Michael Ian Black said boys are broken. These 5 teens are ready for a new masculinity.

"If you want to be 'man enough,' you don't cry. You can't show pain. You can't show upset."

These are the messages teen boys are getting from our society, as revealed in an interview with NBC's Stephanie Ruhle. She sat down with five teens aged 13 to 17 to talk about what it means to grow up as boys and men in the U.S.

The interview, aired on March 25, was partially inspired by a New York Times op-ed by actor Michael Ian Black published in February. In "The Boys Are Not All Right," Black describes our society’s culture of masculinity and how it’s affecting boys:


"Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don't even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine."

Black explained in the Sunday segment that boys are the ones pulling the trigger in almost all mass shootings. In fact, 94% of mass shootings have been carried out by men (about 50% of whom have histories of domestic violence).

"Most boys are going to grow up and never ever commit acts of violence like this," Black pointed out. "But I feel confident in saying most boys would also rather starve to death in their homes than ask their male friend for help shoveling their driveway. This rigid model of masculinity — it's killing us."

Michael Ian Black speaking in North Hollywood in May 2017. Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images.

Our society tells boys that they need to "man up" — but no one really knows what that means.

The teens interviewed seem to confirm Black's analysis. When Ruhle asked them which of them has been told to "man up," all five boys immediately raised their hands.

When asked what it means, one teen responded, "No clue." Another said, "Show no emotion."

Ruhle asked what they felt was the hardest part about growing up as boys. 17-year-old Jordany Robleto-Baltazar responded, "Hiding the pain."

Ty Duggins, 13, replied, "Not being able to express yourself."

"It kind of makes you feel trapped, almost," added Tyler Gamett, 15, "because it’s like you have nowhere to go."

Boys don't know how to seek comfort from each other — or how to offer it without embarrassment.

Dr. Niobe Way, professor of developmental psychology at NYU, also offered some thoughts in the segment, noting that all kinds of emotional challenges hit boys right about the time they're being told to "man up."

"Not needing other people — that is at the root of masculinity," Way told NBC. "And if you look at all the school shooters, including the one at Parkland, every single one of them has said in some way that they feel desperate for connection."

Dylann Lippiatt-Cook, 16, spoke about feeling like he shouldn't cry, even though he knows it's a normal way to express human emotion. "It's normal, but it's not normal," he said. "It is human, but it is not 'man.'"

Mourners embrace at a vigil for Parkland shooting victims. Photo by Rhona Wise/Getty Images.

Robleto-Baltazar described an incident where a friend he was with started crying. He didn't know what to do. He'd never been confronted with having to comfort a guy friend in that way.

The friend finally said, "I think I just need a hug," so Robleto-Baltazar hugged him. Then afterward, they looked at each other and said, "We are never going to say anything to anyone."

Still, there might just be hope for our boys — especially if they ask for help.

At this point in the video, I just wished I could hug these teenagers!

Despite the historical gender inequality women have had to put up with, at least we're allowed to have and express our feelings. I'm raising a son and doing my best to counteract the societal forces that create an unhealthy sense of masculinity — but it's not easy.

These boys struck me as being pretty aware of their own conditioning, and, obviously, they were able to express how it's affected them. But they still struggle with the stigma of showing emotion.

At the end of the interview, Ruhle asked the boys, "How can we make things easier for you?"

"I think it starts with kids," said Jake Hillerman, 17. "Teach them about expressing yourself without viewing it as a wrong."

Gamett made it sound easy: "Get rid of the old stereotypes that we have in our society of a 'manly figure.'"

As difficult as it is to hear that boys in our society are struggling, these teens' self-awareness gives me hope. And I'm seeing more and more men talking about this stuff openly and without shame.

For example, in addition to Michael Ian Black's op-ed, actor Justin Baldoni recently brought together a group of other celebrity men to film a new show discussing what it means to be a man. They tackle vulnerability, body image, emotional expectations, and more.

"We Are Man Enough" serves as a wonderful example to young men who yearn for more emotionally open relationships with other men.

The boys may not be all right now, but as a mom of a boy who's trying to break through old ideas of manhood, this changing culture of masculinity makes me confident that they'll get there.

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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