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The Challenges of Raising a Boy
On many Friday nights, you will find my family at Chick-fil-A for dinner. My wife works several Fridays each month so it’s a nice place for a lone parent, tired from the week, to have a restful dinner.
One night when my son was six he was in the play area. After texting back and forth with my wife a few times I looked up to find him. I couldn’t see him anywhere. As I continued to look for him I took a drink when I noticed something moving close to the ceiling. My son was on top of the playground structure. He wasn’t inside the tubes, he had climbed up the outside of the tubes and was close enough to touch the ceiling in the play area. When I saw him I almost spit the drink out of my mouth. I wanted to run in there and tell him to get down. Then in a split second, my emotions became mixed because I was also proud of him. I was proud of his sense of adventure and being willing to face some danger. Sometimes it can be tough finding the balance between reckless behavior and admirable ambition.
Raising a boy is difficult. While each one is unique and different, there are consistent themes that make fathering sons demanding. Here are 5 challenges to raising boys.
Note: These are general observations. Not all boys possess any or all of these traits and they should know there’s nothing wrong with it.
Need for Physical Activity
I would have loved this ten or fifteen years ago, but as I get older this has become more and more exhausting. As tiring as it is to wrestle, pretend battle, play sports, jump on a trampoline, go climbing and hiking, and so on, it’s important to remember how critical it is in our relationships with our sons. They don’t want to just do it, they want to do it with us, their dads. Every sore muscle and achy joint given to connect with our sons create a path to their hearts.
Letting Them Be Wild
At this point in my life, I like order and a level of predictability, but boys need to be wild. Being wild is messy and involves a certain level of risk. Boys crave adventure and no one is better at giving it to them than a dad. We need to encourage it by doing activities with perceived danger (rock climbing, zip lining, roller coasters, ropes courses, hiking, mountain biking, etc). However, it also means allowing them to enter into a level of real danger with our supervision. Not life threatening risk mind you, but some level. We need to let them venture out even while living with the anxiety it gives us. That’s the dilemma. How much angst can we handle and how far do we let them go before pulling back the reigns? Every dad needs to figure out where to set the boundaries. For me, I calculate the worst possible injury in an activity. If it is broken bones or less it gets a green light.
The Drive to Succeed
Most boys desire to accomplish some kind of quest or challenge. They want to do something brave and live out the story of a hero. Having this drive is good, but what comes with it is an identity based on success or failure. We should help them learn and hone their talents. Then we should encourage and give insight into their life’s purpose. However, we need to make certain they know that their value is not found in their accomplishments.
The Hyper-Sexualized Culture
Our kids are growing up in a time where they learn from images over words. From the time our boys are born they gain an understanding of our world through pictures. It is difficult for them to have a healthy view of women when every image communicates women are for having sex. Unfortunately, young girls have learned that this is what they need to do for attention so they throw pictures of themselves on social media posing provocatively in skimpy clothing. It only reinforces to boys a warped view of women that makes teaching them what is right difficult.
Making an Emotional Connection
Boys tend to have a harder time getting in touch with what is going on below the surface. It doesn’t help when having an emotional response is viewed as weakness. The worst thing you can say when referring to a boy is that he is weak. So most boys bury their emotions deep, some so deep they become disconnected. It becomes more difficult to build a bond and nurture his growth. Our sons need to learn to control their emotions, but they also need to be in touch with them. They need to know there is nothing weak about their emotional response to people and events. Sharing those emotions is what brings intimacy in our relationships. They just need to be taught when it’s best to share their emotions and when it’s not. It is a complicated concept to teach, but one that will give them freedom.