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5 Easy Steps to Raising Respectful Boys

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I dare you to shop for loose fitting clothes for a teenage girl right now. Seriously, I dare you. Even though I’m sure someone declared that overalls are making a comeback (please, no), many retailers, specifically the ones targeting young women, are still rocking the skinny everything look.

My high school had a dress code. While it would have been nice to wear jeans to school, black or grey pants were the only option. Or skirts. It should be noted that the length of my skirts never came into question. Then again, it was the ‘90s and grunge was all the rage. The baggier (and dirtier?), the better.

A North Dakota High School recently made headlines when they banned yoga pants and other tight legware (skinny jeans and jeggings) on the grounds that these kinds of pants are too distracting for both male students and male teachers.

What? The teachers are distracted by the pants? And the pants are the ones getting banned?

This isn’t the first school to place such a ban, and it probably won’t be the last. But I have to wonder: if the boys and teachers are so distracted, why are we punishing the pants?

The big problem is that schools don’t want to face the real issue. This is a matter of respect. Dress codes and behavior are two separate issues. If boys are distracted by pants, then, maybe, boys need more lessons in social skills and mutual respect.

Girls are often socialized to be polite, quiet and appropriate, while boys, well, they’re just boys, right?

Wrong.

We have to rethink how we teach boys and girls from the beginning. Mutual respect works both ways and it’s time to focus on respect. Here's how to do that in five easy steps:

1. Establish appropriate boundaries:

I don’t know where the misguided notion that little boys should be able to pee on any public tree in sight just because they can originated, but giving boys the power to pee all over town is the beginning of a downward spiral. It should be noted that I’m not looking for equal rights on this one, parents. I don’t think any child should be seen peeing on a tree in the middle of a park.

Boundaries, both physical and emotional, are important. Establishing appropriate boundaries begins at home. I know that some parents believe in an open-door policy when it comes to using the bathroom. If that’s your thing, go for it. But be certain that your child understands that many people prefer privacy in the bathroom. Out in the world, kids need to respect closed doors.

While kids are naturally inquisitive and will ask questions about the physical appearance of others, it’s important to set boundaries when it comes to how and when you talk about these things. With a toddler, an immediate and honest answer works best. But older kids should learn to respect the feelings of others.

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My daughter recently came home crying because a classmate repeatedly asked her about a freckle on her forehead. No matter the answer, she just kept pointing and asking. It was embarrassing for my daughter, for sure, but it was also confusing. She would never, ever do the same and felt hurt that someone would do that to her (especially after she asked her to stop).

2. Put potty humor in perspective:

Reading chapter books with my daughter is lovely. Whether it’s a super-girl theme or a story about candy fairies, the books are clever, engaging and contain lessons on friendship. Reading chapter books with my son? That’s a different story. It’s one fart or burp joke after another. Yes, there are still lessons on friendship, and there are books for boys out there that downplay the potty humor. But it is a theme nonetheless.

Put the potty humor in perspective. I always tell my son it’s funny when we read it, but we wouldn’t ever talk that way with friends because that kind of talk isn’t appropriate. We have to teach kids to think about how others might feel in response to their words. We have to empower them to use kind words and respect the feelings and reactions of others.

Stop running from the hard topics. When they don’t have the information, they make stuff up.

3. Feed the curiosity:

At some point, all kids want to know where babies come from, why girls and boys have different parts and the real function of nipples. Teach them. Keep it age appropriate, but use the words. Practice saying “vagina” and “penis” so that you don’t turn red every time your child says them. Heck, it might even help to practice this before you have kids. That’s solid advice for newlyweds.

Stop running from the hard topics. When they don’t have the information, they make stuff up. Listen to their questions and provide answers that they can process and understand. Uncover the mysteries so that they can move on.

4. Unpack the insecurities.

Hiding beneath almost every class clown is a child full of insecurities and questions. I would know, these kids often end up in my office when their “distracting” behavior becomes an issue at school.

Perhaps they find that inappropriate jokes get a laugh, so they run with it to be funny. Maybe they don’t know how to make friends. They might even be hiding sadness or anxiety.

Help your child verbalize his insecurities. Discuss them. Process them. Find ways to channel those insecurities into something positive. Kids don’t always know how to ask for help. As much as we socialize little girls to be polite, we socialize little boys to be tough. It’s hard to ask for help when you’re supposed to be a tough guy.

My son looks up to his dad. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he asks when daddy will be home from work.

5. Find appropriate role models.

Still clinging to those professional athletes as positive role models because your kids just love baseball? I’m not saying that athletes don’t make good role models, but they shouldn’t be the only male figures your child looks up to.

My son looks up to his dad. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he asks when daddy will be home from work. But he also looks up to my brother. He asks endless questions about him. Is his job fun or boring? Does he like soccer? Where does he go hiking? What’s his favorite food?

Those are real life role models – people who inspire him because he knows them. But we also talk about historical figures, artists, scientists and explorers. He recently asked if he could please meet the Wild Kratts, because I think he secretly wants to grow up to be a Kratt brother.

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We have to expose kids to more than just one kind of hero. We have to talk about what really makes a man a good role model. Kindness, respect, loyalty and compassion are all traits that make for good role models.

It’s great to hit the ball out of the park, but it’s even better if you turn around and thank the crowd for believing in you after.

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