Kids Listen: A Small but Great Influence on Our Boys.
I heard one of my favorite comedians, Michael Ian Black, on the radio recently discussing the idea that many boys are broken. It’s an interesting thought, and one I don’t disagree with. The world has changed immensely in the past few generations, for good and for bad, and one of the absolute best aspects of that is how empowered girls are to assert and achieve. They are told that they can be anything and the realities are actually catching up with the dreams. It’s a big change and it’s awesome. But our collective approach to boys hasn’t changed so dramatically.
It’s been well established that most boys have the ability to achieve a lot of things, but I still question whether they can all be comfortable and respected for following some of their truest dreams. I think even entertaining the idea of some dreams is limited by notions of masculinity. Is there not a pressure that might prevent a potentially great elementary school teacher, dancer, or children’s author from developing?
Emotional intelligence, empathy, and even an appreciation of the arts are often seen as contradictory to manliness. It’s a shame, because boys who feel pressured to ignore those important aspects of life will often wind up isolated, depressed, or angry. Those three things are understood to have a noticeable impact on general well being.
I’m not going to pretend that what we are doing in Kids Listen is going to save our kids and change the world, but it is unquestionably a positive place for boys and girls to engage with things that excite them, foster wonder, develop an appreciation of the arts, and safely discover new aspects of the world.
My podcast, The Past and the Curious, is a show on the subject of history. If history can teach us nothing else, it should teach us empathy. More than ever, boys need to understand how others feel, and to imagine how others have felt is a big, painless step in that direction. I also believe that there is no reason a boy shouldn’t idolize a lady like Marian Anderson, be moved by Bessie Coleman’s accomplishments, think Kate Warne was the coolest, or want to learn more about Zora Neale Hurston. They’ll only think it’s weird to idolize women if they’re taught it’s weird.
But while learning about people from the past is one thing, learning about the world from people today is another. The people behind the shows of Kids Listen create because we want to share our passion for the world and its people. I firmly believe this is helping to show our kids one way to live a meaningful life. It also might help them realize what they are capable of when they grow up.
As hard as they wish, it’s unlikely any given boy will be the next Steph Curry. That decision is not really up to him. But he can decide to be a Mr. Eric (What If World) and create an incredibly fun and imaginative gift to others built on a personal passion. More likely, he might just follow Mr. Eric’s lead in feeling comfortable being goofy, vulnerable, and kind with the next generation of kids when it’s his turn to be the grown-up.
It only makes sense to me that a future scientist will fondly remember Lindsay’s voice from the show Tumble — the one that brought so much initial inspiration to his life. When he’s on a team with, or reporting to women, it will feel 100% natural, as it should be. It’s our hope that a listener to Little Stories for Tiny People, Story Spectacular, or Buttons and Figs will never let go of the power of story or language, and continue the tradition of using that power for good.
I often wonder whether, if given the choice, parents would rather raise a CEO, a politician, a sports star, or a Mr. Rogers. That guy was everything to me: he embodied creativity, imagination, curiosity, understanding, open-mindedness, and kindness.
I bet his parents were incredibly proud of him.
We should all be so lucky as to raise a Mr. Rogers.
Or a Ms. Rogers.