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Americans Say It’s Time to Talk to Boys About Feelings

A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows that Americans don't think boys are encouraged enough to open up emotionally.

Americans struggle to teach their children about masculinity and femininity without boxing their children into gendered roles. They also struggle to totally understand the privileges and constraints of masculinity and femininity. The good news? They know it. A massive new poll by the Pew Research Center suggests that many adults believe there needs to be a shift in the gendered way that Americans emphasize — sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally — different values for boys and girls.

According to the new survey, roughly six-in-ten adults say that there’s too little emphasis on encouraging boys to talk about their feelings. Far less than half, just 29 percent, said that there’s the right amount of emphasis on discussing emotions with boys versus the 51 percent who said the same about girls, indicating that a significant amount of those surveyed think there’s room for both cultural change and improvement when it comes to preparing boys to have healthy emotional lives. Only 11 percent, a rugged, swagger, and tiny minority of respondents, said that there’s already too much emphasis on encouraging boys to talk about their feelings when they are sad or upset.

But American adults also think that parents and educator can do a better job of helping girls. About half of respondents said that they think there’s not enough emphasis on encouraging girls to be leaders, and a similar number or respondents said there’s not enough emphasis on encouraging young women to stand up for themselves. In both of those areas, about 10 percent less think there’s already the right amount.

Interestingly, 51 percent of respondents felt that there’s too little emphasis placed on boys to doing well in school, and 43 percent feel there’s too little for girls. A close percentage believe there’s currently the right amount of emphasis on succeeding educationally — 42 percent for boys versus 49 percent for girls. So, while more Americans want to see an increased emphasis on boys doing well in school, a significant amount feel that the value of school isn’t stressed adequately for either gender.

None of these responses translate easily into prescriptive parenting advice, but they do indicate that a social shift is underway. The sort of gendered parenting and education that has been the status quo for generations looks unlikely to dominate going forward. How that shakes out remains to be seen. After all, these are hard conversations to have.