It can sometimes feel like it’s more challenging to raise boys than it once was. And evidence would suggest that’s actually true. Test scores show modern boys are facing more challenges with learning, while increased rates of suicide and depression show they’re struggling with mental health. Some of that can be linked to the influence of modern media and technology. Some of it can be linked to biology, too. But more can be attributed to the antiquated way parents have traditionally raised boys, relative to girls. Dads need to understand that the modern challenges of boyhood require more thoughtful and more present parenting than ever before.
And that’s just one among many more harsh truths about raising boys.
Harsh Truth #1: Boys Cry, and That’s Totally Okay
Boys and, by extension, men, have labored too long under the idea that they cannot and should not show certain emotions, like tenderness and sadness. But the fact is that boys do cry and that the tears they shed are both important and necessary.
When boys are denied the right to express what has been commonly known as “feminine” emotions, they are left with nothing but traditionally “masculine” emotions—anger and aggression. That means when boys are faced with circumstances that would be better dealt with by shedding a tear, the may instead become angry or violent because that is the emotion they have practiced.
Fathers need to help boys understand that there is no shame in crying. They also need to help boys understand that feelings like tenderness and nurturing aren’t reserved for girls. Knowing how to recognize and appropriately express these emotions will help them build the emotional intelligence necessary to succeed as adults.
Harsh Truth #2: A Boy’s Future Depends on What Dads Say About the World
Boys look up their fathers. They see them as role models. They look to them for cues on how to view the world. Because of this, it’s important for fathers to watch what they say when their boys are watching.
For instance, dads who belittle women or talk down to them in the ear-shot of their sons are in danger of raising little misogynists. Kids are always listening. If the message they are hearing is misogynist, angry and dour, it can fill boys with anxiety and set poor examples that they will carry into manhood.
Instead, help your boys develop empathy. This can be done by not only through fathers modeling empathy for others, but by also showing self restraint in the way they talk about the world in front of their children. Is that a difficult thing to do? Most definitely. Is it worth it? Undoubtedly.
Harsh Truth #3: Dads Need to Calm Down About Winning
It’s common for fathers to want to raise boys who are winners. But when winning is placed above all else, it can set a child up for a huge amount of anxiety that ultimately hurts a father and son relationship.
The problem with putting a huge emphasis on winning is that boys will often come to believe that their father’s love is tied to their success. That’s not always something a child can control. So, when they eventually don’t win, they will feel the relationship with their father is unstable. That feeling of instability, mixed with stress, has been known to lead to depression and issues like drug use, down the road.
It’s far better for fathers to focus their pride on the dedication of their children, regardless of the outcome. It’s also important to for fathers to stress that failure is an opportunity to learn and improve. This is how boys develop grit and determination.
Harsh Truth #4: Boys are Naturally Attracted to Guns Whether You Like it or Not
It’s important that gun-owning fathers and those who dislike firearms both understand that boys are naturally inclined to be interested in guns. Because whether or not there are guns in the house, precautions need to be taken to ensure little boys behave appropriately when encountering a firearm.
The attraction that boys have with guns is partly evolutionary. Many experts argue that boys and men are biologically inclined to be hunters and protectors. Today, there is no greater symbol of hunting and protecting than the gun. So, playing with guns, real or otherwise, gives young boys a feeling of big boy power. However, those same little boys cannot grasp the concept of death, which can turn play with a firearm very deadly, very quickly.
Sadly, research has found that gun safety instruction is rarely effective when children come in contact with real guns. Even if children take gun safety classes they are no less likely to pick up a real firearm. That means the imperative is to make sure that children and guns are never in proximity to one another. For gun-owning dads, that means being strict about using a gun safe. For fathers who don’t own guns, it means asking other parents if guns are in the house and how they are stored prior to their children visiting for playdates.
Harsh Truth #5: Father’s Need to Support and Protect Their Son’s Friendships
Boys develop deep and loving friendships with other boys. But at some point, cultural expectation begin to pry male friends apart. As boys grow into adolescence they begin to fear that intense friendships might be misconstrued as feminine or homosexual. That can cause bonds to break between friends. Sadly this has fueled a crisis of loneliness in older men, which has been linked to their shockingly high modern rates of depression and suicide.
Fathers can help boys by talking to their sons about their friendships and helping those relationships flourish. This might mean more playdates, or encouraging sleepovers and adventures. Whatever it takes to keep those bonds strong. It also means modeling good friendships too. So call up your old buddies. It’ll help your boys out, too.
Harsh Truth #6: Boys Are More Likely to Be Diagnosed with ADHD
Boys have more energy, on average, than girls. Schools and teachers aren’t necessarily prepared or willing to help boys manage that energy in productive ways. The upshot? Boys’ behavior is more likely to be pathologized.
This is not to say ADHD is a hoax. It most certainly is not. But the interventions for boys should be more diverse than stimulants. In some cases, getting outside to play, and helping a kid develop systems of mindfulness and concentration will work just fine, without a formal medical diagnosis.
Harsh Truth #7: Fathers Should Be Helping with Homework
It has become a relatively modern trope that being smart, particularly in school, is a feminine quality. Look no further than J.K. Rowling’s Hermione Granger. And many boys has internalized this message.
Father’s can help boys understand the importance of education by doing homework with them. Too often, the task is relegated to mothers who, along with the predominantly female population of American teachers, inadvertently reinforce the idea that academic learning is a girl thing. When dads step up, help boys with homework and admit when they don’t know something, boys see that there is a value in education and looking for answers.
Harsh Truth #8: Boys and Dads Should Talk About Emotions Too
The stoic silence between men has not served us well. It’s worse when that stoic silence begins with fathers and sons. It’s important for men to be tuned into their emotions. Being emotionally intelligent is valued not only in relationships but in work as well.
However, boys will never be in touch with their emotions if they aren’t given room to talk about them. More than that, boys need to learn how to express their emotions productively. Fathers can help by talking about their own emotions or even talking about other people’s emotions. This kind of modeling is key to empathy.
And empathy is key to raising a good man.