This past weekend we watched our only son, Ben, graduate from college. College graduation is a milestone not only for a student, but also for the parents of that student. It marks years of care, nurture, counsel, advice, time, and effort. When our daughter graduated from college I wrote a post entitled, “How to Raise a Daughter.” Here’s the corresponding post.
I’m not presumptuous enough to say that I have all the answers, or that I could prescribe the perfect way to raise a son. But these are some of the things that worked well for my wife, Tammy, and me, and could work well for you, too.
- Express your love as frequently and in as many ways as you can. It’s OK for a dad to say, “I love you” to his son. Hugs and literal “pats on the back” from both mom and dad express love and care in tangible ways. In a world that tends to beat people down, boys need to know that they are loved. Unconditionally. In as many ways as possible. And demonstrate what love really looks like by loving your spouse.
- Encourage creativity. When Ben was young we provided him with as many creative materials as we could put in his hands. Sometimes, as a young child, he would spend hours simply using boxes and paper bags to create things that still boggle my mind. Creativity is useful all the way throughout life, from school through a career. Encourage it.
- Teach, support, and reward good study habits. That means helping in any way possible, and if you don’t know it or understand it, find someone who does. Lots of people are willing to help kids discover, study, and learn.
- Provide opportunities in sports, the arts, and music. Over the years, Ben played organized baseball, performed in plays and musicals (including Shakespeare), took piano and guitar lessons, sang in choirs, and organized bands of his own. Let a boy choose which direction he’d like to go…and if he wants to do it all, let him (within reason).
- Be involved. While Ben was playing baseball, I coached. In fact, I was a coach for his baseball teams every year but one. He knew that I cared enough about him to be there as often as I could. And we made it a point to attend just about all of his performances and concerts.
- Teach him respect for girls. It starts at home when dad shows respect for mom. But it also comes through conversations encouraging a boy to be a “gentleman”…to hold the door open, to compliment others, and to draw proper boundaries.
- Help him to appreciate the value of hard work and money. This can be done through the responsible use of “allowance,” taking on part time jobs, even the value of studying hard to work toward a desired outcome. When boys learn at an early age to value these things, later on in life they don’t expect things to be handed to them on a “silver platter.”
- Balance firm discipline with age-appropriate latitude. Boys need boundaries. They will test those boundaries. Those boundaries should remain firm. When those boundaries are crossed there must be consequences. On the other hand, with age comes more freedom and responsibility. As he grows older, let out an appropriate amount of slack.
- Communicate with him. Communication was important from the time Ben was little. But it became even more important as he moved into high school and college. Tammy and I made it a point to always be ready to listen, to discuss, to give appropriate advice, and then let Ben make decisions based on what he had heard and learned. I think if you’d ask Ben, he’d probably tell you that he especially appreciated close communication as he moved nine hours away from home and went to college. He knew he always had someone to talk to…and to listen.
- Take him to church, bring him up in the church, make church a regular part of every week. When he is a child take him to church and Sunday School every Sunday. When he is in high school make church attendance an expectation, not an option. When he is in college, personally help him find a church home that is suitable to him. This includes praying for him all along the way. Bar none, this is the most important of these ten items.
This is not an exclusive list, so what would you add to it?