Help boys grow up responsible and emotionally available.
"In all our years as therapists, we have never met a boy who didn't crave his parents' love and others' acceptance and who didn't feel crippled by their absence or redeemed by their abundance. Strong and healthy boys are made strong by acceptance and affirmation of their humanity. We all have a chance to do that every day, every time we in the presence of a boy and we have a chance to say to him, 'I recognize you. You are a boy — full of life, full of dreams, full of feeling.'"
Michael Thompson, Ph.D. and Dan Kindlon, Ph.D.
Co-authors, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys
Teach boys that emotional courage is courage, and that courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life. "Popular movies aimed at boys seem to prize only one kind of courage: standing up to a physically larger opponent. The willingness to fight an enemy, to outwit a dinosaur, to defeat an alien monster, to look into the eye of a villain with a gun, is the media's definition of male courage...Most important, boys need models of emotional courage in their own lives, not just in the media. We need to recognize and identify for them emotional courage in the lives of women and men, in our families and in the lives of children and others around us. In life and art, we need to provide boys models of male heroism that go beyond the muscular, the self-absorbed, and the simplistically heroic. Many adults display emotional courage in their work or personal lives, but rarely do we allow our children to witness our private moments of conscience or bravery."
Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies. "Sooner or later, everybody gets into trouble, whether as a result of his impulsivity, his activity level, or just because he's human: it is a normal part of growing up. We believe boys need discipline that is clear, consistent, and not harsh. The best discipline is built on the child's love for adults and his wish to please. If that impulse is respected and cultivated, children will continue to be psychologically accessible through their love and respect. If they are unduly shamed, harshly punished, or encounter excessive adult anger, they will soon react to authority with resistance rather than with a desire to do better."
Model a manhood of emotional attachment. "Boys imitate what they see. If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness between men, they grow up to emulate that behavior...The loneliness of men has to be addressed in the lives of boys. Boys need to be encouraged to initiate friendships, maintain them, and experience the conflicts that arise in male friendships from different levels of athletic skill, from teasing, and from competition for the attention of girls. Too often boys lack both the resources and the will to resolve those conflicts and preserve friendships."
Teach boys that there are many ways to be a man. "Very few boys or men are tall, handsome, athletic, successful with women, endlessly virile, and physically fearless...Boys suffer from a too-narrow definition of masculinity, and it is time to reexamine that message...We have to teach boys that there are many ways to become a man; that there are many ways to be brave, to be a good father, to be loving and strong and successful. We need to celebrate the natural creativity and risk taking of boys, their energy, their boldness. We need to praise the artist and the entertainer, the missionary and the athlete, the soldier and the male nurse, the store owner and the round-the-world sailor, the teacher and the CEO. There are many ways for a boy to make a contribution in this life."
(Reprinted with permission from Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, PhD. Copyright 1999, 2000 by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.)