Adolescence is a time of significant growth, exploration, and change. Puberty is a period in life when we undergo the most rapid rate of aging. With all the major changes that children face in their physical and mental states, adolescence can be a stressful time with a diversity of challenges for different people. As a youth, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the rapid changes in ourselves and the people around us, and the accompanying social pressures. Sadly, adolescence is also the time when children face a strong stigma that creates a barrier for them to reach out to elders for support. Boys in particular have an even more abnormal experience through puberty in regards to the onset. Early-onset of puberty is more prevalent in boys compared to girls and delayed puberty is eight times more frequent in boys (1). This means that there is much greater variation in the physical and mental development of boys at the same age, creating differences that can heighten their insecurities in many ways. Boys are also much less likely to confront a school nurse, teacher, or parent about their mental or physical health. For example, 85% to 90% of patients at a teen health clinic in Montreal were women (1). Although suppression and internalization of emotions are often touted as normal behaviour for men, this can cause significant and lasting damage in boys that can manifest in other associated behaviours.
Suppression of emotions can manifest in the behaviour of children in many ways. Children are often naive to the emotions they feel, and do not fully understand them, nor do they know how to properly cope with them. This can result in insecurity, which most children will experience to some degree, and can even lead to a projection of emotions. Bullying and aggressive behaviour in boys are highly prevalent and often regarded as a normal part of childhood. With the rise of social media presence, children are given an opportunity to manipulate their social and physical appearance, creating yet another environment that facilitates insecurity, judgment, and bullying. To add to it all, the recent lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic took the greatest toll on the mental health of children, who suffered from a compromised quality of education and reduced opportunities to build relationships with their peers. This, along with many other factors, contributed to the severely concerning increase in suicidal events in children in 2021 in comparison to 2016 (182%) (2). With the current mental health crisis we are seeing in young men, we must consider a change in our educational approach to start teaching boys about mental health earlier in their development, and advocate the importance of seeking help. Studies have shown that mental health education earlier in life could lead to the normalization of professional help-seeking (3). Increasing access to support is essential for us to move forward and break down the barriers associated with help-seeking and mental health.
As children get older, stress continues to build and social pressures come in different forms. Unfortunately, as children age, they are faced with more opportunities to build unhealthy habits. In fact, 80% of Canadians who are 15 years of age and older reported consuming alcohol (4). Rather than seeking help for their emotional distress, teenagers are much more likely to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs as a primary coping mechanism. This attitude around substance use in late teenage years has led to the rise of party culture, an extremely harmful concept that promotes excessive unhealthy behavior. Party culture is something that has always been present, but studies done over the past few decades have revealed how threatening these behaviors can be to public health. In addition to the increasing prevalence of both normal consumption and binge drinking, electronic vaporizers and e-cigarettes present a new epidemic of addictive substances for youth. This is a growing concern for parents as teens who use vapes are more likely to both drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes (5). While there have been numerous studies attempting to understand the relationship between mental health and alcohol consumption, recent research has identified some warning signs to help identify those who are more likely to struggle with substance abuse. Youth who lack internal regulation of self-control are more likely to struggle with binge drinking behavior and alcohol abuse. This is of great concern in the context of boys’ health as males are three-times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a cognitive disorder which causes challenges to attention span and impulse control (1). Fortunately, Griffin and colleagues (2021) found that developing the ability to control impulses and stay focused on tasks coincided with an ability to control internal events like sadness, pain, and anxiety (5,6).
Boys will continue to face temptations in all aspects of their lives. It is more essential now than ever before that adults spend time with their children to provide a comfortable environment to express their internal thoughts. Growth is always accompanied with stress and hardship, thus highlighting the importance of educating children about healthy coping strategies in times of distress.
Dr. Rohan Bissoondath,