The Atlantic

Raising Boys With a Broader Definition of Masculinity

A psychologist explains how a strong relationship with a parent or teacher can help boys be their true selves, even when those selves don’t fit within narrow cultural norms.
Source: Cohen / Ostrow / Getty

In recent years, some of society’s gender norms have begun to stretch and soften, while others cling fast. For many young boys, there continues to be a very small space that they can occupy to be considered traditionally “masculine,” and that small space can be restricting, forcing boys to lose what doesn’t fit inside it.

In his new book, How to Raise a Boy, Michael Reichert calls that space the “man box.” Reichert is a psychologist who specializes in boys and men, and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives at the University of Pennsylvania. His book is written as a guide to parents who want to create more space for their boys to express themselves. The key, he writes is “a relationship in which a boy can tell that he matters … A young man’s self confidence is not accidental or serendipitous but derives from experiences of being accurately understood, loved, and supported.”

I spoke with Reichert about how parents, teachers, and other adults can strengthen their relationships with boys, even when those boys act out, and in so doing help them create a broader expression of masculinity for themselves. An edited and condensed transcript of our conversation follows.

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