According to one of the leading Indian newspapers, one must not be surprised by the existence of the “boislockerroom” Instagram account. We all know what really happened there. It’s not just shameful but also sort of questionable. As parents – have we failed? I mean, each time brother would crack lame jokes, my grandmother would often question my mother, “what did you teach your son before he is a teen?”
By theway, it’s not about classes, anymore. What happened in the ‘locker room’ was executed by elite Delhi school. While teenage access to smartphones is a marker of privilege, the larger picture of misogyny in India, even online-based expressions of it, cuts across class, caste, and other divisions.
And this is what prompted me to visit one of our earlier blog posts:
Things you should teach your son before he is a teen – But, teach what?
It’s typically between the ages of eight and twelve that our cute, cuddly little children, once ever eager to climb into our laps and share their secrets or listen to stories suddenly want little or nothing to do with us. A child in preadolescence is not the same person he was just a year or two ago. He has changed—physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. He’s developing new independence and may even want to see how far he can push limits set by parents. With incidents happening on-ground and online, it’s disturbing and most parents do not know the answer.
What and how to teach boys and girls to respect each other or the opposite gender. I often read this one question which almost throws me in this status quo spot, “what to teach your son before he is a teen.” There’s a lot to teach, but how to teach is what needs to be asked, really.
What is important to remember at this stage is that a strong parent-child relationship now can set the stage for much less turbulent adolescence. It is also important to remember that this won’t be easy because you as a parent need to respect your child’s need for greater autonomy in order to forge a successful relationship with this “almost grown-up”, preteen version of your kid. Boys have their own challenges, tough ones. Like the pressure to ‘man up’, to be strong, to lead, to take, to win, to be strong. And so raising a son is a great opportunity to turn things around.
Here are 8 things to teach your son before he is a teen:
1. To be a ‘Good Man’ and NOT JUST a ‘real’ man
Being a real man isn’t something “internal,” but something performed — for other men. Masculinity, unfortunately, means that there are other men who judge whether it is being done right. There is a race to be a “man’s man,” not a “ladies’ man.” A “man among men.” And therein lies the paradox that is at the root of all the debates about equality/ inequality, gender violence that plague the world today. There are times in every man’s life when he will be asked by other guys to betray his own values, his own ethics, his own idea of what it means to be a good man in the name of proving that he is a real man. Proving that they are “real men” to other men will push our sons — no, require them — to sometimes do the wrong thing, fail to stand up for the little guy, behave dishonorably.
So first of all, empathize with the pressures they face. Then teach them to do what is humanly right. And for starters, they need to think from the female’s perspective. I try every single day to raise my son to take a woman’s perspective into account. It’s true that you can tell a lot by about a man by the way he treats his mother.
2. Teach him to have an attitude of gratitude
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude helps us avoid the vanity of feeling superior to other human beings. The small little things count – and most of us – mostly men – fail to see that. Teach your son that the contrast between bad and good, positive and negative, does not have to frustrate him or make him bitter and resentful. It is intended to drive him to struggle and overcome. This will also make sure he is not cynical and distrusting of others. And if you are successful, your son will grow up to be a grateful and positive man, who radiates happiness and not someone who is forever cynical and distrustful.
3. Teach him empathy
“Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle…” I say this often to my son if he is displaying a tantrum. Or if the house-help did not make his dinner well if I was away at work. All human beings are in a cycle of success and failure. This is why empathy is so vital to becoming a well-rounded person: when you realize everyone is in the same struggle, you are more willing to appreciate any efforts they make. And encouragement only makes them want to do better.
4. Teach him kindness
Even to his toys. I would bawl on behalf of the teddy when my toddler punched or hit his favorite sleep companion. And as he grows, to animals, children and adults. Most sons are watching and playing games for hours, every day. Games where cruelty is associated with fun. The violence to which they are exposed is making a measurable difference to their attitudes and behaviors – this is no longer theoretical. Which is why my son has NEVER had a toy gun. And I say this with a lot of pride!
Consciously teach and practice kindness. And consciously challenge behavior that is unkind – wherever you see it, online, in a store, or at home.
5. Teach him how to comfort and to express his natural empathy
Comforting and being emphatic are often seen as being the remit of girls and women – but why? Boys and men need comfort too and are beautifully (and equally) capable of giving it. Let’s teach our young boys and men that it’s OK to go with the instinct to offer comfort – and it is an instinct! We even see it in primates and animals! And empathy, the ability to understand another’s feelings, is a useful skill. It diffuses tense situations (“I can see you’re angry but let’s just take a moment here to figure out what we can do”). It helps us ‘hold’ painful situations. Empathy will help him to form deeper and more fun connections in his relationships.
6. Teach him that it is OK to ask for help
Have you traveled with a man and noticed how they will never ask for directions if they are lost/ confused when driving? Or never ask for sizes if trying on stuff at a mall? Why can they not ask for help?! This can be particularly difficult for boys who live in a world that believes, expects, and wants men to have solutions to all matters technical, mechanical, financial, and emotional. This expectation is too great and it’s damaging our men’s mental health. And so teach by example, by asking for help in front of them. If you’re a dad reading this, encourage your male friends and any male role model in their life to do the same. Even small things can have profound effects: like asking a woman for help with a gender-neutral task in front of your son. You’re teaching him that women are capable and that you are OK with being vulnerable. Two birds, one stone!
When I get sad, or when I get upset – those are teachable moments. They need to understand feelings.
7. Teach him to walk away – (A MUST) Teach your son before he is a teen
Now is the time that your young man is learning to assert himself, to get his way, to convince others. Teach him that he cannot use force, or manipulation to do so. This also means he must know how to walk away. It’s OK to walk away from a fight, or any situation where respect, kindness or empathy might not cut it. Where he is being devalued or abused. It’s OK for a man to leave an abusive situation and we absolutely must teach that to our sons.
8. Body talk
Many parents often feel uncomfortable or embarrassed talking with their son about certain topics, like his body. Or, they just don’t think they have the right knowledge to share with him. But kids get lots of information—some true, some false—from their peers and the media, so they need your help to sort it all out. We went through it ourselves: voice cracking, body hair, erections, sweating, acne, and more. Separate facts from fiction for your child. Teaching your son about his body should be an open, honest, and continuous conversation, starting at an early age.
Kids should know what physical and emotional changes are associated with puberty by the time they’re 8 years old. That may seem young, but consider this: some girls are wearing training bras by then and some boys’ voices begin to change just a few years later. Think of it as preparation. Just as adults like to know what to expect with the change, such as working for a new employer, hiring a different plumber, or buying a new car, kids should know what to expect with puberty—before it starts.
And, if they ask you a question you’re not ready to respond to, it’s okay to say, “Let me think about it.” Just make sure you follow through with an answer.
To help you feel more confident in talking with your son, start with the basics and what is simple. Tell him that bodies come in different shapes and sizes. It’s normal to think about appearance and to want to be handsome and attractive. Be open to discussing unrealistic expectations of body image. Avoid calling your son ‘fat’ or ‘skinny,’ and avoid negative comments about your own body.
Body talk goes beyond taking care of the body. If someone is bullying your son or touching him in an inappropriate or harmful way, help him feel comfortable with saying “no” and telling an adult. It will be easier for him if you already established an open, honest dialogue. Your son will probably start to notice that girls’ bodies are changing, too. Be ready to discuss changes in their female friends’ bodies and how to respect them. Discourage harmful or disrespectful thoughts about girls learned from friends, media, or other sources.
Your preteen may act as if your guidance isn’t welcome or needed, and even seem embarrassed by you at times. You don’t have to let go entirely. You’re still a powerful influence — it’s just that your preteen might be more responsive to the example you set rather than the instructions you give. So practice what you’d like to preach. Whatever you do, always stay connected with your child before he is a teen. This connection is what will provide a sense of security and help build the resilience kids needs to roll with life’s ups and downs.
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