Andrew Reiner: Building Boys’ Mental Health & Resiliency

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Andrew Reiner says it’s essential to spend time nurturing boys’ mental health & resiliency.

As a college professor, Reiner sees what happens when boys aren’t taught resiliency and don’t develop the skills they need to support mental wellness. “I started noticing a chasm between the effort that my male students was putting forward and the effort my female students were putting forward,” says Reiner, a professor in the English department at Towson University. The boys in his class were just as intelligent and capable as their female counterparts, but weren’t consistently completing assignments — or showing up to class. Many were also experiencing mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and burnout.

Why College-Age Boys Struggle When Girls Don’t

Contrary to popular belief, nagging your son to complete and hand in homework (and study for tests) in middle school and high school will not necessarily prepare him for success in college. In many cases, parental pressure (& hovering) leads to chronic stress, and when parents (and teachers and society) focus more attention on academics than the development of coping skills, resiliency, and stress reduction techniques, boys may arrive at adulthood without the skills they need to protect and preserve their mental health.

Because our culture expects boys and men to be strong and self-sufficient, many males lack support systems — and that’s a big part of why college-aged guys are struggling more than college-aged women.

“There is positively no safety net,” Reiner says. “There is nothing.” Boys who have internalized the cultural imperative of self-sufficiency feel like they are “failing” as men when they struggle. And that sense of failure and the resulting shame makes it extremely difficult for boys to seek help and support.

Build Relationships with Boys Instead of Pushing Academics

Browbeating boys about academics does not spur their to greater learning or achievement. Instead, in most cases, it fuels deep feelings of shame and failure, while weakening the connection between the boy and those who care about him.

Shame and belittling lead to “repressed feelings of anxiety, depression, and hostility,” says Reiner, author of Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity that Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency. “All it does is make boys feel like failures.”

Focus instead on building and strengthening your relationship with your son. “Research says boys do better in relationships,” Reiner says. “Boys do better — and they thrive — when they are in relationships with adults who mean something do them.” Boys, he says, “want to know that they are liked and they are accepted.

“We need to let them know that, regardless of their flaws, we love them and appreciate who they are becoming as young men.”

In this episode, Jen, Janet, & Andrew discuss:
  • Common mental health challenges for male college students
  • How (& why) a gap year can help college-aged men
  • How cultural expectations of masculinity hinder boys’ coping abilities
  • The corrosive effects of parental nagging about academics
  • Building meaningful relationships with boys
  • Teaching boys what independence means & looks like
  • Modeling & normalizing emotional language
  • Leading with empathy & curiosity instead of judgement
  • The 2 things boys need before they’ll open up to you
  • Why we must LISTEN to boys
  • Reconnecting with college-age boys
  • Fostering boys’ friendships
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode: –– Andrew’s website

College Crisis: Male Students are Struggling Emotionally. Here’s How to Help.Baltimore Sun op-ed by Andrew

Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity that Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency, by Andrew Reiner

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