Author debunks 'macho myths'

September 01, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

The journey from boyhood to manhood can be exciting and frightening at the same time. Boys today are receiving mixed messages on what it means to be a man.

That's one reason that prompted journalist Bill Zimmerman to write "100 Things Guys Need to Know," a book for boys ages 9 to 13.

Zimmerman surveyed more than 500 boys to find out what concerns them. As part of the book, he attempts to debunk what he refers to as the 10 Macho Myths.

I asked him about these myths in a recent phone interview. Here are the myths and Zimmerman's advice on how adults can help children overcome them:


Myth 1: Guys never cry.

Adults should encourage boys to express their feelings and listen carefully so they feel we are interested in what they have to say, Zimmerman says.

"The other message to give is if they keep things in all the time, it ends up hurting them," Zimmerman says. "I say that as a man who when I was a boy kept things in."

Myth 2: Guys need to be buff and tough.

If a boy asks for a weight set, that's fine as long as he doesn't feel like he has to pump iron just to achieve a certain look, Zimmerman says.

It's important for children to get enough exercise. Yet they should be taught to accept their bodies as they are. Not everyone is going to develop huge muscles.

It might be more beneficial for young boys to exercise with their families during a bike ride or an afternoon of swimming so the emphasis is on community and not just on themselves.

Myth 3: It's cool when guys disrespect others.

Parents should show that they respect others. Kids will pick up on that.

Myth 4: Guys should only do 'guy stuff.'

"Each child has to look inside themselves for what is special," Zimmerman says. "I really believe strongly, too, that each child is gifted and special in his or her own way.

"If we are only with people who are like us and look like us, our world is very limited."

Children need to learn that they won't always be accepted, and that's OK.

Myth 5: Guys aren't supposed to ask for help and they don't work well with others.

"Everyone needs help. Part of the way we do our jobs is that we're dependent on other people. Everything is based on teamwork," Zimmerman says. "Asking for help and exchanging information is imperative today."

A boy should be encouraged to learn how to do research on his own but to also accept the fact that some of his most valuable resources are the people around him.

Myth 6: Guys are mean and aggressive by nature.

Even though we all can be mean and aggressive at times because it is part of human nature, boys need to learn that we all also have the capacity for gentleness and empathy.

Adults should demonstrate this by helping others and being considerate.

For example, if someone is waiting for a parking place, you don't cut them off. You just go look for another space, Zimmerman says.

Myth 7: Guys shouldn't make mistakes (or admit to them).

"It's impossible to get everything right the first time. Life is a learning process," Zimmerman says. "Along the way, some things will go really well for us. Other things won't go so well. Not every one of our dreams comes true."

Give boys examples of the mistakes you made and what you learned from them.

Myth 8: Guys have to keep their feelings hidden inside.

If a boy seems reluctant to talk about his feelings, encourage him to write about them in a journal, create artwork that expresses how he feels or compose music that will give him an outlet. Even a family pet can help.

"I've said a lot of things to my dog that I haven't said to anyone else," Zimmerman says.

Myth 9: Guys should act cool, be macho and show off.

Parents should point out good role models for their children.

"If a child has good values, he won't have to be the cool, macho type," Zimmerman says. "He'll just be content with who he is."

Myth 10: Guys should dominate and always be in control.

It's OK to step back and take directions from someone else.

"You're trying to help your son show his humanity," Zimmerman says. "You can't be in control all the time."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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