Linda Lewis Griffith

How to be the dad your son needs

Dads, your sons are in trouble.

They’re five times more likely than your daughters to be expelled from preschool and four times more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disorder in grade school. The downward trend continues into college, where they comprise a mere 42 percent of all students and earn fewer bachelor’s degrees than female students.

The entertainment media compound the problem by portraying guys as brainless losers.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, authors of “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It,” surveyed 20,000 men in 2011 to determine the causes of the motivational and social problems impacting today’s young men. Nearly two-thirds of the participants blamed conflicting messages from media, institutions, parents and peers about what is acceptable and desirable male behavior.

In other words, guys don’t know how to be men.

It’s understandable that they feel this way. High-functioning male role models are hard to find.

Forty percent of all births are to unmarried women. Intact marriages fail half of the time.

Even when fathers live full time with their kids, their interactions fall woefully short. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that men with children between the ages of 6 and 17 spend 47 minutes each day devoted to child care but 5.8 hours on leisure activities such as watching TV, socializing or exercising.

Without adequate adult intervention, boys make dubious choices. Research shows that:

60 percent of U.S. rapists come from fatherless homes.

72 percent of adolescent murderers grew up without a dad.

70 percent of long-term prison inmates are fatherless.

Dads, this is where you come in.

You are your sons’ best teachers when it comes to being guys. They need to see first-rate men in action so they witness all it means to be male. Talk to them on a daily basis about the challenges you face at work and in the community. This doesn’t mean you need to be perfect. Rather, you become the living example of what you want them to be.

Fathers, follow these steps to help your boys grow into terrific, competent men

 Spend time with your sons. Read them bedtime stories. Eat dinner as a family. Play catch in the yard. Build models in the garage. Visit a fire station. The more hours and activities you share, the more opportunities they have to learn from you.

Involve boys in your daily activities. Let them see your workplace. Take them on errands to the hardware store. Teach them how to clean fish. Barbecue on the patio. Demonstrate a broad range of interests so they’ll see all that masculinity entails.

Manage your own anger successfully. Everyone loses his temper. How you handle those moments sets you apart. Remember to back away from conflict in order to defuse it. Be respectful even when you’re miffed.

Teach boys to be financially responsible. Help them set goals for items they’d like to purchase, then devise plans for reaching their targets. Depending on their ages and how much the item costs, you may opt to match their earnings or brainstorm strategies for getting cash. Either way, your time and diligence will provide invaluable lessons about money.

Demonstrate impulse control. Delaying gratification is a difficult concept. It requires the ability to handle frustration, see into the future and accept things beyond your control. When boys see adult males behaving maturely, they’re more likely to follow suit.

Be respectful toward women. A key component of being male is learning how to relate to the opposite gender. Treat women as equal partners. Avoid sexist jokes or derogatory comments. Demonstrate love and affection to the key women in your life.

Mentor other boys. Good dads are in short supply. If you have the time and interest, invite additional boys and young men into your world. Perhaps you volunteer as a Big Brother or lead a Boy Scout den. You may want to take boys on outings or teach them how to repair flat tires on their bicycles. Whatever you can offer is much needed. These boys are counting on you.