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Teaching Boys to be Authentic

Teaching boys to be authentic is a way of helping them to be true to themselves and others. Authenticity means expressing one's feelings, thoughts, and values freely and honestly, without fear of judgment or rejection. Authenticity also means respecting and honoring one's uniqueness and diversity, and appreciating the same in others.

First. The Benefits...

Authenticity can foster a sense of identity and self-esteem. Boys who are authentic can develop a clear and positive sense of who they are, what they want, and what they can offer to the world. **Remember, safety and trust are important to ones development, as confusion and rejection can quickly impact this when relationships suddenly fall apart, a parent goes to jail, or sexual abuse occurs. The idea is to create a safe and accepting environment to feel confident and proud of their strengths and abilities, and accept their weaknesses and limitations.

Authenticity may enhance one's well-being as a result enhance their feeling of happiness. Boys who feel free to express themselves may experience more joy, love, and fulfillment in their lives. Furthermore, they may also be more equipped to better cope with stress, challenges, and problems. This is why we encourage parents to be honest and realistic (communicating at the same age as their child) about their situations and emotions. Giving the parents an opportunity to also teach emotion regulation skills to their children.

Living more value-directed, aka authentic [by one's values], may improve one's relationships and social skills. Boys who know themselves can communicate, cooperate, and compromise with others more effectively. They can also form meaningful and lasting connections with people who share their values and interests, and who respect and support them for who they are.

Teaching Authenticity

Here are some ways to encourage and support boys to embrace who they are:

  • Respect their opinions and preferences. Children, not only boys, need to feel that their voices and choices matter, and that they have some autonomy and control over their lives. We can respect their opinions and preferences by listening to them, acknowledging them, and involving them in decision making. We can also allow them to explore and express their interests and passions, and provide them with opportunities and resources to pursue them. Providing choice can be as simple as what colour shirt would you like to wear today, to would you like to hug grandpa, to would you like to race me to the _________ [to get them to transition to the next activities/event.

  • Reflect their feelings and their needs. Children, not only boys, need to feel that their feelings and needs are valid and important, and that they are understood and cared for. We can reflect their feelings and needs by paying attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues, mirroring/communicating their emotions, and validating their experiences. We can also help them to name and regulate their feelings, and to ask for and receive help when they need it. It is important to teach parents ways they can co-regulate with their children (e.g., breathing exercises, big hugs, ground exercises like 1-2-3-4-5, petting an animal together).

  • Model authenticity and vulnerability. Boys need to see examples of people being authentic and vulnerable, family members and teachers who can show them that it is okay and brave to be themselves. It is okay to share their feelings and struggles with others, children often get lost in the mix of responsibilities or big changes (moving houses, divorce/separation, death). Children will also take on the "role of being quiet and agreeable" to be a burden for the individuals around them. Parents, be mindful to who and when you share more adult information. Furthermore, it is important to showcase how one can admit our mistakes and weaknesses, and how we can cope with shame, fear, and failure, and how we seek and offer empathy and support.

  • Celebrate diversity. We can value and celebrate their diversity by exposing them to different cultures, perspectives, and experiences, and by encouraging them to learn from and respect others who are different from them. We can also praise them for their unique qualities and contributions, and help them to discover and develop their talents and potentials. Often, we can do this by listening to them about their interests, spending a few minutes each day participating or observing them perform their tasks of interest, and/or going to a library [or google] and acquire information on the topic.

In Conclusion

Teaching boys to be authentic is not always easy, but it is worth it. By helping boys to be authentic, we can help them to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

Additional Resources:

How To Teach Children To Be Authentic & TrueSlumberkins.

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