Last updated: 14 Oct, 2020

How to encourage boys to break free of outdated rules on how to be a man, build respectful relationships and lead healthier lives.

Key messages

  • Most people want boys to be respectful, helpful and kind, but many find society imposes outdated rules of how to be a man.

  • These outdated rules include looking a certain way, being tough or in control, and hiding feelings.

  • A survey of 1000 Australians showed that men who try to live up to these outdated rules are more likely to report poorer mental health; use or experience of violence; and sexual harassment towards women.


VicHealth has developed two videos, one for young men and boys and the other for schools, sports organisations and youth workers who work with boys and men to build respectful relationships, support gender equality and achieve health and wellbeing.

The videos promote acceptance of people whoever they are, free from gender stereotypes, and a society where boys and men feel comfortable to seek and receive support.


Watch VicHealth video for teachers, coaches and youth workers: Breaking free from gender stereotypes


Watch VicHealth video for boys: Breaking free from outdated rules


If you work in health promotion and want to know more about masculinities and health take a look at the VicHealth research on masculinities and health.


Why it’s important to break free of outdated rules

To live healthy, fulfilled lives, boys and men need environments where they can show their feelings, ask for help and feel confident to call out disrespect. This is important, not just for boys and men, but for everyone.

Research shows there is pressure on men to live up to outdated rules of what it means to be a man. And, when men can’t live up to these expectations, they can experience negative feelings and emotions and have poorer attitudes.

This contributes to anxiety, depression and violence against women.

If boys and men can break free of judgement and outdated stereotypes, everyone benefits. And, we can build a safer, more equal society.


Tips on raising boys to be healthy men

Leading girls’ rights agency Plan International Australia has developed 9 tips to help parents guide their boys to view masculinities in a healthy way.

  1. Encourage personal expression with toys. Introduce boys to a range of toys and activities, including those that are ‘gender neutral’ and thought of as ‘for girls’.
  2. Use play to define positive values. Show through role play that being able to express a range of emotions, including being afraid, or compassionate and caring, is positive for both boys and girls. 
  3. Challenge harmful stereotypes around clothes. Encourage boys to be their authentic selves by allowing them to experiment with fashion and self-expression.
  4. Be clear about consent. Let boys know they have to ask permission to touch others, and they have the right to say no if they don’t want to be touched. Find media with good role models. Choose books, TV shows and media that break gender norms by showing boys and girls who have interests and emotions that challenge stereotypes.
  5. Speak up when you hear disrespect. If family or friends say something problematic around your son, speak up in that moment and have a conversation about values.
  6. Find positive role models. Identify role models in your family, community or media who demonstrate healthy, respectful ways to be a boy or man.
  7. Talk the talk. Help boys feel supported that they won’t be judged for sharing their concerns or fears, and encourage them to empathise and connect with others.
  8. Walk the walk. Challenge your own perceptions of gender roles and model behaviours you want to encourage.

Read more here.


More information

Jesuit Social Services: The Men’s Project explored the behaviours and attitudes to masculinity among Australian men aged 18-30 in two research reports. The reports focus on the ‘Man Box’, a set of beliefs that pressure men to behave and act in a certain way, despite the harm it causes to them and others.

Read more about Unpacking the Man Box


Our Watch
The recent study Men in focus, is an extensive review of Australian and international research on the topic of the ‘tough man’ stereotype. It aims to build a deeper understanding of masculinity, as well as providing guidance for those working with men and boys to prevent violence against women.

Read more about: Men in focus: unpacking masculinities and engaging men in the prevention of violence against women

Read more about the Our Watch campaign to raise awareness of violence against women: There’s no excuse for abuse