'It is OK to cry': Teenage boys breaking the man code

When Toby Bellew first sat down with his year 9 classmates to talk openly about their problems, the 15-year-old was surprised that his friends shared similar worries.

"What I found out was that everyone is going through the same things and there are things I have done or said that wouldn't have seen me rejected after all," Toby said.

"Women speak to their friends but men don't so much but communication is the key to keeping Australian men alive."

Toby is in year 9 at Parramatta Marist High School, a Catholic boys school that has had the reputation for producing "tough men", including top rugby league players.

But an innovative new program at the school is teaching the boys how to open up and talk about their emotions.

A personal development, health and PE teacher at the school, Luke Barry-Donnellan, was inspired to develop the program after watching the Man Up series on the ABC.

The three-part series looked at the problems facing men and why suicide is the leading cause of death of males aged 15 to 44.

Mr Barry-Donnellan said the school started with a masculinity workshop for 180 year 9 students, which was was so popular with the boys that it has been expanded into their study and lessons.

Now, the boys are using project-based learning to work in small groups and produce short radio segments which investigate men's issues and come up with solutions to support each other.

Mr Barry-Donnellan said the school will back some of the solutions, whether they are a basketball game before class or a man-cave in the school.

"Year 9 can be a difficult transition and you have boys who are 14 and are told they are too old to cry, or they have to man-up and not be emotional," Mr Barry-Donnellan said.

Mr Barry-Donnellan said he hoped the school's program would help the boys break down the man code and support each other more.

"It won't change overnight but it would be nice if there was a cultural shift," Mr Barry-Donnellan said.

For Monty Duncombe, 15, the program is highlighting that too often, young males are told to "toughen up and keep quiet".

"I think sometimes men thing think that if they speak up people will think they are weak but if men are not showing their emotions they are like robots."

Monty's group has proposed a Share a Donut Day as a way of bringing boys together to talk. Mr Barry-Donnellan said if the boys are passionate enough, the school will bring their ideas to life.

This story 'It is OK to cry': Teenage boys breaking the man code first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.