03 Sep 10 Tips to help boys develop into good men.
There is a sense of urgency, says Maggie Dent, for the need to raise our boys to be happy, healthy men.
As a former teacher, counsellor and mother of 4 boys, Maggie certainly has become a ‘boy champion’, much needed in our current culture. In her new book, ‘from boys to men‘, Maggie provides lots of common-sense advice, helpful tips and techniques to help parents move through adolescence in particular. What parent wouldn’t love to know how to get their lazy, unmotivated 18-year-old son off the couch!
In this extract she looks to help ‘confused mammas… and mother figures’:
Tips for positive mothering
1. Be warm, fair, firm and sometimes fun in your relationship with your son.
2. Space and privacy – As mothers of sons we do have to step back and give them more space as they head over the bridge towards manhood. This means we need to allow them to have their secrets from us, their times of aloneness, their privacy (online and offline!), and their opportunities for autonomy and freedom – especially in an adventuresome way. Above all, we need to do this with a lightness. Even though our hunger to know everything that happens in their day is real and comes from a place of love, we must stop interrogating them. Elsewhere in the book, I have explored the power of expectations and labels that can unintentionally force our boys to struggle too. Your tween and teen sons do need you to give them more space – sometimes that’s physical, sometimes it’s emotional and it’s definitely some verbal space. Some of the angriest boys I worked with were trying to tell their mums – whom they loved dearly – ‘please give me some more space!’
3. Practise positive noticing – You will notice that by acknowledging our sons or practising positive noticing with them, you are very much focused on strengthening their attachment and bondedness to us in a loving, supportive way. This is incredibly important. So many boys tell me that they are always getting into trouble and that in some way they feel they are bad. We must flip that switch and we can do that by noticing the things they do well. It will fill our son’s self-worth barometer and it will remind him that many of his actions are positive and even helpful.
4. Mums, aunties and other mother figures really matter in nurturing a boy’s awareness around gender equity. Have many meaningful chats about some of the different ways that most girls and boys may unconsciously behave, communicate, manage conflict and get ‘hangry’. This will mean decoding many of the phrases your boys will hear like ‘run like a girl’, ‘don’t be a sissy’, ‘toughen up’ and ‘don’t be gay’. Rather than just telling them not to use these phrases themselves, it is important that you decode them and deconstruct them so they can understand why they are unhelpful.
5. Talk about how women experience the world differently due to sexism and violence against women. A helpful conversation is one about the things girls do to keep themselves safe. There was an article published on Huffington Post Australia in 2015 called ‘34 Things Women Do To Stay Safe Show The Burden Of “Being Careful”’. In it, Amanda Duberman explored the differences in experience between boys and girls when they go out. For example, women might stay in well-lit areas, walk with their keys held tightly between their fingers in case they need to be used as a weapon, not leave drinks unattended, cross the road if we see a man who looks drunk or a group of men, or text a friend before going out on our own or meeting a stranger. The list goes on. It is a powerfully insightful piece because, in the discussion following the article, it was revealed that many boys and men had no idea about these steps that men simply don’t do, nor do they worry about.
6. Teach about temperament differences – Remind your son that there are gentle, sensitive boys as well as strong, fearless boys, and everything in between and they are all equally valid and acceptable. Teach them that words like ‘gay’, ‘faggot’ or ‘wuss’ are not funny and can be hurtful! Teach your boys to look for the strengths in each individual whom they meet rather than just focusing on their flaws or things they struggle with. And it is helpful to help them identify their own unique blend of strengths and challenges.
7. Keep teaching your son valuable life skills and ensure that Dad or whomever else you are co-parenting with is doing the same. Basic housekeeping, cooking, maintaining gardens, managing money, and being responsible with their digital devices all take practice. On my website (maggiedent.com) I have a list of adolescent life skills that is very comprehensive that will give you a plan. Consider putting it on the side of your fridge so that your son can keep crossing off life skills as he masters them. It’s equally good for girls as well, of course.
8. Keep finding inspirational stories of boys and men doing great things so that your son can see that the way the media portrays men is often skewed, inaccurate and unhelpful. Keep reminding him the world is full of decent, good men and that one day he will become one too.
9. Develop mastery – Find something your son can do really well. If he is not academic or doesn’t enjoy sports, find something else. Cooking, gardening, being an environmental warrior, arts or even Pokémon. He must have something he is really good at doing because that will build his sense of confidence and self-worth, which can flow into the other areas of his life where he lacks competence.
10. Prioritise telling and showing your son how much you love him– especially when he mucks up, fails, loses or makes a really poor choice. Reassure him that your love is unconditional and everlasting.
Raising our sons to be respectful of themselves, others ad the world around them takes patience and endurance from the tribe that circle your son. Every interaction, every conversation, every experience, every meal, every car chat, every success and every failure is a teachable moment in your son’s life.
From Boys to Men by Maggie Dent, published by Macmillan Australia. RRP $34.99
Maggie Dent’s media has a wealth of information and resources for parents, teachers and carers: