How to Raise Boys Who Grow Up to Be Gentlemen

Karen Patten

It’s so cute, isn’t it? When we find out that a friend is having a girl, we turn to the father and say – I bet all the boys will be coming around, you’ll have to chase ’em off!

And we hear a friend is going to raise boys, we say “Thank goodness! Raising boys is so much easier than raising girls (especially during the tween and teen years) – you’ll hardly have anything to worry about!”

This is how parents are failing our sons before they are even born. And wait until you hear why…

I want to raise boys not just to be men, but to be gentlemen, starts long before they are tweens or teenagers. This post is the perfect place for any mother of boys to start teaching her boys to respect women. There are so many small things that we can teach and model - starting even when they are toddlers! www.themidlifemamas.com class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-6622″ />

Instead, it’s the parents of boys who have the responsibility to teach them how to respectfully treat women. Parents of boys do not  get off easy.

Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report. (cite)

Given that number, it’s clear that men grow up thinking that they are entitled to treat women this way. Spoiler alert: parents of boys: this train has left the track.

We Are Failing At Raising Boys Because We Are Afraid

Boy moms, you’re my people. I love us. Truly. But right now, I’ve come unhinged. We’ve lost our way. We are confused and we are afraid to raise our voices. In short, we are failing our sons and our daughters are paying the brutal price for our failure.

We’re afraid to raise our voices because, as women, we’ve been taught to be victims from the same young age that boys learned to victimize us. And we’ve learned well.

Fear of raising our own voices comes from normalization. Our society normalizes the mistreatment of women. Here’s an example of what I mean. I was watching television the other afternoon, this is what I saw:

Off screen, a male party guest grabbed a female party guest. Then the woman slapped him and called him a “Creep!” The man held his face where she slapped him and cooed “Oooooooh. Spunky! I like that!”

This was the animated children’s series “The Batman.” The man was Penguin, and the woman was a guest at Bruce Wayne’s party. My boys saw this and internalized it to some degree. And, no matter how vigilant I am, my boys see hundreds and thousands of these images growing up.

Virtual driving games at the arcade marked “appropriate for all ages” have scantily clad “virtual women” in bikinis wiggling and waving flags to start the race. The women “racers” wear bikini tops and stilettos and no helmets. The men are, of course, serious racers with appropriate bike riding attire and helmets.

It goes on and on and on. THAT, my friends, is normalization. Children see men behaving this way from such a young age, they believe it is the proper way to treat women.

There is nothing like having a boy. (Sorry girl moms, I have no experience with girls, so I’m crazy biased.) Boy moms have a special bond with each other and with our boys. Our sweet, loving boys are wild and crazy; they love us madly and drive us crazy all in the same minute.

Teach These 9 Powerful Things As We Raise Boys

But here’s what we aren’t talking about. Why do parents of girls have to teach them how to not get raped?

Let that sink in.

Why aren’t we doing a better job of teaching our boys not to rape? We are failing our sons by not teaching them. We are failing our sons by assuming they know how to treat women with respect. Normalization of sexism has decimated that assumption.

So, let’s start supporting and teaching our sons. Let’s do these things instead:

*Let’s stop teaching girls that little boys can push them, pull their hair, and tease them because they “like” them, and

*Let’s start teaching boys not to push girls, pull their hair, or tease them.

*Let’s stop teaching girls to ignore boys’ disrespectful words, and

*Let’s start teaching boys to stop calling girls bitches and ho’s.

*Let’s stop teaching girls how not to be raped, and

*Let’s start teaching boys not to rape.

*Let’s stop telling girls what they can and cannot wear, and

*Let’s start telling boys that even if a girl wears nothing it does not equal consent.

*Let’s stop telling girls that whatever happens is their fault if they have had too much to drink, and

*Let’s start telling boys that if a girl is drunk or passed out, he should HELP her – not rape her.

*Let’s stop teaching girls that they have to say “No!” and

*Let’s make sure boys understand that “No!” means no; and also

*Let’s start teaching boys that they must hear “Yes!” And hear it a lot.

*Let’s stop teaching girls that they shouldn’t lead boys on, and

*Let’s teach boys that girls are entitled to say no if things go too far.

*Let’s stop teaching boys that they should only play with toys that shoot, fight, or blow up, and

*Let’s teach boys that it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy nurturing a doll or pretending to make dinner in a kitchen.

*Let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys,” and

*Let’s start saying “My boys will be boys who are kind, caring, and respectful. And that’s exactly how they should be.”

Parents of boys, it’s a simple as this cup of tea. Let’s talk about it with our boys. Now. Today. And many, many days after that. I’d rather explain this to my sons at every opportunity than not explain it often enough when there’s such a high price to pay.

So when we learn that our friend is pregnant with a girl, let’s bring that baby girl into the world where she believes in her worth. And when we hear that it’s a boy, let’s not assume that he is some sort of animal who can’t control is behavior so that girls need to be protected from him. Let’s teach our boys that their behavior is a choice – not animal instinct.

I am a firm believer in using ordinary every day experiences to start conversations that may feel uncomfortable. For tween and teen boys, some of the best conversations happen in the car. And for all kids, open, honest conversations start when they are relaxed and feeling connected to family. I have three words for you: family game night.

Related Post You May Also Like: 10 Fascinating Board Games For Boys and Girls Who Are Creative Kids

PS – I’ve talked to soooo many parents who are not afraid of starting a conversation, but who are afraid of where the conversation might lead and what doors it may open. Here’s the thing – you want to open those doors! As parents, there are so many “firsts” that can be uncomfortable to handle. (Remember the blowout diaper, anyone?) And then they become mundane. These tough conversations are like that too!

Related Post You May Also Like: One Powerful Phrase to Transform Any Conversation with Your Tween


17 Comments

  1. Doing Good Together™ on June 11, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Thank you for this. We wrote in a previous newsletter about the importance of raising boys (and not just girls) to be compassionate human beings. Through our conversations, role modeling, and deliberate choices we make in what books, movies, and other media, we can steer our children toward kind behavior and thoughtful interactions. Indeed, what we teach our children today will be the foundation for the adults of tomorrow. http://www.doinggoodtogether.org/2015-dgt-newsletters/nurturing-compassion-in-boys



    • Karen Patten on June 13, 2016 at 10:48 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!



  2. Irma on June 13, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Maybe if you used fewer slurs of the ableist type I would have been able to read what seemed like a great article.

    The word “crazy” is offensive for people dealing with mental health issues. Though to you it may seem colorful language, to many people it is hurtful.

    So, in the spirit of the article (learning to respect oppressed groups), I thought you might want to get this feedback.

    Thanks for speaking out about this issue.



    • Karen Patten on June 13, 2016 at 10:47 pm

      I’m sorry to have offended – it was certainly not my intent. I am aware that the term “crazy” as an adjective would be offensive or hurtful to some with mental health issues. As I used it, as an adverb, the dictionary defines crazy to mean “extremely” and that was my intended meaning. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.



  3. Lisa on June 13, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    I am a mother to both boys and girls. While I agree with some of what you said some I do not. Respect goes both ways it is a two way street. If we as women want men to respect us we need to respect how men are wired and that is visually. So if a woman is dressing provocatively most men will get aroused by that even happily married ones. They can turn away or bounce after training themselves to do so and we have already started working on that with our oldest son but that arousal is still there – it can be especially hard as a teenager with raging hormones but it can be done with focus and dilligence. Most men are not taught to look the other way or focus on a woman’s face so they will stare and see her as sexually available or easy. So I am also teaching my girls to expect respect from men but also to give respect back by dressing in a modest way and not drawing attention to their “assets”.
    Unfortunately we live in a fallen world where if you are in a vulnerable position someone will try to take advantage of you. So I will teach all of my children to avoid those vulnerable positions – getting drunk or stoned, bad loans, relationships, etc. – and I will teach them if they are in that position to be able to find and identify good help and to be weary until they find it. I will also teach them that they should make good choices and obviously getting drunk is a bad choice and leaves you incredibly vulnerable. I teach them to help those in a vulnerable position if they can or to help that person to find some good help.



    • Karen Patten on June 13, 2016 at 10:44 pm

      I agree that any time you place yourself in any sort of a vulnerable position, you must be wary. But I don’t think that a woman deserves to be in a “vulnerable” position because a man is aroused by her appearance. Many men become aroused but do not rape. Arousal isn’t the issue; men aren’t animals who can’t control their desires. Many therapists and doctors contend that rape is not about arousal or sex at all; it’s about control and violence.



    • Uluhane on October 13, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      Loved this response I feel the same.



  4. Erica on June 13, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    It is absolutely NOT time to stop teaching girls “how not to be raped.” It must be both. To think there will be a time where girl’s will never have to fear is utopian. Boys must be taught not to rape AND girls must be taught to always be vigilant and aware. But for that matter, anyone can be taken advantage of: raped, robbed, beaten. We should be teaching all of our children to not take advantage of others AND how to avoid being the victim. There is no one or the other.



    • Karen Patten on June 13, 2016 at 10:30 pm

      I agree! It is unfortunate that we can’t stop teaching girls about personal boundries and safety. But we SHOULD NOT have to. Women should not have to learn to walk to the parking lot with their keys splayed in between their fingers. Men don’t. Women should not be afraid to have a drink if they so choose. Men don’t. And any of a hundred other things that women shouldn’t have to become used to. Unfortunately, girls must still be taught safety. I simply think that the burden has been placed on women for too long to learn how not to be victimized. But I absolutely agree that all children need to learn not to take advantage of others and about their own personal safety!



    • Heather on July 7, 2016 at 6:46 am

      Yes! Erica…This comment is exactly what I was thinking. I am a mom to 4 boys under 8 and am so over the phrase “boys will be boys” and “too bad you didn’t get your girl”. My husband and i decided that when we knew we were having all boys that our job would be to train them to be good leaders in their home and good leaders in their community. This is what we are aiming for but despite this, there was still an “incident” where our 5 yr old was cast as a “perv” for curiously looking downthe back of a girls skirt after she asked him to. That doesn’t make sense to me! We can teach our boys to be good leaders and defenders of women, but if no one is teaching these women their self worth, it’s not going to work. I hope that as a society we can work together as men and women instead of having to fight against eachother and strive to be the “better” sex.



  5. Pat on June 15, 2016 at 7:17 am

    I, too have a daughter and a son. We have had many conversations about respect. Children tend to learn from what they see, more than hear though. What they saw were parents who valued each other. I do not put down my husband (or men, for that matter) by speaking in generalizations about men. My husband treats me and all women in our family and work place with respect. I have spoken to my daughter about respecting herself in relationships as she grew older, but I also told my son that he will need to be the person to show self- control in relationships.
    In the age of women’s rights many young women don’t respect themselves. It seems to be a right of passage today to engage in sex without any feelings for the partner. This is, in my opinion, an issue for both sexes.
    I would like to see a follow up article on the things we should teach our daughters immediately.



  6. Cindy on June 15, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Just watched a documentary on Netflix a couple of weeks ago that should be recommended for all parents to watch, “The Mask You Live In.” It’s an incredible look at how we can make the difference in how our boys see themselves and express themselves in the world. The “boy crisis” in America is so much more pervasive than the media. It’s quite daunting to realize that my little boy who is not even 5 and has only been in school for a few short months and not been exposed to the media most of us blame for this rape culture has already been infected by the need to squelch his feelings and not been seen hurt or crying by his peers.



  7. Equality on June 8, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Maybe in the future men can wear clothes that provacatively reveal their testicular cleavage and have the right to be offended if a woman looks at it in disgust.



  8. […] pathetic sentence and his father’s attitude, I was prompted more and more to think about my what I can do as the mother of boys. I want women to live in a world where they do not have to learn how to stay […]



  9. […] best and I love being a boy mom – but with that great privilege comes the responsibility of raising boys who grow up to become gentlemen. While they are still young, we have to model happy, respectful, and healthy relationships. […]



  10. […] of “bad” behavior is something I actively work against with my boys. If we don’t speak out when we see something that is not right, it normalizes […]



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Hi, I’m Karen, the Atlanta mama, writer, and creator at Intentional Family Life. I’m a passionate advocate for intentional living so that you can experience all that you deserve for yourself and your family. Here, I inspire moms to chose what matters most and then to only do the things that move them closer to what matters most. Read More About Karen…

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