The Challenges of Navigating Online Pressure
My concern for the well-being of boys and men started young and eventually inspired me to become an educator and a speaker. Flying under the radar in the land of boys well into my teens allowed me to witness common ways that boys manage the pressure to feel enough. Playing on boys’ sports teams and joining their recess games were the realms where I saw their deepest fears exposed. For a time, I managed my own jostle in the hierarchy of recess or practice by piling on. After two of my male ski pals openly shared what was required for them to socially survive each day, I became aware of the undercurrent and developed compassion for most guys.
I support and present to young people of all ages and genders, but we have reached a critical point where we need to attend to the challenges boys and young men face. I believe that addressing difficult topics and sharing information with boys and young men is beneficial for all genders in a community.
Too many boys and young men privately struggle with feelings of anxiety, loneliness, irrelevance and physical weakness. Many boys and young men fear imagined and possible social consequences if they revealed their true selves. Rather than risk public shame, many boys and young men frantically seek answers online, becoming easy targets for messaging from influencers, platforms, internet porn and companies that actively prey on their insecurities.
Many boys and young men admit that they avoid putting themselves in any situation that could lead to exclusion, rejection or appearing weak. A collision of factors contributes to this trend; the most significant factor being that most boys still don’t feel comfortable admitting that they need help and choose to conform to the norm of suffering privately. Access to all the internet serves up before one develops discernment makes consumers especially vulnerable to any influencer promising a regiment that will solve all their problems. Most boys and young men are desperate for guidance around their social, athletic and sexual lives, and they are easily duped by influencers who blend seemingly inspirational messaging with harsh, disrespectful ideas.
Over the last five years, the pressure to feel and seem “man enough” has amped up with an exponentially growing number of online platforms and influencers whose content both fuels insecurities in their followers and offers solutions that are irresistible to those who feel socially, physically and sexually irrelevant. Almost all of a teen’s online engagement is unseen and unknown by the adults in their lives.
Boys and young men could access so many wonderful organizations who offer supportive resources, guidance, communities, programming, podcasts, positive online platforms and accurate information about sexuality. Unless required by a mentor, teacher, coach or leader, boys and young men are reluctant to buy into anything that could publicly reveal that they are in need of help.
The false promise that being “ripped” and wealthy as a direct line to feeling emotionally secure, socially relevant and sexually powerful is surprisingly effective. The increasing number of boys who are eager and desperate to change their circumstances are vulnerable to this kind of messaging that is currently flooding the internet. Early middle school has become a common time for young male consumers to get roped into online influencers and misleading messages. These companies and individuals are successful because they bank on catching the attention of lonely, anxious boys who feel sexually and socially inadequate, physically weak or not “man enough”.
My hope is to educate and inform boys in a way that puts them at ease and improves their wellbeing. My presentations are based on the most common questions asked by boys and young men with an aim to quell the fears and doubts that so many guys tamp down and carry into manhood. I navigate these questions and conversations in an honest, understanding and open way.
I encourage parents, caregivers, coaches, educators and group leaders to educate themselves about these online influences and engage more directly with boys and young men about what they consume online and how much time they spend in front of screens.