Raising great boys has never really been easy, but it seems like it’s even more challenging today than ever. I recently spoke with my friend, Dr. Leonard Sax, noted physician, psychologist, and author of “Boys Adrift” and “Girls On The Edge.” First, we talked at length about the challenges of raising great girls, and I dedicated an entire episode of my Parenting Great Kids podcast to that topic specifically. Now, it’s time to talk about these boys of ours — and to get honest about the world our sons live in and what they need most from us as parents.
Dr. Sax and I touched on so many angles of this issue, and I promise you don’t want to miss this conversation.
Boys need to see how men behave.
Parents, as our sons grow up and develop, physically and emotionally, their needs change. You cannot parent a teen boy the way you parented your five-year-old. Nor can you parent your 30-year-old son the way you did your 12-year-old. Understanding the needs of your son throughout the stages of his development is crucial to raising a great boy.
1.) Embrace your son’s masculinity and let him be a boy. Your son’s masculinity is complex, derived from multiple factors, from internal wirings and external influences to how he views and discovers his sexuality. The development of the sexuality of a child takes place over years and is complex. However, one of the greatest disservices we do to our children today is slapping a simple answer on a complicated issue.
The development of your son’s sexuality is beautifully complex, and it’s deeply connected to his ability to trust people, to love, to his view of himself, to his sense of value, and to his sense of meaning and purpose in life. It’s not simple. Your son’s sexuality is even connected to social cues, to his worldview, and to his religious belief. Early on, your son needs you to help to pace and slow his life down so he can take the time to figure out who he is, what his life means and what his significance is.
When you teach a boy that his sexuality is good and strong and complex, you’re teaching him that his life has great and deep value. So embrace your son’s sexuality and masculinity and give it time to develop.
2.) Recognize that your son’s battle with today’s sexually charged culture is greater than yours was. Parents, in case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed. And is changing. Daily. Dad, it’s different for your sons today than when you were a boy. Mom, the sexual landscape that your son faces is very different from what you faced. First of all, boys have a different physiology than girls do, and when boys go through puberty they feel different sensations, they think different thoughts, (yes, they have emotional fluctuations, and yes they have hormonal changes) but they experience them very differently than girls do.
Whether you like it or not, this is their reality. You can ignore that all you want, but you will frustrate your son to no end. If you tell him that he shouldn’t feel certain emotions when he’s going through puberty, you’re going to make him feel ashamed or crazy for actually feeling those emotions, feelings and sensations. And guess what? He’ll believe you and go with what you say over what he feels, because he believes you are the authority. Be careful what you say.
You also need to recognize that the temptations your son faces are very different from what you faced when you were growing up. The overt sexuality served up to our kids by the culture these days is almost inescapable. These days, the culture wants to convince your son that he’s a nobody if he doesn’t lose his virginity by the time he’s in the seventh or eighth grade. This is a destructive lie, and you, mom and dad, need to link arms with your son and counter those messages. Your son needs to know that you’re on his side, fighting back against a culture that doesn’t like him very much.
3.) Honor your son’s need to separate during the teen years. Moms, take a breath and hear me. I’m the mother of a fabulous son whom I absolutely adore. Mothers feel differently toward their sons than they do toward their daughters, and many times we are harder on our daughters than our sons because we identify with them.
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Fathers are easier on their daughters and harder on their sons because they identify with them. Men typically push their sons, and mothers will usually push their daughters.
Moms, we in particular have real difficulty letting our sons leave us in puberty. Sons are typically close to their mothers through age 10. But then, we have a hard time letting go because we really want them to still need us. We want them to stay boys because it makes us feel like good moms. It doesn’t feel good when they start saying they don’t need us or they don’t want to talk to us – but we’ve got to deal with it. And we’ve got to learn that over the teen years, their life is about dad, not us.
Why? They are visual people. Boys need to see how men behave. They need to hear how men talk in order to know how to be a man. They need to live it and observe it in order to integrate it into their person.
In a teenage boy’s mind, it’s creepy for him to feel close to his mom. And that’s OK — because here is the good news. Once we allow our boys to separate from us, they come back as adults. And then, when they are in their 20s, we can establish a healthy, strong, adult relationship with our sons. Great parenting really is more about letting go than holding on. This is also why so many boys aren’t launching, either. Because as moms, we try to keep them so close, wrongly believing they still need us the same way they used to in the past.
Mom, I know you don’t want to hear it, but what your pre-teen and teen son needs most from you is space. Our sons must be given the room to grow and to learn how to figure things out on their own.
Parents, this just barely scratches the surface on the things I want to tell you. It’s a crucial topic that you can’t hear too much of today.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.