It's necessary that you know now, as your brain grows, what's worth focusing on and what's not, what should never be ignored, and what should shamelessly be openly discussed. It's imperative that you are aware that no matter what the voice inside you says (or how loud it gets), you are not alone, and it's dire that you're able to distinguish between stigma and courage.
These conversations I have with you periodically are difficult ones to have at any age. But it's important to me that you are equipped now, while your struggles are seemingly-catastrophic-but-not -- like the fact that your friend found where you hid all your favorite sticks at the park, or that you don't want to dress the same as a classmate for Halloween.
I'm here to tell you: You owe it to this world, and to yourself, to live your Truth at every moment of every day you are alive. In hopes of helping you do this, here are eight things I want you to know:
1. Social definitions of "man" and "masculinity" should be ignored.
I recognize that you're already struggling with your sense of identity as you sometimes become gender policed for your beautiful, long hair. You've started to make conscious identifications of what is "for girls" and what is "for boys." We've had numerous conversations on how your identity as "a boy" is one that you should be comfortable with no matter what colors you like, what toys catch your eye, and what you enjoy wearing.
I'll continue to keep an open space for you to talk about your masculinity and your external identity as you grow up. However, internally, I want to also help you understand the implications society's expectations will have on your well-being. You will be inundated with what constitutes being "a man." Masculinity is defined in the dictionary as "possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men." If you consider yourself a man, then no matter how you feel, or approach and handle your emotions, you are a man. Man and emotional are not mutually exclusive. Which brings me to my next point:
2. Allow yourself to explore your emotions.
If you're sad, don't brush it off. It's OK to cry. It's OK to be scared. It's OK to not understand what you are feeling. It's OK to want to talk about your feelings; this actually will make you an effective communicator. By simultaneously exploring your emotions and identifying them, you will also be able to understand others and build stronger relationships because of it.
3. Don't automatically equate strength with silence.
"Be strong" is not to be misinterpreted as "be quiet, be collected and be stoic."
You are strong. You are also hard-wired with fear, emotions and unique thoughts. You are human. You are not expected to do life alone or silently, and silence for the sake of "being a man" or "fear of judgment" is not to be conflated with strength.
It takes courage and strength for someone to acknowledge their depth and be self-aware of their very human elements. Your strength is rooted in these vulnerabilities. Never forget that.
4. View mental health as a spectrum.
And know that you'll fall on different parts of it -- as will everyone else -- over the course of your life. Life will throw you curveballs you may never see coming. It will also bring you perpetual moments of bliss and positive flow. Either way, be self-aware and mindful of your emotional and mental well-being.
5. Understand that mental illness is a disease.
And if you suffer from one, we will tackle it the same way we will tackle your (probably inescapable) first broken bone -- by addressing it openly, without stigma and getting you professional help. No hesitation.
6. Seek help when you need it.
The isolation in which our mental health issues can make us feel abnormal and alone is heartbreaking. No matter how "unique" and "unacceptable" and "embarrassing" your thoughts and feelings are, I assure you that don't have to deal with them alone. Whether it's opening up to a loved one (I will always be here), or seeking professional help, human connection is a necessity and leaning on other people doesn't make you weak (reread number three).
7. Be observant and give back to those around you.
You are a mere individual in this world, and I can't stress enough that building and having a community is incredibly important. Create a space for people that is open and void of judgment. Observe your loved ones. Lend a helping hand and your time. Urge others to speak up by eliminating the shame within yourself to do so, too. Smile to strangers and always choose kindness over anything else. Do not fear that by doing these things you lose your "masculinity" and "strength."
8. Be educated, check in with yourself and stay honest.
Given your biological gender, you may be more susceptible to certain psychological disorders. You could also experience certain mental health issues differently than your female counterparts. That's OK; don't be afraid.
I want you to learn at a very early age to be comfortable talking about your anxieties, struggles and fears. I want you to live courageously as the human that you are. Most importantly, I hope these eight things help you live an authentic life with the understanding that you're never alone.
*I used "Nephew" instead of a specific name, because I've been blessed with many nephews and want them, and frankly all young men, to understand these things.