Raising boys

Good Health
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Raising boys. Image: Getty
Brought to you by Australian Good Health magazine

The building blocks you set up for your boy today will determine the kind of man he will be tomorrow. By Angela Donaldson.

The path to manhood is fraught with countless challenges for our boys, many that weren't around when the current generation of men were growing up. The internet, increasing levels of violence and a heavier focus by advertisers on children and teens make it harder for boys to arrive at "destination: manhood" safe and sound.

"Unless we want our boys to grow up being anxious, bored and immature, we need to take time to get to know the issues and difficulties they face so we can help them on their way," says Maggie Hamilton, author of What's Happening To Our Boys (Penguin, $29.95). "We need to appreciate boys more, to allow them to feel good about being boys, and we need to pay more attention to their emotional lives," she says.

While researching her book, Hamilton spoke to boys of all ages, parents, teachers, psychologists and experts in child and teenage health. According to Hamilton, the following are some of the main challenges our boys are facing today.

Little boys
From the time they are born, most boys are immersed in branded toys, clothing and other merchandise. The problem, says Hamilton, is that when boys are obsessed with characters like Spiderman or Ben 10, they are robbed of their spontaneity and imagination. "Precious time exploring and having adventures is lost when packaged, passive, screen-based entertainment is substituted," she says.

"It's essential we keep boys' imaginations alive," she says. "Imagination helps a boy see he has choices. It also helps him navigate difficult people and situations, which are invaluable skills for now and for later life."

What you can do:

  • Encourage curiosity, persistence and imagination. Do this with simple activities, like playing in a puddle with your son and showing him how sticks and leaves can be boats.
  • Avoid tuning in to commercial cartoon channels.
  • Try to keep TV time to a minimum, and choose uplifting or educational programs.
  • Encourage recycling. Keep a box of safe recyclables your son can use to make things.

The allure of alcohol
Teens and alcohol is not a new combination, but today's kids are drinking and using drugs more than previous generations.

Drinking is seen as an integral part of having a good time and this is reinforced everywhere they turn. "In films, TV shows, and celebrity culture, life is represented as endless parties and drinking," says Hamilton. "And in the sports arena, boys constantly see their heroes 'wasted' and behaving badly."

She says boys drink to get drunk, to feel confident, to prove themselves and as a way of fitting in. However, drinking to excess makes them more vulnerable to attack, accidents and abuse.

What you can do:

  • Have an honest appraisal of your own drinking habits and consider what your actions are teaching your son about alcohol.
  • Be mindful of how difficult it is to be a teenager so you have more of an understanding of his challenges.
  • Praise him for doing things right and be reasonable about minor mistakes.
  • Let your son know you want to be the first person he goes to if something goes wrong.

The internet is very appealing to boys because it gives them endless worlds where they can explore their fantasies and find a sense of belonging, and it's a place they can be whoever they want to be. While much of it is harmless, the Net can also lead some boys to dark places, says Hamilton.

Depending on where your son spends his time online, there are many risks including developing unhealthy relationships, identity theft, gambling addiction and vulnerability to adults and teenage predators.

What you can do:

  • Keep computers in a central place in the home.
  • Talk openly with your son about the kinds of risks he may face online, including emotional blackmail and grooming by paedophiles.
  • Take an interest in not only your son's offline friends but also his online friends.
  • Be balanced in your discussions about the internet: it's not all bad.

    For the full story, see the May issue of Australian Good Health. Get a great subscription deal on New Zealand Good Health magazine at magshop.co.nz.

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