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Youth story: Bullying, masculinity and cultural perceptions

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This story was written by a member of Kids Help Phone’s National Youth Council (NYC).

Growing up, my Chinese parents told me that boys shouldn’t cry. Instead, boys should be tough, resilient and able to handle their problems by themselves. I don’t blame my parents for raising me this way. They were simply teaching me what they had been taught from a young age. Because of the perception of masculinity in my culture, I felt like I had to suppress my emotions whenever I was going through a difficult time.

Struggling in silence

I remember experiencing the worst emotional and physical bullying of my life in elementary school. The people who were bullying me had pinned me to the wall while they took turns punching me and calling me demeaning names. I couldn’t call for help or fight back. I would simply be blamed for starting the commotion because I was outnumbered. I felt like my teacher ignored my quiet pleas for help. I started to hate school — a place I had always loved. Coming home from school, I would think of an excuse for the bruises on my legs to tell my family.

I’ll never forget the countless nights where I couldn’t sleep. Staring at the ceiling for hours, I felt completely helpless. I believed that I would never be able to escape the bullying. Neither my teacher nor my old “friends” had my back. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents either, because I was completely and utterly ashamed. Ashamed that I was crying in my bed alone, ashamed that I was being bullied and ashamed that I wasn’t the “man” I thought my parents wanted me to be. I truly believed that I would embarrass my parents if I reached out for help and would be treated as a failure. I continued to suffer in silence. Months would go by, and I continued to fall deeper and deeper into this hole of negativity.

Getting help

Then one night, Kids Help Phone’s blue logo on a chocolate bar wrapper caught my eye. In desperation, I decided to make a call. This ended up being the best decision of my life. I remember the counsellor’s voice being warm. She asked about how I was feeling and posed questions about my well-being. When she heard me choking back tears, she told me it was OK to cry. All my life people had told me to “man up,” to get over things and to suppress my emotions. And here was someone who finally told me that it was normal to be emotional and to feel things. I cried for the first time in years while on the call.

Talking to a counsellor at Kids Help Phone gave me the courage I needed to report my situation to the proper authorities. It also fueled my desire to help other people in the future who may be experiencing bullying themselves.

The stigma attached to masculinity and showing emotion is a profound issue. I don’t think young men who are feeling low — or anyone for that matter — should be told to just “get over it.” I think it’s important to ask young men how they’re truly feeling, validate/normalize their emotions and let them cry. I believe that real men cry. Real men cry because they aren’t pretending to be someone they’re not. They’re acting as someone they know best — themselves.

Experiencing something like bullying while also trying to cope with expressing your emotions can be tough. If you’re struggling with an issue — big or small — it’s always OK to reach out for help. You can contact Kids Help Phone for non-judgmental support 24/7. We’re here for you!