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Raising Boys to Men

February 18, 2014


Boys have feelings, thoughts, ambitions, dreams, and the capacity to make their own decisions. We need to realign ourselves so that we are on their side, instead of trying to get them to be on our side and accept our values.

Paul Kivel

father, author of Boys Will Be Men

When he prefers dolls over trucks

Mother of three boys Kristen Garcia Brent says her older sons Alejandro, 6, and Santiago, 4, went through phases where they liked to play with toys that many would consider “girl toys,” but her youngest boy, Mateo, 3, she says is “officially beyond the phase stage and has progressed to a full-on obsession.”

Brent said she and her husband buy him princess dresses, pretend high-heels and play dress up with him because they love him for him — regardless of whether he’s conforming to the social pressures of what is “normal.”

“I feel that he benefits immensely from gender-neutral play, it gives him the opportunity to be expressive and creative. Instead of going along with the crowd, he comes up with fantastic settings and stories and narrates these amazing, creative stories,” she said.

Navigating through our complex world can be tough for a boy. There are extreme pressures for boys to measure up to the societal standard of masculinity, often times leaving them feeling alone or angry.

“Boys have feelings, thoughts, ambitions, dreams, and the capacity to make their own decisions. We need to realign ourselves so that we are on their side, instead of trying to get them to be on our side and accept our values,” said Paul Kivel, father, and author of Boys Will Be Men. Kivel believes that men are defined by the people they are, not by what society believes they should conform to.
Experts say that exposing your boys to new and non-traditionally gender specific experiences can enrich your son’s life and boost his confidence and strengthen his sense of self worth.

Parents and educators give advice on how to raise boys to succeed:

Teach your son to express his emotions

Falica Jones with Healthy African American Families believes that it’s important to teach your son to show emotions and not bottle them all up because it will lead to anger issues such as the boy hitting walls or picking fights.
“God gave us tear ducts so that we can cry and show emotion, and that’s OK,” she said. She adds that by being a good listener and taking the time to talk out problems with your son, a parent will in essence show the child that what he says and how he feels is important and respected.

Develop strong relationships; provide role models

Although 7-year-old Darrick’s father does not play a role in his life, Santa Rosa mother Hilleary Zarate works hard to ensure her son has ties with male role models. “We live in a non-violent cooperative where there are a lot of men who have a relationship with Darrick. He is also close with my 17-year-old brother, my father, grandfather and my boyfriend, so he has a lot of men looking out for him.”

Experts agree that having men who model good behavior makes a difference in the way that boys see their role and what is expected of them. Additionally, having male figures in a boy’s life might be another option for the boy express himself to somebody who might better identify with what he is going through.

“Sometimes the parent or caregiver can’t identify with what makes the boy angry,” said Jones. “Somebody needs to talk with the kid to find out what is up with them emotionally – any outside source is great for them – their coach, a church member, even a barber at a barber shop if they get their hair cut often . . . it is important for boys to develop relationships where they aren’t traditionally made so they can become emotionally stable.”

Teach alternatives to violence; develop nurturing side

Kivel encourages parents to teach their sons skills that serve as alternatives to violence such as mediation, negotiation, compromise, the ability to hear all sides and to act after consideration.  “With boys, we need to teach them to listen and be sympathetic and responsive – girls have babies and dollies, we need to give boys pets, plants and dolls too to help develop their nurturing sides as well,” Kivel said.

Support boys who may not fit in

“Parents should nurture the kids that don’t take up hobbies that aren’t traditional for boys,” said Jones with Healthy African American Families. “My godson who is African American is a rocker and we encouraged him to wear his Vans and ride his skateboard and play his drums, even though growing up in the inner city, most of the kids listened to Rap. By supporting him we taught him that he could do what he liked and that even though his interests were different, he didn’t need to look to others for validation.”
Jones said parents should expose their boys to many activities like piano, chess or dance, so that they can get around other people that do the same things. “That way the kids are around like-minded people and it helps to demystify any stereotypes. I used to tell my son ‘you are your own master of your universe.’”

Teach boys to critically think about what they see and why

“Parents need to be aware of how the media can pass along certain attitudes and try to teach their sons to question things,” said Glo Wellman, educator with the California Parenting Institute. “When my boys were growing up, I would teach them to critically think by asking them, ‘is this how we do it in our family?’ because sometimes that’s all it takes for them to realize that that behavior is not inline with our expectations.
Kivel suggests parents teach their boys to critically think so that they will begin to notice things. “Help boys develop critical thinking skills by asking strong questions,” Kivel said. “When they’re watching a cartoon, ask them ‘why are all the superheroes boys and the villains people of color – are people of color bad?’ or ask them, ‘what happened to all the strong women?’” By asking strong questions, Kivel said it forces the boy to observe and think about things he may not have realized before.

Avoid the ‘Fight it Out’ Mentality

Wellman said it’s important for boys to go beyond gender roles and be taught communication and problem-solving skills for safety purposes too.
“If you have a boy who has non-typical interests who’s artsy or creative, he needs to have the communication and problem-solving skills to stand up for himself, he needs to learn to deflect conflict or aggression,” Wellman said.

Participate in home life and chores

“Having your children participate in household chores will dispel gender roles for females and will show your boys that they need to learn to take care of themselves and that someone isn’t always there to take care of you, you need to take care of yourself,” Wellman said.  She suggests having the males in the boy’s life do some of the cooking and laundry and eventually “if that’s what is modeled then it will seem bizarre when they see that guys aren’t doing it.”