How to encourage the best a boy can be

Whether it is #MeToo, the American Psychological Association, or the Gillette ad critiquing men, masculinity is under siege. We hear, “the future is female,” and read books called The End of Men.

Imagine your daughter growing up at a time that predicted “the end of women.” No boy or girl has ever before grown up in a time that predicted the end of their gender. Anticipation of “the end of men” is not exactly an inspiration for your son’s life journey.

As an educator, I regularly hear from both moms and dads of sons. “I don’t know how to guide my son,” they say. “My son is searching for who he should be, but he only hears the negatives: ‘toxic masculinity,’ accusations of ‘male privilege,’ ‘male power,’ and the ‘patriarchy.’ He hears nothing of how every generation trained young men to sacrifice themselves so that women and children could live; he hears nothing about how dads forfeit their passion to earn money so their children can have better lives than they have.”

When it comes to a boy expressing his feelings, some parents are still saying, “Big boys don’t cry.” Others say, “We know it’s a danger sign for our son to repress his feelings, but when he speaks up at school, he’s accused of ‘mansplaining.’ So he represses his feelings. Isn’t that just reinforcing the toxicity the accusers are complaining about?”

Make no mistake: There is a boy crisis. Boys are doing worse than girls in virtually every academic subject in all 63 of the largest developed nations, and their rates of suicide, death by drug overdose, unemployment, and imprisonment are soaring. It is males doing the mass shootings and joining ISIS. What is more amazing, though, is that this crisis has largely been met with a cultural shrug. It should instead catalyze a cultural shift.

We have always had a battle of the sexes. But for the past half century, we have had a war in which only one sex has shown up to fight. If boys and men felt safe enough to take their heads out of the sand, what might they say? They might say that the #MeToo monologue needs to be a #MeToo dialogue. As one dad put it, “My son is afraid that if he moves too quickly, he’s a predator, but that if he moves too slowly, he’s a wimp. He asked me once, ‘Why does it seem that the girls I’m most attracted to expect me to take the risks of sexual rejection. Doesn’t equality mean they should take the risks half the time?’”

The boys who are most in crisis are boys who are dad-deprived. Especially sons of divorce, when family courts refuse to let their dads have equal time with them. To many, it seems like their moms have the right to be with them, but that their dads have to fight to be with them. They feel abandoned by their dads; they feel lost. They wonder, “If I get married and have children, will I someday be like my dad? Paying for children I can only occasionally see?”

Again, not exactly an inspiration for your son’s life journey.

So, what are the top ways that we can help a boy become the best man that he can be? First, make sure your son is “dad-enriched,” not “dad-deprived,” so that the purpose void is not magnified by a “dad void.” Your son is at greater risk if he is dad-deprived.

Have weekly family dinner nights, and know how to prevent family dinner nights from becoming family dinner nightmares.

Know the difference between training your son for heroic intelligence (training for a short life) versus training your son for health intelligence (training for a long life).

Model for your son how to handle personal criticism without becoming defensive, so that your son can experience dad-style and mom-style parenting as they become “checks-and-balances parenting.”

If you’re a single mom, you know how to get the biological dad re-involved. If that is impossible, get your son great male role models — perhaps in Cub Scouts, or faith-based leaders. Also, if applicable, effectively connect your son to a stepdad and grandfather.

Finally, get your son involved in individual sports, team sports, and pick-up team sports.

In 11 years of research, I have found that these approaches to raising our sons create a much better chance of raising them to be the best they can be. Which means our daughters will be able to find boys who are worthy of their love, and our sons will find women who respect the best attributes of their masculinity.

We are all in the same family boat. When only one sex is blamed for being what we have worshiped in the past, then neither sex will prosper in the future.


Warren Farrell, Ph.D., is the author of Why Men Are the Way they Are and co-author (with John Gray) of The Boy Crisis (2018). He is the only man ever elected three times to the NYC chapter of the National Organization for Women. He was chosen by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders.

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