Many men I talk to are confused with what women or society wants or expects from them. From the time they are small they are told to “buck up” or more fondly to “man up.” To most men this means that they are supposed to go it alone, hide their feelings, and get over it. Suppressing their emotions limits their choices and many times causes distance to grow within their family. When someone tells a guy to “man up” basically they are telling him to be responsible. Act your age, and grow up. It’s one thing if we model responsible behavior at home and begin expecting that behavior as the child grows, but when we begin telling him at the age of 3 or 4 that he isn’t suppose to cry or he isn’t suppose to feel, are we creating the behavior problems we see in boys during adolescents? Their disrespect, rough, or callus behavior we shrug off as boys just being boys. Is it possible, we caused this?
Telling a boy to “man up” also changes girls views of what guys are suppose to be. After all, if they can’t express how they feel to their family, how will they be able to express themselves to a partner? In my practice one of the phrases guys tell me bothers them the most is when their partner tells them to “man up.” They say it reminds them that they are being too emotional. What does that even mean? Guys are as emotional as women, and suppressing that emotion is not only harmful to their health but it’s harmful to good communication.
If you want your son to grow up to be a responsible, resilient man, model the behaviors you want to see and encourage him to be confident and self-assured. Below are suggestions of how to raise a responsible healthy son.
- Help him own and understand his emotions. Teaching him to be stoic is not going to help him, but teaching him appropriate ways to deal with emotions, such as labeling his feelings and talking about why he feels that way will.
- Teach him empathy. Schools are beginning to understand the most progressive way to help bullies stop bullying is to teach empathy. The best way to teach it is to model it in your home.
- Mentor appropriate and honest feedback. Praise his efforts rather than saying he is the best of everything when he isn’t. For example, if you say, “You’re the best basketball player,” and your son is only 4ft. 10 inches, that isn’t being honest. Your son may feel defeated or more competitive, and as though he has to be the best to be loved.
- Show affection. Hug your son, play with your son, allow him to kiss you and you kiss him. Boys never grow out of needing parents to hug them and reassure them. Model hugging by hugging your spouse in front of your child. The strongest, most resilient men I know are not afraid to show affection. They are comfortable hugging and kissing their parents, and are able to demonstrate affection with their partner.
- Teach your sons to respect others. Dads and moms have so much influence in this area. Men who are raised by objectifying fathers who look at women as objects to be used rather than loved and co-parent with them raise sons who act out disrespectful behaviors. Respect their teachers, coaches, and their friends.
- Set rules and back them up with stated consequences.
- Dads have an advantage with raising responsible, confident sons. They are their son’s first model of what a man is. Being respectful of their mom, a positive presence in their son’s life, talking to them about their feelings, and playing. If your child likes rocks and you like shooting hoops, make sure you go rock hunting more than you shoot hoops.
Your son wasn’t born to make you happy or pacify you. He came to you as someone to be loved, nurtured and raised to the best of your ability. There is no better time in a father’s life than witnessing his son do an honorable act and having his son acknowledge, “My dad taught me that.”