The #MeToo movement may have shaken things up in the workplace, but it was equally unsettling for many parents. Moms and dads of sons frequently found themselves wondering, “How can I raise respectful boys who would never think about mistreating girls or women?”
While the task may seem daunting, there are steps parents, grandparents and guardians can take to begin the process of raising aware, conscientious young men.
Watch your language. Be aware of sexist phrases in your speech, such as “Throwing like a girl,” “Old wives’ tales,” and “Boys will be boys.” These words undermine the worth of girls and women, and let men off the hook for bad behavior. Look for gender-neutral equivalents or drop them altogether.
Help boys manage anger and frustration. Teach preschoolers to use words instead of fists, and encourage grade schoolers to back away from incendiary situations. Create a quiet place where boys can go when they feel agitated or upset.
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Teach respect for all people. #MeToo isn’t just about women — consideration must be extended to all humans all of the time. Avoid criticizing others when they’re not around, be cordial to your neighbors and discuss difficult topics with civility.
Identify social cues. Boys aren’t born knowing what to do in social settings. Gentle coaching — such as saying, “I think Amy’s telling you that she doesn’t want to play that game” — helps a boy read body language and gives him a strategy for his behavior.
Be clear about boundaries. Express concise guidelines for boys to follow and be consistent in your enforcement. Also, teach them to honor the boundaries set by others. For example, “No” always means “no.”
Teach boys responsibility. Make sure boys have ample amounts of regular, unpaid chores within the family, and jobs outside the home when they are old enough to handle them. This instills internal structure and purpose, and fosters the idea that they are contributing members of the household.
Break stereotypes. Speaking of chores, let go of gender-stereotyped tasks. Both sons and daughters can wash dishes and do laundry, as well as wash the car and haul out the trash.
Allow boys to be caretakers. Develop the nurturing side of boys’ personalities by providing them with pets to tend to, or have them babysit younger siblings. You can also encourage them to spend time assisting elderly grandparents or neighbors.
Find good role models. Make sure that sons have grown men in their lives who demonstrate top-notch behavior and values. If Dad isn’t around or isn’t a good example, find other guys to spend time with your boy. Scout leaders, coaches, grandfathers, uncles, family friends and youth pastors can help guide boys on the path to manhood.