I operate in two worlds that constantly collide. I am a sexologist and sex educator; I am a mom of 8-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. While I spend most of my days in classrooms and lecture halls facilitating conversations about sexuality, sexual health, puberty, and relationships, my audience at home allows me to practice what I preach. This last piece is important; I will never tell you anything that I wouldn't do myself.
Introduce him to pink
In a world where the pink/blue divide seems uncrossable, I urge you to step over the line. Colors do not have gender. Expressing yourself with a color does not make you more or less of a man (or boy). My 8-year-old son has always loved the color pink. The hotter and brighter, the better. Has he had to respond to silly people who tell him that pink isn’t for boys? Absolutely. But it has taught him a valuable lesson about the importance of standing up for yourself and it has given him the freedom (and confidence) to express himself as he sees fit. More importantly, boys who appreciate things that are stereotypically “for girls” learn never to judge a person based upon old expectations.
Make consent a daily discussion
Consent seems like a heavy word, often used in a sexual context. However, it applies to all aspects of life. Our children should value (and respect) other people’s wishes. They should learn to always ask for permission. It’s not just about dating; it’s about life. In our home, I constantly encourage consent. This can be as simple as asking, “May I please use your hairbrush?” and being accepting of the response.
Teach your sons to fight fairly
We fight. We argue. We don’t always get along. But you can tell a lot about the health of a relationship by how people fight. We need to model for our sons how to listen, how to own their feelings, and how to admit when they are wrong (in essence, teaching them about personal accountability).
Sounds simple, sure. But kids needs to know that please and thank you are not optional phrases; they are essential. They show respect to the people around them, whether it is a relative, waitstaff at a restaurant, a busdriver, or a friend. People want to be appreciated. A little thank you goes a very long way. So when they forget to say it, remind them. Over and over again.
Teach them the value of education
Gaining knowledge doesn’t end with after school. We will never know everything. It is crucial to be receptive to ongoing education (in or out of school). There will always be more to learn. This allows us to continuously grow, emotionally and intellectually.
Show them the importance of giving back
Part of being a good person means taking care of your community and your world at large. Encourage your sons to find an organization/charity that is meaningful to them. They can volunteer at these places or they can donate money directly. (For example, during the holiday season, we always buy at least one gift that goes to a child in need.) A little bit of giving goes a long way.
Get rid of any double standard in your home
Yes, these rules apply to our daughters, too. I alluded to it earlier, but when it comes to sex, dating, and life in general, the rules for both boys and girls need to be identical. No one should be held to different standards simply because they are of one particular gender.
More on raising sons