Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy

"Helping You, Help Yourself"

Hearing What Your Male Child/Adolescent is Trying to Say By “Acting Out”

Hearing What Your Male Child/Adolescent is Trying To Say By “Acting Out” by Joe Conlon

{4:12 minutes to read} Is your male child or adolescent acting out? Do they have no interest in school?

A child or adolescent who appears to be oppositional or aggressive may actually be reacting to feelings of anxiety or depression that he may not be able to articulate effectively. He may not even fully understand what he is feeling.

Peter worries of not fitting in with friends at school. When another boy says something that makes him feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or different, Peter has difficulty expressing this feeling, so Peter shoves this boy or punches a wall. His defense is to fight.

Mike is anxious about doing poorly on a test or on homework. When he has an exam, Mike makes it seem like he does not care and skips school or hides in the library rather than express his true feelings. In this case, his defense is flight.

Why are boys more likely to act oppositional and have conduct disorders?

Boys are taught that males should be strong, repress emotions, be violent, and get angry to manage problems. They receive and learn this message from movies, media, video games, and parental comments like: “Be a man!” and “Stop being a girl!” Violent video games and movies such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Terminator desensitize children to violence and reward misbehaviors.

The truth is that male babies (before they hear societal messages) are actually more sensitive than female babies. Studies suggest that boys are more vulnerable and less resilient than girls in the first few months of life. Boys are more easily distressed. They cry more frequently and are unable to calm themselves. [1]

Darcia Narvaez, a Psychology professor at Notre Dame, writes in her article Be Worried About Boys, Especially Baby Boys, that while “we somehow expect boys to always be ‘tough,’ this evidence shows them to actually be sensitive and vulnerable, and shows that boys feel a full range of emotions—even those considered ‘not masculine’ like fear, shame, humiliation, and uncertainty.” [2] Since boys feel these emotions, they need an outlet to express them. Repressing, or bottling-up emotions, leads to feeling overwhelmed, which increases the risk of defiant behaviors, drug use, self-harm, and violence, as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Boys, just like girls, must feel comfortable expressing emotions, as they, too, will experience traumatic and emotional events, such as the death of a parent/grandparent, divorce, moving, loss of parent’s job, and illness.

Convey a Different Message

Expressing emotions is courageous and a strength, not a sign of weakness. Expressing emotions helps children develop assertiveness and will help protect them from being emotionally abused by others in the future.

To do this we may need to role model emotions for children:

  • Do not be afraid of showing your feelings;
  • Let your child see when you are happy or sad.

This helps them to develop empathy for others. Show them affection by hugging them, do activities together, and have regular conversations with them.

Studies also show that the role of a father figure is critical, whether it is a biological father, step-dad, grandpa, or friend. Children who are well-bonded to and loved by involved male figures tend to have less behavioral problems and are somewhat inoculated against alcohol and drug abuse.

Also, allow your child to be involved in an activity of their choice, to serve as a coping skill. Activities such as sports, art, or theatre allow children to safely express and cope with difficult emotions through action or creation.


[1] Allan N. Schore, All our sons: The developmental neurobiology and neuroendocrinology of boys at risk.”

[2] Darcia Narvaez,  Be Worried about Boys, Especially Baby Boys

Joe Conlon, LMSW
CBT Psychological Associates
2171 Jericho Turnpike, Suite 345
Commack, NY. 11725
(631) 486-5140

2017-09-06T11:44:56+00:00 By |0 Comments

About the Author:

Joe Conlon, LMSW
CBT Psychological Associates
2171 Jericho Turnpike, Suite 345
Commack, NY. 11725
(631) 486-5140

Leave A Comment