Parenting expert Dr. Meg Meeker says we should parent our boys with an image in our minds of what we want them to be like at age 25. My son is 12. Many of his current qualities will serve him well at 25: his kind heart, his witty humor, and his ability to play a mean game of ping-pong. But he has other qualities that won’t go over too well in the life of a 25-year-old man: his inability to get his dirty clothes into the hamper instead of on the floor, his reluctance to do his chores instead of putting them off for “later,” and his tendency to act before thinking.
So while he’s a wonderful boy, he’s still working on learning the lessons that will make him a really good man. If you’re raising sons (or a son), let me share some of the lessons I’m trying to teach him, the 13 things to teach your son before 13. And, believe me, even when my son turns 13, we will keep working on these things. Still, it’s good to have a clear path laid out when our boys are young.
1. How to express himself.
Talk to your son one on one. Engage him in conversations and help him put words to his feelings. My wise uncle put a list of banned phrases on his refrigerator when his son became a tight-lipped teen: “I don’t know. I don’t care. Whatever.” These conversation avoiding words were banished.
2. How to work hard.
Being able to work hard isn’t just good for our sons’ futures in the working world, it’s good for their self-esteem now. A job done well makes a boy feel capable. So give your son the opportunity to see a project through, on his own, from start to finish.
3. How to be a good sport.
Even the best athletes, the smartest students, and the cutest guys will all find themselves on the losing end of things eventually. Explain to your son what it means to handle wins and losses with humility and grace.
4. How to control his temper.
Boys come by their combustive reputations honestly, their testosterone makes them more inclined to have anger issues. Start by teaching your son that, ultimately, he has to be the boss of his anger and his actions.
5. How to take responsibility for his actions.
Lay the groundwork for this lesson by teaching your son that actions and choices have consequences. Help him see that when he chooses to act a certain way, he must think ahead about what those actions will bring. Then, teach him that he must be ready to take responsibility for his actions.
6. How to help others.
Revive chivalry by teaching your boy to help without being asked. Encourage him to be on the lookout for those who might need his help. Praise him when he does open a door for an elderly person or he picks up something someone has dropped.
7. How to be kind to others.
A recent study found that boys can be as mean as, well, mean girls. Teach him that he needs to be aware of when good-natured teasing has crossed the line.
8. How to manage the online world.
It’s not just pornography our boys need to learn to resist, it’s the risk of being on their devices 24/7 while life and opportunities pass them by. Set limits for your son’s screen time and explain to him why you’re doing it, so that when he’s in control of making his own choices in this area, he’ll have the information he needs to make good choices.
9. How to take care of himself.
We don’t want our sons to be that roommate in college who’s a huge slob. We want our boys to know how to clean, cook, and care for themselves. That means they can do their own laundry, make their own doctor appointments, and grocery shop for themselves.
10. How to talk to adults.
Good manners and an ease with others don’t come naturally to most boys. Teach your son to have a firm handshake, to stand when a woman or older gentleman enters a room, and how to have a basic conversation. When someone says, “Hello”, he’s to say hello back while looking them in the eye. If they ask, “How are you doing?” He should answer and then ask them too. It’s little things like this that will help your son navigate the adult world smoothly.
11. How to be strong.
Teach your son the importance of being a man of strength—strong in his convictions, strong in his dependability, strong in his faith. Give him the tools to make him feel strong and able. A good place to start is by building up the right kind of self-esteem.
12. How to be his own man.
Yes, every boy wants to be liked, but he must learn that it’s more important to act according to his own beliefs and values. Just because the crowd is moving in one direction, doesn’t mean he has to. Teach him that being his own man can be difficult, but it’s worth it to live a life that is true to who he is.
13. How to have faith.
Faith is the cornerstone of life. Guide your son in the forming of his faith, just as you do in the forming of the other traits you want him to develop. You will not always be able to be there for your son; a strong faith will be his compass as he chooses his direction in life. (Not sure how to shape your child’s faith? Here are five ways to get started.)
What else are you trying to teach your son?