7 issues our boys face today and how to help them
An evidence-based approach to developing seven core principles all boys need to grow up confident, healthy and liking themselves.
Our boys are struggling. Suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 15–24. Seventy-five per cent of those who take their own lives are male. Their academic performance has been declining over the years and more boys exhibit behavioural problems than girls.
Our boys are struggling and husband-and-wife team Kasey Edwards and Dr Christopher Scanlon are here to help.
“We are researchers and writers, and because we are journalists, we can call up anyone in the world and they’ll speak to us,” Kasey says during our chat over Zoom (full interview below).
It shows. During our almost hour-long chat about strategies parents can take to raise healthy, happy sons, Kasey repeatedly refers to the research behind their recommendations.
Bringing Up Boys Who Like Themselves is the result of their extensive research through academic journals, interviews with experts and conversations with 15,000 parents. In it are seven core pillars every parent needs to help build within their sons. These foundational pillars will help our boys like and be comfortable with themselves, and they will be listed in greater detail later.
The good news for our boys
First, a confession. I am a bit of a fan of Kasey and Dr Christopher’s work. In 2021, they published (the very similar sounding) Raising Girls Who Like Themselves. Even though I only have one son, I was deeply impressed with their book and even adopted many of the guiding principles provided.
Turns out, I wasn’t alone.
“We wrote the boy book because lots of boy mums were reading the girl book. We got so many questions from boy parents and then we started hearing from mums who had read Raising Girls Who Like Themselves and applied it to their sons with success. Some of the stories have been life-changing success for their boys,” Kasey says. “That’s when we decided to research boys.”
Initially, the diagnosis was grim. As mentioned at the start of this article, our boys are struggling. The stories and statistics speak for themselves. But there is a glimmer of hope.
“The good news is that the more we researched, the more optimistic we actually became that we can raise boys to like themselves,” Kasey says. “It is possible to give our boys a strong enough foundation so that they can withstand the cyclones of life, because, as parents, we can’t protect them. We can’t even anticipate what our boys are going to face. But we can give them the foundation so they can withstand it, and we can also give them the foundation so that they are strong enough to reach their potential as well and make the most of their opportunities.”
The foundation our boys need
Bringing Up Boys Who Like Themselves is broken down into seven chapters, each a pillar boys need to have to grow up well.
The book goes into in-depth detail which explains why the pillar was chosen. More importantly, there are easy-to-read ways in which parents can help cultivate it in their boys. In this article, we’ll share a summarised version of these seven pillars of a boy who likes himself.
1. The power perspective
When bad things happen, does your son give up in defeat or get back up and try again? This is a quality that’s linked to resilience. When they succeed after trying repeatedly, it can then lead to a sense of accomplishment.
“It is the idea that we cannot control all the things that are going to happen in our lives, but we do have the power to control how we perceive those things and how we respond to those things,” explains Kasey.
My son has a tendency to worry about the “what-ifs”. What if it doesn’t work out? What if no-one will play with me? What if I do badly in the test? Kasey and Dr Christopher detail a solution so simple I wonder why I had never thought of it: Flip it around. Consider what if it goes right?
A month into this new habit and my son still has negative “what-ifs”, but in lesser frequency. He even surprised me one day by following it up with a positive one right away.
The power perspective: You can’t control everything, but you have the power to choose to make things better.
2. Strength of character
Kasey and Dr Christopher make a very important point in this section and that is to never confuse strength with “toughness”.
“One thing that came back a lot was this concern that parents had to choose between raising a boy who was tough or weak,” Kasey says. “A tough boy has to dominate and control, a strong boy is someone with strength of character. Their wellbeing and sense of self comes from within.”
A strong boy is one who will take responsibility for their actions. He is in touch with his emotions, lives with integrity, and has a healthy self-esteem and self-worth. “It is building your boy from within, rather than relying on external validation for him to feel okay about himself,” she says.
There’s also an insightful bit about punishment and discipline, and how to successfully teach our children good behaviour without inflicting on them a sense of shame.
3. Body confidence
We often think girls are the ones we need to watch when it comes to body image issues, but Kasey and Dr Christopher are very clear that our boys are just as affected by body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
Here, what the couple suggests are just as practical for boys as they are for girls. For example, we shouldn’t comment on how bodies look, but on how bodies perform. Teach our children about realism and critical thinking, and how to apply that to what we see on screens and in public.
Our son’s relationship with food starts from when they are young. Remember the times when we tell them they need to finish everything on their plates?
“Our job as parents is to provide a wide range of healthy and nutritious foods (and some treats too), and our children’s job is to decide how much of it they will eat. And that’s it. Do this, and your job is done,” they write in the book.
Children need time for unstructured play—even if they’re in school. It’s a similar point to what they made in their book on raising girls because it reflects the trap many of us modern-day parents fall into: Overscheduling our children. They’ve got too much on and not enough sleep.
“There is this idea that particularly for boys, that we have to push them and drag them through their education,” Kasey says. “What that does is put boys in a situation where they are not at their best.”
Instead, parents should focus on the effort and behaviour, and not the results. “If your boy understands through his own experience that his efforts can influence his chances of arriving at a certain goal, he will be more likely to be motivated to continue to put in effort,” Kasey and Dr Christopher write in their book.
Parents everywhere can also heave a sigh of relief when they come to this section as the couple reveal, through their research, that screen time is fine—in moderation.
“If your boy is playing outside enough, if he’s hitting all these milestones, if he’s happy, if he’s functioning, then let him play on the screen,” Kasey says. “In fact, there’s some research to show that children who are not interacting online have worse mental health than the ones who do. And the reason for that is that’s our kids’ ‘playground’. So you take your kid away from his playground, you’re taking him away from his play and you’re taking him away from his friends.”
The caveat of course, is that parents still need to monitor our children’s online activities. After all, the internet is also a playground for predators.
5. Mastery and independence
To master something often first requires failure. Multiple mistakes. Plenty of struggles. Kasey and Dr Christopher recognise this and encourage us to allow our sons to try anyway. “The rule for mastering independence is, only do for your boy what he cannot do for himself,” Kasey says.
Take a step back and let them try. Let your children speak for themselves, allow them to go places unsupervised, teach them to take responsibility for their own belongings, let them take the lead. Most importantly, don’t lose it when they make a mistake. Because when our sons finally succeed, they will also develop a sense of mastery and independence.
As Kasey puts it, “Our job is to raise functioning adults who don’t need us.
“In general, the more he can do for himself, the more confident he will feel as a person, the less anxiety he will have,” she continues. “[The pride and self-esteem] that comes from mastering independence, you cannot give that to a child. It comes from within them being able to do life.”
6. Strong relationships
Naturally, a book about children will include a chapter about making and navigating friendships and what to do when your son is faced with peer pressure or has friends you don’t approve of. Kasey and Dr Christopher also explore the topic of sex, porn and female relationships.
What stood out in this chapter is the idea of the “clever comeback line” when dealing with bullies. The solution isn’t to fight back. Instead, it’s simply telling the bully something like, “Hey, that’s not cool,” and walking away.
“It’s standing up for yourself with dignity and respect, and letting the other kid know, ‘I saw what you did. I’m not okay with it’,” says Kasey. “That very often is enough to cut bullying off at its knees. And it’s also a far more effective and safer strategy than encouraging boys to punch.”
7. Be himself
“This is my favourite pillar,” Kasey tells me. “This is about authenticity. The idea that if your boy is going to actually like himself, he has to be allowed to grow into the best version of the person that he chooses to be, not the version that you choose for him or someone else.”
When we love our boys unconditionally—and when they know that—boys will have the confidence to go out in the world and be the person that he wants to be.
The idea, Kasey says, is to focus on our child’s strengths. Often as parents, we tell our kids what they need to work on or improve, but fail to tell them what they’re good at. When they know they’re good at something, but simply need extra help with something else, you bring the focus back on what they can do instead of what they can’t.
Loving our boys with small everyday tweaks
“Every single strategy in the book is evidence-based, but it’s also doable,” promises Kasey. “It’s small, everyday tweaks to give them the foundation that they need.”
Bringing Up Boys Who Like Themselves is a treasure trove of gems and strategies. It’s suitable for parents with boys of most ages because it’s based on principles that can be carried through no matter how old your son is.
Read the book through once and when you need a refresher, Kasey and Dr Christopher even very kindly added what is essentially a TLDR version at the end of each chapter.
Buy: Bringing Up Boys Who Like Themselves (affiliate link)
Watch: Our full interview with Kasey Edwards below
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