It’s not easy raising a son in today’s world. After all, we’re not looking for him just to “be a good boy”. We’re not looking for him simply to do well in school, treat others kindly, grow up healthy and happy. That’s all part of it, for sure. But there’s something else, some intangible that can only be quantified as “Being A Man”. But be careful. That’s a loaded phrase nowadays.
Recently, the San Francisco times ran a video, The Three Most Damaging Words You Can Tell Your Son. The words are “Be A Man,” and the article calls the phrase out as being brutally harmful to a boy’s self-esteem. After all, you don’t want to teach him that crying, being sensitive and being in touch with his feminine side are negatives. They’re not. So how do you help your son grow into a young man, without slamming him with that crushing phrase ‘Be A Man?’
Here are seven insights that might help.
1. Don’t Belittle
It takes awhile to master the fine art of discipline, but whatever you do, avoid belittling your son by pointing out his flaws and weaknesses. There is a difference between saying “that was a stupid thing you did”, and “you’re stupid”. One is an indictment of a specific action, and the other is a complete indictment of your child as a whole. If you use language that makes your son feel small, he will be small.
2. Teach Him Your Work
If you’re deep in a spreadsheet, or drafting an email, and your son meanders over and asks what you’re working on, don’t say “not now, buddy”. Just take a minute and tell him what you’re working on. Let him have a peek into the ‘big boys’ world. And if he says, “Can I help?” throw him a bone. Come up with some little thing he can do. Ask him if he likes the sound of the sentence you’re writing, or which infographic he thinks is more interesting. You have a huge opportunity here. Yes, it’s going to slow you down a few minutes. But these moments don’t happen often. If you’re son says, “Can I help?” your answer, always, is yes.
3. Play Catch
It’s a little cliche, but even if you weren’t into sports growing up, there’s a magic to having a catch with your son. It’s so easy to pick up a football or baseball and get outside. And the beauty of the catch is that it grows with your relationship: Start 5 yards apart when he’s a kid, and then 10 years later, chuck him 30 yard fade passes that he has to catch over the shoulder.
4. Go Deep
Every now and then, don’t be afraid to get philosophical on your son. Tell him about the beauty of the ocean. Tell him a story about your life that really blew your mind. Use the real names of the people, even if he knows the players in real life. Share something intimate, personal, moving. Get deep with your son from time to time… then go back to wrestling with him on the living room floor.
2. Let Him Shine
If you want the kind of son that will be a leader, you have to let him practice leadership around the house. Step out of the limelight and let your boy exercise his will. Let him make big decisions. Look for moments to let him make real choices and let the consequences play out. Parents can cast tall shadows over their children; if you want him to shine, keep an eye on your shadow and make sure it isn’t dimming his light.
5. Keep His Secrets
Occasionally, you may catch your son doing something that is a definite violation of family rules, and perhaps even a violation of human decency itself. It’s bad enough he did it, it’s worse that you caught him, but the idea of mom finding out is sometimes the ultimate devastation. It could crush him inside. So if you come home and find your little man with his pecker stuck in a strange place, let him know, straight up, that you’re going to keep that little incident just between you and him. And if he begs you not to tell mommy, and your promise you won’t… don’t. Sowing that seed of secrecy and trust between you will yield fruit down the road.
7. Give Him Grandpa Time
Grandpa’s lessons are unsurpassed. Mine used to take me into his office and teach me how to sell put options. For years, I had no idea what he was talking about. But I knew I was getting wisdom straight from the horse’s mouth, invaluable nuggets raining right down on my little kid head. It made me feel big. It made me feel special. It made me feel like a man. If your son’s grandfathers are still alive, and you have the ability to give him some bonding time with them, try to do so often.
How do you get your little guy to develop that intangiable thing that we call manliness? It helps to step into the background a little and let him have the spotlight; it also helps not to utter a discouraging word or tear him down. Have him spend as much time with his grandparents as he can, so he can soak up their wisdom. And finally, don’t be afraid to take a moment to drop some deep philosophical thoughts on him. Teach him the value of body, mind and soul. Teach him to seize his own power so that he can grow up to be a proud and respectable man.
They say the phrase “be a man” can crush a kid. But the sentiment behind the words is still important.