In my first cabin as a camp counselor, I had a nine year-old boy who was incredibly thoughtful - thoughtful about himself, about his surroundings, about the people with whom he interacted. He talked a lot less than his fellow campers, but when he did speak, people listened. One night, as our cabin discussed the previous day and our goals for the remainder of the week, we were about to call it a night and head to sleep when he spoke up and said, "I just wanted to say that it's okay to be afraid, because sometimes you have to be scared to be brave." In response to one of his cabin mate's earlier remarks about facing fears, his words fell heavy on all of us as we stared at the single candle burning between us, and his thoughtfulness has stuck with me for over a year.
On that warm June night during the summer of 2016, this single boy reminded me of something I now strive to instill in every child I meet: emotional confidence. Every situation today's boys find themselves in beckons them to "be a man," to hide their emotions for the sake of what society often deems as appropriate manliness. And what is the cost of this push for emotional restraint amongst boys? Self-hatred and depression are just two of the many negative effects of boys' feeling as if they have to hide their emotions from their peers, from their parents, from themselves.
I have seen firsthand how awesome it is for boys to feel confident enough in themselves to let their emotions loose, to cry when they want to cry and to feel comfortable in showing pure jubilation when they experience incredible moments. You see, they are already in-tune with their emotional selves; the problem is not the presence of emotions, but rather in the suppression of them. If we give boys the confidence to shed this falsely masculine layer that society forces on them daily, then we're allowing them the room they need to truly grow.
Take it from a college boy who witnesses false displays of masculinity on a daily basis: Masculinity is not achieved through hidden emotions. Being a man has nothing to do with suppressing how you feel for the sake of saving face in front of others. Rather, being a man means having the emotional confidence to show people how you feel, regardless of what that feeling may be. If we're to raise boys into men who care for others more than themselves - and especially as much as my camper from June of 2016 - then we have to instill the importance of emotional confidence in them before it's too late.
This past Sunday, I woke up, turned to my phone, and clicked it on. I went through my usual routine of checking messages, emails, Facebook, and there it was: a random, unexpected message from the mother of a camper I had in my cabin this past summer. She was reaching out to let me know that her son returned home this year more confident and thoughtful than when he had arrived at camp.
And that, my friends, makes it all worth it. That is worth striving for each and every day. Thoughtfulness, patience, and kindness - these are traits we can count on to accompany the teaching of emotional confidence to boys. It's up to all of us.