4 Great Tips for Raising a Boy
When you’re a mom raising a son, even if you grew up with brothers, you are always navigating uncharted territory. Getting an up close and deeply personal view of a boy’s kinetic physicality, his tender heart, and most of all, the expectations placed upon him is like landing on a sometimes hostile foreign planet and being expected to be a tour guide. “American boys are broken,” wrote Michael Ian Black in his heartbreaking New York Times column last month. “I believe in boys. I believe in my son. Sometimes, though, I see him, 16 years old, swallowing his frustration, burying his worry, stomping up the stairs without telling us what’s wrong, and I want to show him what it looks like to be vulnerable and open but I can’t. Because I was a boy once, too.” If boys really are broken, then moms will just have to find a way to break through. Here are some helpful reads and their most vital lessons.
Do not withdraw from your son if you sense he’s in emotional pain, even if he pushes you away
Child psychologists Dr. Dan Kindlon and Dr. Michael Thompson have worked extensively with boys. They map a “journey into the souls” of an entire gender they see as at-risk—for suicide, substance abuse, academic underachievement and more scary, tragic stuff. They want to open parents’ eyes to how “our culture's dominant masculine stereotypes shortchange boys and lead them toward emotional isolation.” To an outsider, it may seem obvious that boys often mask their pain and confusion with silence or anger—but it’s a truth often missed by defensive, struggling parents. “I’d like to open the door of my office,” writes Thompson, “to reveal how adolescent boys struggle with sadness and show how often they channel that sadness into contempt for others and into self-hate.”
SPEND LESS TIME SAYING ‘CALM DOWN’ AND MORE TIME WRESTLING HIM TO THE GROUND
Though Dr. Antony T. DeBenedet and Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen clarify that kids of every gender benefit from rough-and-tumble play, the physical, cognitive, social and psychological payoff for boys is especially significant: “Boys as a group tend to tease, shove and hit more than girls, even when they’re having fun and being friendly. That’s probably because more direct ways to show affection with other boys are forbidden after age three or four, when they risk being teased for being unmanly,” they write. “That such emotional expression is taboo illustrates why boys need their parents, especially their dads, to show them how to have physical contact that isn’t aggressive, to cuddle as well as to wrestle.”
ENCOURAGE A LOVE OF READING WITH ACTION-PACKED, BOY-FRIENDLY BOOKS
Anyone whose son has struggled in school—including nursery school—will be equally comforted and outraged by the revelations in this one. Author Peg Tyre, a former reporter at Newsweek and a mother of two sons, does a deep dive into the educational disadvantages American boys face. And the statistics are sobering: Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls. In elementary school, they’re diagnosed with learning disorders four times as often, and they are prescribed medicine for attention-related disorders at twice the rate of girls. The overwhelming majority of kids in special education classes are boys. By high school, boys are heavily outnumbered by girls in AP classes. Boys now account for less than 43 percent of college students. And it starts from the moment they enter school. Many boy moms will nod their heads when they read about “the high-stress academics in preschool and kindergarten, when most boys just can’t tolerate sitting still.” Tyre also interviewed plenty of adolescent boys who failed to meet their academic potential because, “Some boys got tired of teachers telling them to sit down and stop fidgeting. Others believed their friends who told them studying was ‘for girls.’ Others looked at school as a game they couldn’t win, so they refused to play.”
Fix yourself first
This book from veteran pediatrician and mother of four Dr. Meg Meeker gives moms the tools to strengthen—or rebuild—their relationships with their sons, primarily by healing themselves. Maybe that means unpacking the baggage from past relationships with men you’re projecting onto your son. Or simply taking comfort in knowing there is “a common triad, which every mother in America feels at some point: guilt, fear and anger.” She calls the book a “survival manual” for, among other things, “the moments when the going gets tough and a mom’s natural ways of communicating—talking, analyzing, exploring—only fuel the fire.” Her mission is to help you “become a sounder, healthier, less stressed mother” so you can raise a boy who thrives.