How do boys grow into men?
I am no expert, but I have two grown sons and two grandsons. I am happy about them all, even the one who is six months old. And, add my son-in-law who is a wonderful person, a friend, and a Cubs fan. I have thought a lot about how young boys grow up confidently and joyfully in a world where so much is stacked against them today.
Start with school. Boys and girls develop at different speeds. Girls mature one to two years earlier than boys. They often get their period by the time they hit 12, and in many cases before that. Their prefrontal lobes develop earlier. School is built for them. They can sit in a chair for an hour, while many boys are wiggling after 15 minutes. Boys and girls starting school at the same age is ridiculous. Most boys start school at six years old. Age 7 would be tough. Age 8 would make more sense.
When they are at school, they have to deal with women teachers, for the most part. Add gender questioning built into some school programs and you have very trying school days for many boys. My recommendation is to give them a break and let them run around a lot.
Richard Reeves has written a wonderful book that tackles the topic called Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to do About It. I recommend listening to him on the podcast circuit or getting a hold of the book.
So let’s look at the positive. What are men’s strengths?
Men are risk takers. It is in our DNA. In Reeves’ book, he cites the Andrew Carnegie hero awards for attempting to save others. All of the posthumous awards have gone to men–men who ran into burning buildings alone, firemen who died in the skyscrapers on September 11, men who jumped into the strong Lake Michigan current when it was pulling helpless kids away.
Men have guts. They start new businesses much more than women. They often amass greater wealth, partly because many women drop out of the workforce in their late twenties and thirties to raise children. But, men are also the predominant victims of opiate addiction and narcotics death.
Today, when physical courage is not as highly rewarded as it was 100 years ago, we see men falling behind women in school. Of college graduates today, 57% are women. Divorce seems to take a bigger toll on men than women who have better developed support systems.
As a grandfather who somehow managed to see my sons struggle into successful maturity and parenthood, I will dare to make some suggestions and ask my readers, male and female, to augment them.
Get your kids into sports at a very young age. Basketball, martial arts, hockey, football. Team sports are preferred because it affords a chance to build friendships.
Tell them stories about how you grew up and connect them with grandparents and past generations. Maybe take them to a cemetery and tell stories about their ancestors. Kids need connection, and they need stories they can relate to and tell their own kids.
Teach them how to use their hands. Take them on memorable trips, even if they are just for one or two days.
Put them to bed and tell them stories and sing. Make lunch for them. Go trick or treating together.
De-emphasize material presents and hand write personal notes for birthdays and other occasions.
Help them find a mentor other than yourself to give them confidence and a different slant than your own.
Personally, I never figured out how to discuss puberty and sexuality. They had to learn on their own. Maybe you’ve done better. What I have tried to do is set a loving example with my wife, Risa, for them to observe.
How do boys become successful and happy men? Talk to them. Connect with them. Good genes help. I hope your family is lucky and blessed with good health.
It’s never easy.
What would you have done differently in raising your sons?
Is it harder for a boy to grow up today than it was 40 years ago?
You are actually someone I could personally trust. It seems very dangerous to send our children and grandchildren off to public schools nowdays. We can not expect our young adults to retain traditional family values and morals automatically. It must be carefully taught at home because it will not happen at many schools in fact it seems to be constantly challenged by all surrounding narratives and sources these days.
Hi again Lloyd,
In reference to my last post I got off topic a little bit. I forgot to mention my grandson was prescribed ritalin for ADHD in middle and high school because he was a normal boy. It was very detrimental to his growing up healthy and well adjusted. The benefit of that experiment was for the school teachers not the students!
As someone who was prescribed Ritalin at a young age, I can say that it is not a black and white issue. Yes, it is overprescribed. Yes, it somewhat to help people conform to the expectations of a classroom.
That said, I and my mother, an educational therapist, can tell you that it can make a huge difference in people’s lives. It helps people thrive who might not have been able to succeed in school, remain in their chair, pay attention to what is being taught, not be disruptive by talking out of turn. It’s not changing who they are necessarily, it is enabling people to be alert, and control themselves.
Of course there is the dilemma that it is changing how you natural act. Is it cramping your style? Or is it allowing you to succeed. It is not a black and white issue. I believe that it was for my benefit. Eventually I outgrew it. But if a kid (boy or girl) wants to go to college and can’t focus on the test to make it through, is that fair? Should they be denied that opportunity?
My wife is an educational therapist. She see a lot of boys and girls with ADHD. It is so common todayI wonder why we have such an epidemic or did we always have it and it went undiagnosed and unmedicated or self medicated. Teachers are under heavy stress and may urge parents to obtain Ritalin when there are better approahes. There are side effects undoubtedly.
Hi Lloyd –
Like you I have two sons who I am immensly proud off and who have grown into two wonderful men and great fathers. After I retired I spent some time goig through my old diaries. Like you I was in the machinery business and therefore travelled a lot. I realised that I was often away from home sometimes for weeks at a time and my wife had acted almost like a single mother.
If had my time again the one thing I would have done is spent more time with them!
Both of our sons had/have ADHD challenges, the pediatrician we had described it as not something to get too worried about. Basically they are 3-5 years behind their piers in maturity. A problem in school, a few years later in their 20s and beyond an advantage. Our youngest is still in high school, as long as the attitude is good and effort is there we don’t fuss about grades as much. They do fine in life. We don’t hire based on the letter grade in school…
Spending time together and being a good example is more important than we know…
Biggest problem today is lack of traditional family & values. Too many Dads are absent. Kids need Mom & Dad both, to guide them in different areas. Seems too many politicians & teachers union think they own our kids.
I would not trust them to teach my kids values, they should stick to math, science & “correct” history.
Agree, team sports teach support & how to get along, including helping each other to make the team better.