During the past 25 years, there has been an attitude shift about boys. It was initially thought that gender differences were mostly environmentally produced. It was commonly believed that, by making car engine noises and giving boys cars, we were producing the differences.
Therefore, the best approach to raising or educating boys was to treat them the same as girls.
It is now recognised that boys need something quite different to girls. Gender is influenced by both nurture and nature. So what can parents do to help boys to become well adjusted adults? Understanding how a boy develops and how this affects his needs is a good place to start. Testosterone levels cause boys to behave differently to girls. It gives him growth spurts, helps him be more active and makes him competitive.
Boys need regular exercise to release their bursts of physical energy. Boys who have more testosterone need help constructively channelling their energies. “Testosterone equals vitality, and it’s our job to honour it and steer it into healthy directions,” says author Steve Biddulph.
There are three stages of boyhood, each with differing requirements from parents.
the stages of boyhood
1. Birth to six— A young boy is usually more focused on his mother. She provides security and comfort for him, loves him and makes him feel special. A father can be the primary caregiver during this time and do the same job; but he will tend to be more vigorous in his play. If the mother is the main caregiver, she will be the boy’s model of intimacy and love. Boys are more prone to separation anxiety than girls and may find formal child care difficult before the age of three. A carer in the home is often a better option for early development.
2. Six to 13— Both parents are important and need to be involved in raising a school-aged boy, but his focus will be more on his father. What his father says will usually carry more weight with him. He is learning what it is like to be a man. However, his mother still needs to provide him with love and affection; withdrawal of this warmth can be detrimental.
This is the time for a father to teach his son how to respect women. A single mother during this time needs to find a trustworthy male role model to help take this special role for her son. During the latter part of this period, boys have growth spurts that tend to make them vague and disorganised, and so need help developing a routine and organising themselves.
3. Fourteen to early 20s— A maturing male youth explores the wider world. Boys at this age need to be calmly guided through conflicts and need demonstrations of reasoning rather than violence being used to solve disputes. This is when he needs trustworthy mentors, as his parents give him space while he moves into the adult world. In other cultures, this has been the time of initiation and adult training. In our culture, this aspect is often missing.
How dads can help
Often at around 14, a son will realise he is physically bigger than his mother, and use intimidation to challenge her authority. This is the time for Dad to step in and support his wife. In the case of a single mother, another male adult can take this role.
Boys should be encouraged to initiate and maintain friendships, to have close friendships with other males and to work through the conflicts that arise from these friendships. Dads need to spend time with their sons but they also need to verbalise their love for their boys and express it through touch. The boy “must see and believe that emotions belong in the life of a man” (Kindlon and Thompson).
Many boys experience emotional distance from their fathers. This is especially damaging because of the key role a father performs in the boy’s developing view of himself. A father needs to be able to accept and admit his own shortcomings so his son can see it is acceptable to make mistakes. A boy needs to be able to admire his father and to believe he is capable, so the boy feels he too will grow up like this.
Make a habit of praying for your son and with him. Nothing will mean more to your boy when he is older than discovering that you cared enough to frequently ask God to protect and bless him. Prayer will transform him into an outstanding young man someday.
how mums can help As mothers, it is important to teach your son about how to relate to girls. Spending time talking to your boy will help him to be relaxed talking to girls.
Mothers often hold the key to their sons’ self-esteem. If he knows his mother enjoys his company, he will learn he can be friends with girls. Boys often become quite awkward during the pubescent and prepubescent years. A mother can help this by giving her son genuine compliments that help him feel good about himself.
In primary school, boys need limits about things such as amount of TV viewing and computer time from their mothers. They need lots of exercise.
Mothers can also encourage them to invite friends over and ensure, when they go to other people’s houses, they are well supervised.
In secondary school, boys will have more time away from parents. However, ensure you still have time to talk together and be affectionate in ways he finds comfortable.
Negotiate with your teenager—for example, “I’ll do this for you, if you clean up the dishes tonight.” The best source of self-esteem is being able to do useful things—doing housework is a good start. Start from when he is young.
understanding uniqueness Boys’ brains work differently to girls in that their brains have fewer connections between the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere.
This means it can be more difficult for them to talk about feelings, learn to read and solve conflicts and problems introspectively. But this does not mean boys cannot do these things, just that at times they will need more help in these areas.
Ways we can help these differences in boys are to: use practical examples when learning concepts; help boys recognise their feelings by reading their own body language; help them make friends and join in activities; read to them and keep abreast of their development in literacy— particularly in primary school— and provide extra assistance if needed; help boys work out how to read expressions on the faces of others.
One writer puts the challenge this way: the assignment of every mother and father of boys is “to transform their boys from immature and flighty youngsters into honest, caring men who will be respectful of women, loyal and faithful in marriage, and secure in their masculinity” (Dobson).
By having a better understanding of the stages of development and the differing requirements of boys as they grow, parents can be more accepting of their boys and adaptable in their parenting skills to guide sons to adulthood.