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It's important for boys to have male role models who are comfortable with intimacy

Randy Faris/Fuse

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

Oh, boys. They have a hard enough time figuring out how to behave – no hitting, ask nicely, your shirt sleeve is not a napkin.

But when a boy in today's world is told to "be a man," what exactly are they supposed to do?

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There is a welcome movement afoot to counter the darker side of masculinity that crams boys and men into an aggressive, proud, emotionally empty box. It's not easy to break down the deep-seated social law requiring boys and men to maintain a tough-guy façade regardless of what's going on inside.

Progress is happening with groups like the ManKind Community, the Good Men Project and Men's Sheds; and the recently released documentary The Mask You Live In that targets the way we fail our boys through unhealthy expectations of manliness. Yet the daily headlines are disturbingly packed with not-so-isolated stories of hazing, rape culture, misogynist online activity and violent acts perpetrated by young men.

On a personal note, one of us grew up in Boy Scouts and the other on the rugby pitch – two male-centred arenas known for rugged play, fart jokes and other things we'd rather not tell our mother about. We still enjoy tipping over canoes and tackling people (in the appropriate context). But these early experiences also taught us about friendship, teamwork and respect.

Ideally there's a positive masculinity that balances confidence with compassion, and helps boys to succeed in school and in life. We should let boys be the boys who they naturally are – including the rough-and-tumble adventurer, the sensitive guy, and every kind of boy in between. Often, all those boys reside in the same person.

This week's question: How can parents, schools and the rest of us help to raise confident and compassionate boys?

THE EXPERTS

Michael Reist, author of the upcoming Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys:

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"For parents and teachers of young boys, encourage and celebrate rough and tumble play – it's therapeutic and improves self-regulation and resilience. During puberty, ensure boys' have male role models who are comfortable with touch, intimacy, vulnerability and empathy without seeing it as weakness."

Jonathan Allan, professor of gender studies at Brandon University in Manitoba:

"Fathers and other men should lead by example in their own lives. Consider how you display your masculinity at home, with friends, while driving, and in the workplace. Do you use bullying, teasing or intimidating to build your confidence or get your way? Shift your own style to be the blueprint of confidence and compassion you want to see in the boys in your life."

Blye Frank, dean of education at the University of British Columbia:

"Coaches and sports leaders are key to any real change in boys' routine practice of masculinities. Many grew up in a culture of sport that allowed and celebrated violence, so let's educate and train today's coaches on respect for diversity (gender, sexual orientation, race) and how to infuse their coaching with healthy masculine life skills in addition to athletic ones."

Have your say in the comments section.

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