By CHAMPS Academy Franchisee Mark Diggory

“Be a man”.

For a phrase which was designed to empower boys and make them feel strong and confident it actually has the complete opposite effect. When this is said to a boy, he’s already not living up to a certain (and often high) expectation of what a “man” should be. In his mind he has already disappointed and the rest of his life will be subconsciously spent trying to prove himself. Telling a boy to be a man doesn’t inject a confident dose of “man” into him.

It takes the essence out of him, those beautiful traits and quirks that make him who he is.

From the second those words are communicated; the immediate disapproval is felt. It undermines him, he feels his emotions aren’t valid and struggles to live up to an archaic expectation than to express himself freely. Bottling up emotions not only confuses children but the effects last throughout their life. He’ll always be trying to prove his ‘manliness’ to his friends, and he’ll struggle with vulnerability in relationships which will make them hard to sustain.

Worst of all, the bottled emotions will be constantly simmering and will explode out at the worst times and often in front of the people who deserve it least.

Embedding this need to be a “man” in him will leave him second guessing every decision he makes throughout his life. Is this action worthy of a man? If I say this will people think I’m less of a man? If I don’t go along with this are people going to think I’m not a man?

To ensure boys to grow into strong, confident men, then as Parents, Teachers, Coaches and the caring wider community, we must do the opposite of telling him to be a “man”. Boys need just as much love and attention as girls. Telling him not to cry will not toughen him up, it will just leave all the hurt and anger festering inside him. Giving him a shoulder to cry on, reassuring him he’s loved, supported and safe will release the emotions and give him a confidence that will toughen him up in the right way.

The desire to be a “man” doesn’t show strength, it shows a massive weakness. It shows someone who’s too scared to be vulnerable, too scared to back down no matter how wrong they are or how dangerous a situation. Most of all, it shows someone who’s too scared to be themselves. Confidence comes from knowing who you are, being comfortable with who you are and living your life based on your values and beliefs. If you’re living someone else’s beliefs you’re never going to be able to do it with full confidence.

Maybe it’s because previous generations of boys have been raised by stoic war heroes or the sons of stoic war heroes, people from a time when men needed to be that version of a man. However, with this generation there thankfully seems to be a slow shift. Toxic masculinity is being questioned and the devastation it can cause is being highlighted and fought against. With that in mind, it’s time we completely retired this damaging and disempowering 3-word phrase and replaced it with the two most empowering words that can build confidence in a boy…

“Be yourself”

I know that’s what I’ll be telling my son.