2018 was an interesting year.
The #MeToo movement gained strength, bringing discussions of sexual harassment and assault into national conversation. Famous men fell from their perches, and subsequently, a whole lot of us started talking about how to raise good, decent boys. More than 300 mass shootings occurred here in the U.S. — including massacres at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the Capitol Gazette Newsroom in Maryland and the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania — and in each incidence, the shooter was male. The phrase “toxic masculinity” gained prominence as we collectively attempted to discover the root causes of such violence and hate.
We parents of boys have always known that the work we do in our homes is important, but the events of 2018 have caused the nation (and world!) to take a long hard look at how we raise our boys. The Washington Post ran a fantastic series on raising boys today. The New York Times also published multiple articles about boys, including Michael Ian Black’s op-ed “The Boys Are Not All Right,” which inspired lots of discussion and debate.
In the midst of these discussions and changing social norms stand parents and boys, all of whom are simply trying to figure things out. A peek at our Top 5 posts of 2018 pretty much sums up the issues facing boys and their families:
I’ll admit it: I wrote this post because I realized that focusing on my boys’ bickering wasn’t doing any of any good. It certainly wasn’t improving their behavior, and it was making me miserable.
Letting it go isn’t just a sanity saver; it’s also a pretty smart parenting technique. I’ve learned, over time and through trial and error, that when I intervene in my boys’ bickering (“Hey! Stop that! Be nice to your brother!”), it often escalates. When I don’t respond — when I pretend I didn’t hear them or bite my tongue or move to another room so I can no longer hear their constant verbal jousting — the bickering often stops within minutes. Sometimes, within seconds.
Full disclosure here: “stops” doesn’t necessarily mean “ends without anyone’s feelings getting hurt” or “ends without incidence.
The inspiration for this post was an email from my son’s teacher. Subject line: Bathroom issue.
While discussing the incident with my son – who clearly acknowledged that his behavior crossed a line — he told me that he’d been pretty confident of his audience, a.k.a the group of boys in the bathroom. He trusted they’d find his behavior funny; clearly, it made them uncomfortable instead. And that was my window to talk about consent.
“That’s the tricky thing,” I told him. “It’s hard to read other people sometimes. Sometimes, you think they’re up for something, but they’re not. The only way to know for sure is to ask.”
Yes, 2018 was also the year that Fortnite became a part of our lives. I was intrigued by my boys’ fascination with this game, and spent a lot of time early on watching and listening to them play. I even mastered a few Fortnite dances. (OK, the Loser dance. I can do the Loser dance.)
I know that Fortnite has caused a lot of angst between boys and their parents — so much so that the Wall Street Journal just ran an article called “How Fortnite Triggered An Unwinnable War Between Boys and Their Parents.” Even so, I didn’t think this post would inspire as much hate as it has. Every single time I share this post. someone accuses me of being on Epic Games’ payroll. I assure you, that is not the case. I also stand by my point: Fortnite is not a complete waste of time.
When my son plays Fortnite, he’s developing highly marketable skills. If you think that’s hyperbole, consider the fact that large companies consistently rank “collaboration” and “teamwork” as “very important” or “absolutely essential” on surveys measuring the importance of various employability skills. Already, it’s incredibly common for project teams to collaborate virtually, via headsets and video chat; people who have never met in person often work together to achieve a common goal.
And despite the many disparaging remarks people make about video game play, there’s evidence that skills developed during game play transfer to the broader world.
I wrote this one the day after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I’ve had far too many opportunities to share it since.
Kids who are happy, content, safe and well-cared for do not shoot up schools. The fact that so many are resorting to horrific violence tells me we are failing our kids in so many ways.Our social net is frayed to tatters, and children are falling through — and taking others with them.
The true shame of the matter is that it’s not as if we don’t know which qualities and practices are associated with raising well-adjusted humans. There are mounds of literature on the subject. And it’s not even as if we don’t know how to help children who experience less-than-ideal circumstances. There are reams of literature on that too. We know that trauma — poverty, racism, the loss of a parent, exposure to violence — affects children, that such exposure to trauma literally changes the ways their brains function. The research even tells us that such trauma can be biologically passed down through the generations via genetic changes.
I can’t find any hard numbers, but apathy among American boys seems to be at epidemic proportions. So many parents tell me that their son “isn’t into anything,” and I’m convinced that parental concern about Fortnite is really parental fear that their sons will never do anything else. There are a whole lot of unmotivated, unmoored boys out there — and that kind of disengagement can blossom into all sorts of social ills. On some level, we know this. That’s why we’re worried.
You cannot create motivation for your son (or anyone else). True motivation has to come from within. External motivation — do this or you can’t do that — wears thin after awhile, and almost never leads to permanent changes in behavior.
Unwittingly, many of us have spent years squashing our son’s motivation. Think about it: The boy asks to use a power tool, and we say no. He asks to walk to the store with his friends, and we say no. Teachers, parents and society spend a lot of time telling our boys to sit down, shut up and do what they’re told, and very little time asking them, “What do you want to do? How can we help you?”
2018 is the year I felt the tide start to turn. Boys, and how we raise them and nurture them, are finally part of the national conversation. Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep connecting. Together, we can build healthy boys.
What was your favorite post of 2018? Tell us in the comments below!
Latest posts by Jennifer L. W. Fink (see all)
- Enjoying Summer with Boys - July 4, 2019
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