With so many high-profile cases of men falling in disgrace, it’s a good idea for parents to reexamine how to best raise our sons to become good men. How our sons view women when they are children will impact the way they treat women when they venture out into the world.
We are given the responsibility to provide spiritual training to our children. Fathers and mothers are charged with the mandate to leave a spiritual imprint on our children’s souls.
If we expect the next generation to listen to us while they grow, they must hear us when they are young. What is the message we impart? How can we nurture our children’s character so that they leave this world better than when they entered? (It goes without saying the following points equally apply to teaching our daughters how to respect men.)
Honor the Women in your Life
More than any strong lecture about treating women properly is the firsthand view of what children observe. When parents honor one another, when they treat women with dignity, respect flourishes. Ask: How do we honor the women in our life? Do we easily disparage women’s thoughts? What is our tone and body language? Do we carelessly mock a mother’s concerns? Are grandmother’s ignored and made to feel irrelevant?
There are positive ways we can teach children, too. Instead of always having mom serve, tirelessly prepare and somehow make life run smoothly for the family, let’s involve our spouses and children. Even a toddler can learn how to bring a spoon or cup of water to mommy.
And as children grow: “Please sit, Mom, I’ll take care of this.” What beautiful words to a mother’s ears.
Expressing gratitude in front of your children is another avenue of honor. How often do we leave the dinner table or grab a snack that mom prepared without a backward glance? Mom is expected to sooth wounded feelings, heal scraped knees, mediate siblings battles, feed hungry tummies, supervise homework, ferry after school activities, be sure there are clean uniforms hanging, and still be the incredible woman she was meant to be.
Judaism recognizes the strength of women. Every Friday night we sing Eshes Chayil, A Woman of Valor, paying tribute to the women in our lives. We speak about her rising in the darkest of nights and never allowing herself to fall into the depths of hopelessness. Her flame is never extinguished though her heart may be full. She is exhausted but perseveres.
If we want our sons to respect women, they must hear and see that respect modeled in the home.
All children require self-discipline to reign in emotions and actions that can harm others. Our technology-obsessed culture means that often there is ‘no end’. No end to the music, no end to the show, no end to the surfing – there is always something else to watch or listen to. How does one understand the definition of enough? From where does a child learn the meaning of ‘stop’? They keep scrolling down and clicking more.
Growing up in a world where wants are fulfilled with a touch of a button can strain a child’s ability to comprehend the word ‘no’. How many parents are able to repeatedly deny their children’s desires? In a society of instant gratification, children believe that their wishes come before anyone else. “I want it and I want it now!” Order from Amazon prime and it’s at your doorstep. Wants and needs are often confused.
Character training demands that a parent be unafraid to declare boundaries. Teaching right from wrong requires our stepping in and setting rules. Whether it is no phones at meals and homework time or limiting purchases on iTunes, we have the obligation to stand up for that which we believe in. Creating a space within a child’s world where it’s ok to not have it all, to respect the word ‘no’, to realize that it’s not what you have but who you are that creates happiness, are all essential rungs on the ladder to moral greatness.
Judaism provides us with built-in avenues toward self-discipline. Mitzvot help us train our children’s hearts.
“Yes, you want to have that chocolate bar but it is dairy and you need to wait between eating meat and dairy.”
‘Sure, you have a juicy piece of gossip but that’s lashon hara, and we cannot hurt others with our words.”
Plug into the positive energy of teaching your child the strength of ruling over one’s desires.
Teach Responsibility and Empathy
Here are two values to work on with our boys to help mold them into great men.
Begin with responsibility. When we hurt others we need to recognize the pain that we’ve caused. Teach children to own their actions. Apologize without ‘ifs’, excuses, or blaming others. Too many adults disclaim the harm they’ve inflicted. We cannot afford to rationalize our sons’ wrongs by excusing bad behavior. Saying things like ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘this is our culture now’ is pitiful. There is no justification for demeaning others. If you bring damage into the world through your words or actions, you need to be accountable.
Empathy means I am responsive to your feelings. In a world where we have stopped looking at others and focus mainly on ourselves, children have become selfish. Much of the damage inflicted has happened because self-needs take priority over the needs and emotions of the person I am hurting. We want our children to grow up being attuned to the hearts of others. There is no room for callousness. How can I cause pain to another human being?
Put names on emotions like sad, hurt, and feeling badly so that we place ourselves in another person’s shoes. Teach sensitivity. Guide children to distant themselves from writing and forwarding mean texts or leaving classmates and siblings out. Helping children be aware of how others feel will make them think hard about the ramifications of their deeds; a much needed asset when they enter the adult world.
When our sons grow up realizing that their actions impact others, they understand that what they do matters. Our choices can hurt or heal. Let us teach our children to grow sensitive to the feelings of others, to see the faces of those who surround them and recognize the shadow of pain in their eyes. Inspiring children to respect and have self-control nourishes the inner voice that becomes their moral compass.
We have the opportunity to teach our sons how to infuse our world with honor, kindness, and dignity so that they grow to become the good men we know they are meant to be.