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?