“Raising Boys To Not Be Jerks”

3 Jun

I (Ashley) recently received an unexpected Facebook message from an old friend that simply made my day.  I thought the message was so remarkably thoughtful, well-written, caring, and engaging that I asked him if I could share it on this blog.  I felt that posting it in a public forum would not only allow for a wide range of input from others but would also highlight an example of a remarkably caring father who is committed to raising healthy boys:

Hi, Ashley. Do you know of any good books on raising boys to not be jerks? I’ve talked to so many parents who are nervous about raising their girls in a society so plagued with damaging stereotypes, awful role models, oppressive attitudes, etc., totally valid concerns for sure, but I’m surprised at the lack of concern of many parents of boys who seem to take the attitude of “I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff, because I don’t have a girl”. I think that is absolute BS and a great way to ensure that their boys grow up to help perpetuate these kinds of problems.

I’m doing my best to raise my boys to be confident, caring, empathetic, forward thinking, etc., and would love to hear some parenting strategies on: teaching about and preventing violence, the troubles with masculinity stereotypes and pressures, sensitivity to gender issues, dealing with racism, classism, how to develop healthy relationships, you know, all the good stuff. Any suggestions?

I look into my past and see so many of the awful ways that I’ve treated people, the ridiculous notions that I’ve bought into, the pressures I’ve succumbed to, and naturally I want things to be better for my boys. I think it is important that they have the tools early in life to empower them to be ready for the choices and challenges that will be presented to them as they grow up.

If this is an example of the fathers in my life, then I am very hopeful indeed.

Please post your suggestions, comments, etc. below.


4 Responses to ““Raising Boys To Not Be Jerks””

  1. JustJss June 3, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    You might be interested in another letter … this one written by a mother and psychotherapist to her 30 year old son.


    People focus on *what* their boy and girl children do so much that they forget that the most important things we can teach them are matters of character and spirit, which have nothing to do with gender.

  2. Bea Elliott June 15, 2010 at 12:46 am #

    I agree with JustJss – I don’t think it’s about gender exclusively… I’ve met some very insensitive young girls and women in my life. Thankfully on the flip side there have been many empathetic men as well. So gender aside I’d say the most important thing to raising a “whole” person is to avoid lying at all cost. Lies break down trust… It’s hard to regain and hard to justify. I realize kids can’t be told “total” truths about everything if the subject matter is sensitive – But there are ways of being as honest as possible.

    The “Easter Bunny”, “Santa”, the tooth-fairy… And the “hamburger patch” all set a child up for big disappointments in reality. Much better to start off with the wonder of truth and let things progress from there… IMHO anyway…

    Thanks for writing about this interesting subject – It’s a topic I wish more parents investigated before participating in the traditional “fibs” we all grew up on.

    • Steve June 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

      I have to disagree that gender is not an issue. Just like with girls, boys are bombarded with images and stereotypes of what being “a man” should be. In particular, “humor” and harrassment about being “gay” starts very young, and boys learn early that even though they have no clue what “gay” is, being “gay” is something they want to avoid like the plauge. Of course, “gayness” is associated with all the feminine traits, like expressing a range of emotions, being vulnerable, caring for others, and working together to create community. Instead, our boys are driven to compete, to win, to keep emotions (other than anger) in check, and not to show or talk about their own needs. It is a very isolating traning we receive.

      As to how to help boys not become that way, I think the first order of business is good modeling. If they see a parental relationship that demonstrates mutual respect and fairness, they will believe that partner relationships should have those qualities. It also requires that we start very young thinking carefully about what messages we are giving our boys. Do we only get excited when they “win?” Do we discourage them from “non-manly” pursuits such as dolls or snuggling or crying?

      But beyond our own behavior, I think it is vitally important to deconstruct media images and common social behavior. I talk with my boys (I have three and none are Jerks) about songs and movies that glorify violence or that make stalking or harassment seem ‘romantic,’ or that show masculinity connecting with smoking, substance abuse, and “toughness.” I confront them when they use the term “gay” to describe something “bad.” I generally am willing to talk about how they feel about things, but also bring up topics that may be uncomfortable for them to raise themselves.

      I’m not saying I have it all down, but those are the three areas I worked on and it seems to have had the right impact. It’s a great question and one I think we haven’t asked enough. We have spent a lot of time working on the image of women in the media and society, but men are just as affected, and if we are proactive about this, I think we can (and actually already have) bring about significant change.

      —- Steve

  3. Marsha July 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    Here’s a great resource: Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil. Haven’t yet found a parent who didn’t absolutely love it.

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