. But not only. So, in the case of the birth of a son, knowledge of the specific features of a boy's body will help to grow him healthy, and parents will be able to babysit their grandchildren in a couple of decades. nine0003

Another neonatologist at the maternity hospital examines the baby and issues a preliminary verdict on his health, making sure to specify whether the testicles have descended into the scrotum and whether the structure of the baby's external genital organs is normal. You need to know that in most boys, the testicles descend into the scrotum even during fetal development, but it is not uncommon for them to linger in the abdominal cavity. This phenomenon is called cryptorchidism. In the first year of life, this condition is considered conditionally normal, but if, upon reaching a year or two, omission does not occur, then the boy may be prescribed surgical treatment. Moreover, urologists categorically recommend not to delay such an intervention, because the later the operation is done, the higher the risk of irreversible changes in the testicles themselves, which means the greater the likelihood of infertility in the future. nine0003

Also, in most newborn boys, there is a phenomenon such as physiological phimosis, that is, a condition in which the foreskin is firmly "glued" by embryonic adhesions to the glans penis. Even just recently, parents were advised to push the foreskin a little aside every day in order to gradually stretch it and wash out all the accumulated deposits. Today, progressive pediatricians say that if the child is not bothered by anything, then no special care for his genitals is required. Because if you overdo it with such "discoveries", you can inadvertently create a lot of problems for the child, for example, such as the occurrence of cicatricial phimosis, in which it will definitely not be possible to do without surgery, while in the vast majority of cases embryonic adhesions resolve themselves over time. Moreover, this can happen at completely different ages, up to the end of puberty, and if not, then you will need to consult a doctor and possibly have a small surgical intervention. nine0003

Even if a boy does not have any abnormalities in infancy, it is very important that he is examined at least once a year by a pediatric urologist or surgeon, because problems can occur at any age. For example, a disease such as a cyst of the spermatic cord is often formed during fetal development, and can manifest itself only after a few years, for example, with increased physical activity. And the sooner a specialist notices such and similar violations, the faster it will be possible to eliminate them, which means that the operation will be easier and the less likely it will be to develop various complications. nine0003

Vaccination should be mentioned separately. Of course, preventive vaccinations are needed for children of both sexes, but for boys, vaccination against a disease such as mumps (or simply “mumps”) is especially important. The fact is that this disease often affects the glandular tissues of the body and in boys it is complicated by inflammation of the testicles. If this happens during puberty, then the likelihood of infertility is very high.

While the boy is still small, it is easier for parents to monitor his health and development. But teenagers are often embarrassed to tell their parents about the problems that have arisen, and they don’t allow them to regularly examine such delicate parts of their bodies. Therefore, it is extremely important that the child knows about the existence of a urologist, and that a person does not have “shameful” organs, so if you have any questions or problems, you should definitely tell your parents about it, and they will take care of a visit to the doctor . This is especially true in situations where pain, redness or swelling of the genital organs suddenly arises, because in this case, days and hours often count, and the boy’s health sometimes depends on the timeliness of the assistance provided and whether he will be able to know the joy of fatherhood in the future. nine0003

Elena, www.kraskizhizni.com

When you get big, son. How to grow a healthy man from a boy. BelPress

The health of a future man is laid down in childhood. And to save him, so that later in due time he will turn into a grandmother and grandfather, is the task of the boy's parents. Of course, your son will be examined by a pediatric surgeon several times during the first years of his life, but it is mom and dad, who are next to the child from the first day, who can immediately notice something is wrong and sound the alarm. What do they need to pay attention to? nine0003

Where does it hurt?

1 . Carefully examine the boy's external genitalia immediately upon returning from the hospital: is everything in place, is everything symmetrical.

“When asymmetry of the scrotum is detected, you need to consult a doctor, no matter if it was initially or appeared later,” advises Andrey Tulinov, chief freelance pediatric urologist-andrologist.

2 . Pay attention to whether your boy is worried before, during or after "wet things". As a rule, according to the doctor, these disorders are functional in nature: the trickle can be sluggish and intermittent. This can lead to disturbances in the functioning of the organs of the genitourinary system. Ultrasound will help clarify the picture. nine0003

3 . Did a protrusion appear in the child's groin when he began to take his first steps, that is, he changed his body position from horizontal to vertical.

“Most often, this swelling is the first to be noticed by the child’s mother and is diagnosed with an inguinal hernia before the doctor,” Andrey Ivanovich explains.

4 . If the baby complains of pain in the groin or side...

After three years, boys can develop very insidious acute diseases in the male part - volvulus of the epididymis or its torsion. If the parents do not pay attention to the complaints of the baby, then in a few hours the organ can no longer be saved. These diseases, according to the doctor, can further affect fertility and reproductive function, so delay is unacceptable: the child must be urgently shown to the doctor. At least a pediatric surgeon, and ideally a pediatric urologist. And although, alas, such specialists are in short supply in the region, they are available in the children's regional hospital and are on duty around the clock. nine0003

“It doesn't always hurt in the groin - sometimes the pain radiates to the side, so it can be confused with appendicitis. Therefore, in case of such complaints, examine the scrotum, ”advises a pediatric urologist-andrologist.

What has changed?

If a baby complains of pain, teenagers can hide it, embarrassed to show their genitals to their parents. Therefore, the task of mom and dad is to maintain a trusting relationship with a child of any age, in which he will tell about his well-being.

“We detect most of the pathologies during professional examinations, because very often our diseases do not have any clinical manifestations,” the doctor complains.

Take, for example, varicocele, an enlargement of the veins of the scrotum, which affects many boys. But the treatment of this disease is surgical, and this is far from a harmless operation.

Of course, if the child has no complaints, then every day there is no need to look into his pants. However, if he complains or tells that something has changed "there", you need to contact a doctor. Mom herself can notice these changes in the behavior of the child. For example, a boy may stand in the toilet for a long time, because he cannot urinate quickly (urine outflow may be hindered, for example, by cicatricial narrowing of the foreskin). In this case, the baby may even put pressure on his stomach to help the bladder empty. nine0003

A pediatric urologist or at least a surgeon should definitely show a boy who has been ill with mumps (mumps), this may lead to difficulties in having children in the future (the organ where germ cells mature is affected).

In adolescence, a boy may be in danger of another formidable disease - a malignant tumor of seminoma. One of its signs is hardening of the scrotum. Of course, parental revisions by the age of 12 should already stop - at this age, the boy should monitor the condition of his genitals on his own. But how to do it, and most importantly, that you can’t be silent if something has changed, mom and dad explain. And they definitely need to talk with their growing son about the difference between a healthy interest in their changing body and an unhealthy one. Because experiments caused by teenage hormonal changes in the body can lead the child straight to the surgical table. nine0003

Is it bad for boys to wear tight underwear? According to Andrei Ivanovich, there is no unequivocal opinion about this. Just like with diapers, which, with proper care of the boy's genitals and proper hygiene, are nothing more than a convenient accessory. And although overheating of this area is undesirable, the future man will not become infertile from diapers. But hypothermia - when in winter young dandies flaunt in jeans on their naked bodies - is more critical. In addition to frequent colds against the background of general hypothermia, it can cause acute inflammatory diseases of the genitourinary organs. After them, future men may have difficulty with reproduction. nine0003

When testosterone is late

Puberty in boys usually begins a little later than in girls, at 12-13 years of age. Usually at this time, hair in the groin, in the armpits and on the face begins to grow in adolescents, acne appears, the voice breaks, the Adam's apple cuts through.

“Parents should pay attention if all their son's classmates are hairy, but their child does not have this and the voice is as squeaky as it was at seven years old. This is especially true for children who are obese, ”the doctor explains. nine0003

By overfeeding boys and thus causing them to become overweight, parents risk being left without grandchildren - after all, obesity has a bad effect on reproductive health. In fat men, late puberty is observed - from the age of 14 and later. The predominance of the female sex hormone estrogen, which is produced by adipose tissue, suppresses the masculine principle and causes a delay in testosterone, which leads to the development of female-type secondary sexual characteristics in a boy: his chest sags, not his shoulders expand, but his pelvis, and the genital organ, as a rule , more modest in size than those of slender peers. nine0003

“Children's obesity is a big scourge. In our region, according to the results of preventive examinations of overweight children, it is one third of the total, - Andrey Ivanovich sighs. And he emphasizes: if you feed children - even boys, even girls - with fast food (that is, easily digestible high-carbohydrate food), then grandchildren may not wait.

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