One of the core attributes for a Boy Scout is to be brave. The scout is to stand up for what is right even in the face of adversity. It would seem that bravery is in short supply these days, particularly with the presence of so many bullies who insist on things going their way. It’s rare to run into someone who is willing to stand up to bullies, and to do what they can to right the wrong. Which means that it’s really hard to find examples of brave adults for children to use as models.
The downside of current parenting practice, with parents protecting their kids from adversity instead of teaching them how to stand up for themselves, risks switching out bravery for ego-driven bluster. A brave mother has several ideas about how parents can turn that tide, and encourage their sons to learn to be brave. Rachel Walker’s piece in Outside Magazine, “6 Ways to Raise Brave Boys.”
What Walker advises is to teach your children to be brave by helping them to own their feelings. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid, as long as you understand what you are afraid of and admit to it. For example, the problem with being bullied is not that the child is afraid of the bully, but that the child believes what the bully says – “you’re a wimp!” As adults, we know that the solution bullying is to ignore what’s said, which we’re better able to do because our identity is not as impacted by the bully’s taunts as a child’s would be. We have a more solid self-concept, so when someone says something derogatory, we’re less likely to believe them.
Children, on the other hand, don’t have a firm grasp on their identity yet, so when someone calls them a name, they tend to believe that person. Particularly when that person sounds so sure of their opinion. That’s why saying something like “you’re such a hard worker” to a child actually motivates that child to be more industrious. The more that children know about their own identity – what they can do and what they are like – the more they’re able to be resilient when faced with adversity.
What, then, can parents do to help their children, especially their boys, become brave rather than becoming bullies? Part of the solution is connected to something I’ve said many times before – talking to your son. Remember, parents in general talk to their sons less often than they talk to their daughters. Mothers are more likely to have conversations with their daughters about what it means to be a woman. Conversations like these are common: how to be kind to others, how to please your teachers, how to be a good friend, and we hope, how to stand up for what you believe in.
Moms are not as comfortable having similar conversations with their sons, but they should have the same sort of conversations they’re having with their daughters. Start early, before your son gets the impression that it’s not manly to talk about one’s feelings. You’ll be teaching him that he can talk about what matters to the people he trusts most – and it’s that part that matters most to boys. They don’t want to be taken advantage of – remember, boys are very emotional, but they frequently lack the vocabulary to express those emotions. This is where parents come in. Share your emotions with your son, so that he can understand that adults talk about these things, that it’s part of being a grownup.
Do what you can to find men in your son’s life who are willing to talk about their emotions with your boy. If your son’s father is willing to have these conversations with him, they’re lucky to have each other. The ability to trust another man with one’s feelings is very important to all men. In popular culture, that sort of sharing has gotten a bad reputation, with men who are willing to expose themselves emotionally seen as “not manly.” Help your son be brave and stand up for what matters to him. Give him the skills to defend his beliefs by teaching him how to make a convincing argument, not by shouting or depending on personal slurs, but by referring to evidence based on facts. When he develops that skill, he will come to understand that the statements used by bullies are not based on reality, but on what the bully wants you to believe.
Real bravery is rare these days. Anything you can do to help your son develop the personal strength to stand up for himself, his family, and his friends will make a huge difference in his life.