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By Dr. Arthur Schwartz 

My father took me to my first Philadelphia Eagles game when I was six, and ever since I’ve been a proud member of the “bleeding green” nation. A lifelong Eagles fan.

Last week, when I learned that Eagles center Jason Kelce had announced his retirement, my wife and I went immediately to YouTube. We watched as Kelce gave a master class on gratitude as he thanked scores of people who helped him get to the mountaintop, including his high school band teacher!

But what I will remember most is the number of times that Kelce cried. His willingness to pause, be vulnerable, and allow his emotions to take center stage, was awesome. 

Never once did I feel he felt embarrassed to be crying so much. To me, his tears represented the courage to stay fully present. 

There was a football player, a soon-to-be NFL Hall of Famer, refuting the stereotype that “big boys don’t cry.” 

We know from the research that boys begin to internalize these stereotypes during the upper elementary grades. From various taproots and sources, they learn that to be “Be a Man” means to suppress your emotions. Feelings are for wussies. What matters is your physical strength, not your emotional strength.

Richard Reeves wrote a bestselling book in 2022 that addresses this problem. 71% of all opioid overdose deaths in the United Boys are men. Men are four times more likely to die by suicide. Boys significantly underperform in school and attend colleges at far lower rates than girls. And one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 is incarcerated. As another book on the crisis puts it, these are, at least in part, the consequences of Manning Up

I began to examine gender differences while in graduate school. I conducted a research study to learn whether boys and girls “journal” at the same rate during the high school years. Although I never published my findings, the data was compelling. By 10th grade, less than 8% of boys journaled, while over 35% of girls wrote in their journals on a consistent basis. It took me weeks to hypothesize the reasons behind these numbers. 

I argued that reflective writing is not seen as a “boy thing.” Teen boys are more concerned about masking their feelings and emotions than writing about them. It’s easier to repress than reflect. Yet we know from the research conducted by James Pennebaker that there are real benefits to writing about our feelings.  

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to the many athletes who have begun to publicly talk about their mental health. I also want to recognize and applaud all the dads who model for their sons that it’s okay to talk about their feelings, especially during the storms of life. Let’s also acknowledge all the dedicated educators striving to give our boys (and girls) the skills they need to understand and manage their emotions. 

Here’s what we know from the research: Boys cry just as often as girls during their first two years. But then those dreaded societal stereotypes begin to surface.

Together, let’s build a future where my 18-month-old grandson has the confidence and courage to resist the pressures to “man up.” Rather, he knows that “real men” are in touch with their emotions. And when he gets older, he will know it’s okay for men to cry- just like Jason Kelce. 

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