2023-24 IBSC Action Research Program
Balanced Boys: Promoting Healthy Masculinity Beyond the Classroom
As we consider the needs of the boys and young men in our care, a focus on masculinities is worthy of continued investigation. Wilson et. al (2022) highlight numerous studies that “linked rigid adherence to ‘traditional’ masculine norms (e.g., stoicism, toughness, emotion suppression, and power over women) to a range of negative outcomes, including aggression, violence, substance misuse, reduced well-being, low help-seeking, and school disengagement” (p. 2). Too often, these “externalizing symptoms” are not recognized as a sign of underlying depression in adolescent and young adult males (AYA) (Hearn et al., 2020, p. 7).
The aftershocks of the pandemic have only exacerbated concerns about the mental health of young people; a meta-analysis of clinically elevated depression and generalized anxiety symptoms globally among youth during the COVID-19 pandemic found “an urgent need for intervention and recovery efforts aimed at improving child and adolescent well-being” (Racine et al., 2021, p.1149). As screen time has increased, in-person interactions have decreased, and an overall feeling of unhappiness is often the consequence (Twenge, 2019). Combined with alarming data showing suicide rates among boys and young men are approximately triple those observed in young women (Wilson et al., 2022), interventions aimed at fostering healthy masculinity must be a top priority in our schools.
Understanding that boys need and desire emotional connection, experts recommend approaching constructions of masculinity through a relational framework (Chu & Gilligan, 2019). Disconnecting from themselves and others (suppressing unmasculine emotions) can hinder boys’ mental health and happiness (Way et al., 2018). It is imperative that educators empower boys not only to feel comfortable expressing emotions “but also overhaul the systemic structures—including social norms, cultural beliefs, and institutional practices—that can obstruct their efforts to do so” (Hearn et al., 2020, p. 4).
Over the years, IBSC educators have conducted meaningful action research projects within their classrooms and now we encourage you to consider the myriad ideal research opportunities that exist beyond classroom walls. Hearn et al. (2020) highlight that “Just about any group activity—such as clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities—can be structured to build community and offer opportunities for AYA males to share how they are feeling, bond with each other, enhance their self-esteem, and develop their sense of having a valued male identity” (p.15).
Participating in extracurricular activities has the potential to positively affect well-being and “the development of socioemotional skills that are intimately related to the establishment of positive relationships” (Berger et al., 2020, p. 7). Furthermore, current research shows that extracurricular activities are extremely important in fostering social connectivity post-pandemic, and these connections “tend to be particularly valuable when academic faculty choose to sponsor activities, giving them chances to connect with students outside their subject-area classes” (Lang, 2021, p. 15).
We are fortunate that most educators in our schools wear multiple hats. Our involvement with extracurricular activities provides bonus opportunities to connect with our boys in meaningful ways and school-based activities that incorporate “male-targeted approaches through gender-sensitive and gender-transformative programs may also benefit young men’s mental health and well-being” (Gwyther, 2019, p. 14). We invite you to leverage these extra experiences and consider possible interventions beyond the classroom that promote healthy masculinity. Such interventions might be undertaken with boys of all ages, within established student groups or ones that could be new to your school—the extracurricular possibilities are endless. You may design projects within your role advising a school club, leading an art ensemble (music, theater, dance), supporting yearbook or literary magazine committees, guiding an advisory group, coaching athletes, sponsoring a team such as debate or robotics, mentoring student-led wellness or community outreach initiatives, etc. We look forward to developing valuable research with projects that bring balance and connectedness to boys’ lives for the good of their mental health.
Berger, C., Deutsch, N., Cuadros, O., Franco, E., Rojas, M., Roux, G., & Sánchez, F. (2020). Adolescent peer processes in extracurricular activities: Identifying developmental opportunities. Children and Youth Services Review, 118, 105457.
Chu, J. & Gilligan, C. (2019). Boys’ development in a new era of APA guidelines. Men and Masculinities, 22(5), 909–913. https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X19874871
Gwyther, K., Swann, R., Casey, K., Purcell, R., & Rice, S. M. (2019). Developing young men’s wellbeing through community and school-based programs: A systematic review. PloS one, 14(5), e0216955.
Hearn, S. et al. (2020). The State of Health of Adolescent and Young Adult Males in the United States. Unrecognized Depression: A Review of Research and Recommendations. Washington, DC: The Partnership for Male Youth.
Lang, C. (2021). Extracurricular activities can play a central role in K-12 education. Phi Delta Kappan, 102(8), 14-19.
Racine, N., McArthur, B. A., Cooke, J. E., Eirich, R., Zhu, J., & Madigan, S. (2021). Global prevalence of depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents during COVID-19: a meta-analysis. JAMA pediatrics, 175(11), 1142-1150.
Twenge, J. M. (2019, March 20). The sad state of happiness in the United States and the role of digital media. The World Happiness Report. https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2019/the-sad-state-of-happiness-in-the-united-states-and-the-role-of-digital-media/
Way, N., Ali, A., Gilligan, C., & Noguera, P. (Eds.) (2018). The crisis of connection: Roots, consequences, and solutions. New York University Press.
Wilson, M. J., Gwyther, K., Simmons, M., Swann, R., Oliffe, J. L., Casey, K., & Rice, S. M. (2022). Exploring teacher and parent perspectives on school-based masculinities in relation to mental health promotion. Frontiers in Psychology, 13.