The Struggle That Boys & Young Men Have In Asking For Help

I often see in my work with young men a significant struggle for many of them to put their hand up for help when they need it the most. When I encourage young men to consider why this may be, they often reveal that fear is what’s holding them back from reaching out and asking for help. Whether this is the fear of looking weak, the fear of not being enough, or the fear of not being accepted, their hesitancy to ask for help seems to stem from a deep belief that asking for it won’t align with what our culture deems as appropriate behaviour for young men.

Where did we get this wild idea that it’s best to be alone in our struggles? Surely living through a global pandemic with lockdowns and restrictions over the last two years has shown us that we don’t do so well when we are isolated and disconnected from others. Humans are, after all, created as relational beings. We need the support and encouragement of those around us to enrich our life experiences and transcend our challenges.

I remember speaking with a young man at a Year 9 seminar, whose brother had passed away several years ago. He shared with me how he had struggled emotionally with this for years. How he never opened up to his friends about the silent battle he was fighting. Moments after this conversation, I watched as a powerful exchange unfolded in front of my eyes. In a small group activity this young man became very vulnerable and shared with his friends this painful reality that he had been walking through alone. I watched as his friends responded in a powerful way. They put their arms around him, said how sorry they were, and wanted to know if there was anything they could do to help.

Emotions for all of the students in the group were high. Something powerful took place as this young guy reached out for help. He became vulnerable and shared something so personal and his friends rallied around to support him.

There are so many facets of our culture that give young men clear-cut criteria for what masculinity looks like. One of the messages at the centre of this narrow, misguided archetype is that men must remain strong, stoic and in control, no matter what they may be facing or how much they may be struggling.

One Australian study compiled a set of the most widely-held beliefs (now known as the Man Box) among 18-30 year-olds about what it means to be a man. One of the key findings of the survey was that the majority of young men today feel societal pressure to boast characteristics of being tough, emotionless and in control. The problem? This archetype of masculinity is negatively affecting young men by deterring them from asking for the help they, at times, so desperately need.

The thought of so many boys and young men fighting silent battles and feeling alone in their struggles is heartbreaking. We all know from personal experience that adolescence presents an extensive list of pressures and challenges. This is a time when young men have questions to ask, problems to solve and lessons to learn about life, self, others and relationships. Our young men deserve to feel safe and comfortable enough to ask for help when they need it, instead of feeling pressure to ‘suck it up’ and conform to the emotional avoidance patterns that our culture prescribes for them.

One of the best things we can do for young men is teach them that the ability to put their hand up for help is an incredible act of strength and courage. 

We often see masculine victories and milestones celebrated within society. These wins are often held up to the light to be celebrated as signs of strength and courage. What culture often fails to recognise is that emotion, authenticity and vulnerability are traits that we should also applaud. Vulnerability is power. Our young men desperately need us to incorporate these experiences into our understanding and display of masculinity.

Acknowledging their emotions helps young men to understand how they’re feeling.

Authenticity encourages young men to accept that maybe they can’t do this alone.

Vulnerability drives young men to put their hands up for help and to move forward with support.

We as educators have the opportunity to open up a safe space for young men to ask for help when they need it. We have the opportunity to encourage young men to display strength and courage in this vulnerable way. We have the opportunity to help young men develop these values in their adolescence, in a way that will help them experience healthy relationships during their teenage years as well as into their adulthood.

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“You must be who you are. What you ‘should’ be, is not important.” ~ Lao Tzu



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