Raising Boys

Raising BoysBy Abby Bordner

I remember in feminist studies in college, I thought boys and girls were merely socialized to be different. If we just treated boys and girls exactly the same, they would equally develop an emotional sensitivity and a confidence to achieve lofty goals for themselves. You just give both boys and girls the same options and exposure: trucks, dolls, blocks and princesses as well as science, math and the creative arts. I was sure what we’d find is there really aren’t that many differences between girls and boys.

Fast forward six years out of college and I am the Mother to a son. And four years after that, a daughter. My own little gender studies lab. Given my intentional “equal opportunity” play and language; at two years old my son was obsessed with construction vehicles, then fire trucks, then dinosaurs, then, at five years old… (gasp) guns. And my daughter, at one year old, carried baby dolls with authority and covered them for sleep with Kleenex. Hmmm.

A recent study looked at how the brain processes information, non-verbal and verbal communication as well as reasoning and logic. In 7 out of 8 areas of the brain, boy’s results were drastically different than girls.  Does that surprise you?

In the last 20 years of child development, we’ve seen far more psychologists studying the experience of boys than at any other time in history. There is an epidemic of grown men suffering from depression, physical illness, failed relationships and lack of ambition. In Leonard Sax’s book, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Men (2007), Sax studies modern day men who have grown up on the highest rates of behavior medication, video games, devaluation of masculinity and an a school system that doesn’t support boys learning. Sax says both environment and biology are to blame.

In Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (1999), Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson declare there is a nation of boys that are hurting; sad, afraid, angry and silent. They identify that boy culture prepares our boys to hide behind a “mask of masculinity” that sets an impossible standard of manhood.

There are many terrific books that have guided me as the Mom of a boy. And I am learning as I go. Here are some ideas that I’ve come up with to help me stay connected and tuned in to my son and his unique needs, communication style and way of being in the world.

For parents of SONS:

  • Be a mentor to him. Boys learn best when the topic is pertinent in some way. Show him how to fix something, how to cook, how to play a sport. Boys enjoy sharing activities along-side you; learning as they go.
  • Let him make decisions. The best way to become a good decision maker is by making decisions. Start small and age appropriate. Continue to give him more responsibility over his life.
  • Encourage problem solving. Allow time and space when your son is facing a challenge. Don’t rush to rescue him or do it for him. Honor his struggles, frustrations and failures. These are the learning experiences that change the way he’ll approach things next time.
  • Take an interest in him. Men describe the most important adults in their lives (when they were young) as those who truly took an interest in them. Ask him questions about his interests and his passions. Create opportunities to learn more together or share an experience related to his interests.
  • Don’t ridicule, compare or call names when directing your boy. Boys begin to feel insecure, unworthy and angry when they receive criticism like this. It affects their self -esteem more than you may realize. Give guidance and support.

I appreciate the inherent differences of girls and boys; men and women. I respect the masculine identity my son is making for himself and the ways he is so different than me.

What are the ways your boy is uniquely his own man? Post your comments.

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Leave A Reply (7 comments so far)

  1. Kellie Frazier
    3 years ago

    Abby this is an excellent article, thank you. My boys are grown men and absolutely suffer from the disconnected daddy (military sea time) syndrome and a mom who was too young to understand how to parent them appropriately.

    When our daughter was born I was much older and more determined to never let that happen again. I learned to love God, myself and others more consciously. Because of it, our girl is amazing, goal oriented and on her way toward success as a professional photographer. I do believe if my son’s had this type of mom they would have fared as well.

    Outside influences still determine our gender roles, no matter how strong our parenting skills are. In fact, every bullet point you made can also be said for girls. So although gender roles seem inherent, I can still see the vast majority of healthy relationship choices come from the examples around us like you originally believed. Loved your article. Thank you.

    • Abby
      3 years ago

      Thanks, Kellie! Yes, it seems to be a combination of the social environment, your parenting and biological gender differences. Thanks you for sharing so honestly about your experience raising your children. And, I agree, so many aspects of healthy relationships are not specific to gender.

  2. Alan Stevens
    3 years ago

    Congratulations Abby.

    This is a good start to raising boys. I’m a grandfather now and my boys have become men I’m very proud of. When their mother left me to raise them on my own they were 12,11 and 4 years old. I quickly learnt there was a great deal more than you’ve covered here (which I’m sure you know) to raising boys to become men and to respect women. I’m glad to hear that psychology is finally starting to understand the connections and interplays between nature and nurture in the relationship to raising boys.
    Best Regards

    • Abby Bordner
      3 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Alan. Yes, it’s more complex than what I’ve presented here. It’s great to hear from a father who is proud of his sons! It takes a lot, especially as a single parent. Congrats!

  3. Anonymous
    2 years ago

    Abby maybe you should marriage counseling too! Read what you wrote!

    • Abby Bordner
      2 years ago

      You’re right! Thanks for the comment. Yes, these skills work great on partners, friends and family, too. 😉