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Toxic phrases to avoid saying to boys



“Boys will be boys” tops the list

Toxic phrases to avoid saying to boys


The good news: we, as a culture, are getting better at recognizing once-commonly-used words and phrases that are, at best, not helpful, and at worst, damaging.

I recall a Woodstock Halloween parade in the mid-‘aughts at which two kindergarteners – one being my son – dressed as female characters they loved. My son was Buttercup the Power Puff Girl and his friend was a witch, with a pointy hat, a broom, a black dress and cape, and fake fingernails. Not one person said anything disparaging to either of them. (To be fair, they may not have realized they were boys.) Almost two decades later, they’re both fine.

Of course not every Hudson Valley neighborhood would be as understanding of gender bending boys as Woodstock. And, as much progress as the general population has made, old attitudes of what to say to boys are still common. In fact, parents often unwittingly utter things to their sons they feel are harmless, but are not.

Writing for Fatherly, Jeremy Brown notes: “Sometimes in the telling are common phrases or clichéd ideas that are based on outdated or wrongheaded assumptions and are inherently toxic. Especially when speaking to boys. We still have a tendency to raise our boys with age-old male stereotypes in place. In an effort to raise strong boys, parents can inadvertently create damaged men.”

Licensed Professional counselor Anahid Lisa Derbabian concurs: “Rigid beliefs about what a boy is can be very detrimental to a child, as boys come in all shapes and sizes and a wide range of personalities, preferences, and natural leanings.

READ MORE: How choosing my words changed my parenting

When a very specific template is presented to a boy as to what a boy or a man should look like, sound like, act like, enjoy doing, etc., then naturally the boy may often unconsciously try to emulate that, thereby ignoring their own natural tendencies,” she says. “Alternatively, sometimes children may begin to resist what is forced upon them, and in that very rebellion they actually may rebel against what is naturally part of themselves.”

Some musts to avoid:

  1. “You’re too sensitive.”
  2. “Boys don’t cry.”
  3. “Those _________ are for girls.”
  4. “Why can’t you be more like ________?”
  5. “You play like a girl.”
  6. “You must win.”
  7. “Boys will be boys.”

Most of these toxic phrases, which professionals explain and detail, boil down to messages against vulnerability, and against truth, but in favor of anger over all other emotions. Or, as marriage and family therapist Rachel D. Miller says: “Part of why so many men struggle with relationships and managing their anger is because we, as parents and a society, have told them that expressing emotions other than anger shows weakness and being weak is not acceptable. Anger is easier to grab than pain, sadness, or fear. And when all you are given is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”



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