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Le Cheat Sheet

How To Raise A Boy

Four ways to build a stronger relationship with your son gleaned from Michael C. Reichert's illuminating new book, "How To Raise A Boy: The Power Of Connection to Build Good Men."

Written By
Liz McDaniel
In his new book, "How To Raise A Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men," psychologist Michael C. Reichert identifies the ways in which outdated paradigms of hypermasculinity are no longer serving today’s boys and offers guidance for parents, teachers and mentors, whose responsibility it is to turn those boys into good men.

Throughout the book, Reichert draws on his own experience as well as the latest insights from psychology and neuroscience to run the full gauntlet of issues keeping modern parents awake at night: from performance at school, to peer pressure and bullying, to helping teenagers navigate love and sex in the #metoo era and the increased complications of a digital life. In each instance, he connects back to the central tenet that “Holding boys in relationships where they are known and loved is the best way to build good men.”

So, here are a few key takeaways for how best to build and maintain the kind of relationships your boy needs to see him safely through to manhood.

Listen & Cultivate Connection

Some of the best advice here comes in the form of guidance of how, quite simply, to spend time with your son. To pay real attention. To meet him where he is. To ask about his interests. To actively listen and try to understand his point of view without offering advice or worse, judgement. It suggests that parents immerse themselves in the experience of real boys in order to see beyond stereotypes and understand that each boy is truly unique.

It might be as mundane as sitting and watching your son play video games or setting a weekly date doing something he truly enjoys. It also means putting your own feelings aside—concern, fear, a desire to exercise authority—all get in the way of emotional connection.

“To develop skill at listening,” writes Reichert, “parents first learn to silence their inner monologues and radiate attention, warmth and interest.”

Be A Gardener, Not A Carpenter

Ok, stay with me here. In one of the book’s most compelling insights, Reichert sites the work of psychologist Alison Gopnik who calls on parents to resist the urge to overmanage their children and steer them toward predetermined outcomes. After all, it wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that the modern—and let’s be honest, exhausting—concept of “parenting” came to be. In this new view, to “parent” was to be a carpenter, “to take a piece of wood and fashion it into something predetermined, like a table or chair.” Gopnik encourage parents to think of themselves as gardeners. “When we garden, on the other hand, we create a protected and nurturing space for plants to flourish.”

It Takes a Village

While Reichert identifies strong relationships as the key to effectively navigating boyhood, he is also quick to point out that all relationships ebb and flow. Parents shouldn’t set the unrealistic expectation that they will be super close to their son at all times. This is why Reichert goes out of his way to stress the important role that teachers, mentors, friends and clergy might play in a boy’s life. Learning is particularly personal for boys and “A strong connection with a teacher can serve as a “secure base,” protecting a child from adverse stresses and allowing the teacher to serve as both a role model and an inspiration,” writes Reichert. As a parent, encourage these trusting relationships and build a strong network of support for your son that extends beyond his nuclear family.

Think Outside the “Man Box”

Parents must avoid the traps of hypermasculinity while staying attuned to the unique problems boys face because of them. “Moving to action,” writes Reichert, “parents must make the concrete choice to combat stereotyping.” This responsibility goes beyond avoiding stereotypes in language, toys, and media to being aware of the ways in which traditional boyhood might distort our sons’ human development. The good news? “From the front lines, we can see that boys are quite ready and eager for the chance to experience the ‘full development of their capacities’—including love, creativity and connection.”