Source: Hermes Rivera / Unsplash
When I raised my son a few decades ago, the overarching cultural belief was that even boys should mimic the “macho” qualities of their male elders: being tough, not flinching, and showing no emotion. Although I did not specifically highlight or subscribe to this machismo in my parenting, like many other parents, I sometimes encouraged my son to keep his emotions in check. My advice has often been to “man” yourself, so different from the emotionally caring girls who are normally received and still receive. Fortunately, my son grew up to be a sensitive, kind, and respectful man.
That was then. In many ways, it is more difficult to raise boys who will be good men. Today boys at a young age experience excessive real world violence on the news: the scary and all-too-widespread school shootings and attacks on other random innocent people. You have witnessed bullying in schools, violence in so many video games, and public shame on social media. Yet, as several recent studies show, boys continue to be discouraged from showing emotion or vulnerability.
It’s more important than ever for parents to pay attention and change their approaches to raising boys to combat those endless, annoying negative cues. In his new book, Throwing Like a Girl: The Blind Spot of Manhood, former college All-American and NFL quarterback, Don McPherson sees “boys with a major mandate being raised not to be girls or gay men and.” to be tough and quiet and stoic – an essentially misogynistic approach that also limits the emotional growth and sense of responsibility of men, ”according to a publisher’s Weekly magazine.
Fight against violence see boys
Fostering sensitivity and empathy among today’s boys begins with abandoning the macho male stereotype. This can be challenging, especially when we’re looking at the media – namely the world of sports. Boys are influenced by the overmanliness of sports figures who behave reprehensibly and yet are often the role models and role models of boys. Think of the football player Ray Rice or Tiger Woods from Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately there are many others.
Michael Reichert, Ph.D., founding director of the Center for the Study of the Lives of Boys and Girls at the University of Pennsylvania and author of How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men points out and documents What parents of boys are faced with are: “The more adherence to male norms, the more likely a young man is to follow bad health practices.” Compared to girls, boys use more substances, drive recklessly, and generally walk greater risks that often lead to injury. As Reichert notes, “it is one thing for a girl to be a” tomboy “and another for a boy to be a” wimp “.”
In an effort to combat the alarming amount of violence and indifference among boys, a program to prevent harassment and dating violence among middle school boys has successfully changed boys’ beliefs. The program reported in the Child and Youth Welfare Review comprised one-hour sessions over four months in which the assumptions about gender roles, including their normalization and penetration, were examined. In the course of the program, the boys learned about empathy, healthy relationships and gender-based violence.
“By focusing on positive expressions of masculinity like the ability to be respectful in relationships, this program helps boys find positive ways to prevent violence and deal with violence they may have been exposed to,” said Victoria Banyard, the director Author and professor at the School of Social Work at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
How parents can tweak and optimize their approach
Given the current landscape, how can parents raise caring boys who will be “good men” and still be able to withstand the excessive pressures they are under? How can parents encourage their sons to be respectful, upright people with empathetic views and still stand up for themselves?
Dr. Reichert has made important observations in his global research and offers parents suggestions on how to minimize external influences, promote emotional expression and compassion, and remove the old male stereotypes. Adjustments help you become good men in these very different and difficult times.
Here are nine of his most important lessons among many:
- Beware of promoting traditional stereotypes that start early in a son’s life – embarrassing boys for playing with dolls and other toys that are considered girly … or promoting (or insisting on) sports, especially when Your son doesn’t love competition.
- Allow your boy to follow his own path that you may not have set out for him. That way, you respect his individuality and unique personality rather than expecting him to adapt to old, traditional male roles.
- Listen to what your son has to say, especially if he shares his feelings, worries, or fears. Listening is critical to keeping the connection that boys want … and need. Be patient and approachable.
- Encourage your son to show his feelings, from sadness to anger. Let him know that vulnerability is more than acceptable: that it is okay to cry, that he doesn’t have to bottle his feelings when he’s with you, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Help your son by “performing disturbances” or by asking if you need help in a particular situation … or find solutions together. However, avoid taking over for him so he can build his confidence.
- Share your own stories of difficulties and / or embarrassment from your childhood. Let him know you made mistakes.
- Don’t be afraid of the difficult conversations – be it a death in the family, your child’s bad grades, a divorce, relationships with girls – to not only strengthen your connection but also strengthen your son’s openness and sensitivity.
- Say “I love you” regularly to tell your son that you can see his efforts. He will “understand” that you recognize him and accept him for who he is.
- Exercise your authority as a parent by setting boundaries while providing guidance. Listen to your son when he misbehaves or tests boundaries without reacting negatively to his feelings, such as anger. You can set guidelines on how to express this anger in a strategic rather than reactive manner.
Rerichert’s insights and understanding of what boys need give parents what they need to fully relate to their boys and help them thrive. Where was this book when I needed it? If you are concerned about your boy, this is likely to be covered in this book – from gaming or online addiction to violent behavior, from social avoidance or bullied to underperforming. It is clear that raising boys now requires the utmost attention to what we say and do when it comes to raising boys who Reicher says will be “good men.”
Gloria Steinem once suggested “raising our sons more like our daughters”. This means showing emotions and expressing what “hurts” the parents’ understanding, and thus giving up the stereotypical and ubiquitous male model that promotes tenacity and allows destructive behavior and thoughtlessness. Steinem and Reichert make a lot of sense.
What does it take to teach boys #MeToo?
Hero Worship: The double-edged sword of football
Copyright @ 2019 by Susan Newman