I am a doctor, medical news correspondent, and daytime TV co-host, but the single most important title I have is “Mom.” My son is 16 years old, my daughter is 15, and so far, I am really enjoying their teenage years! And, as busy and hectic as my career and multiple responsibilities keep me, they know that they are my No. 1 priority. Period.
As an Ob/Gyn who treats lots of teenage girls, I think we tend to focus disproportionately in medicine, as well as in the media, on the upbringing of girls. There are entire magazines geared toward adolescent girls, and we seem to hear campaign after campaign targeting our daughters. (BTW, one of my favorites is the Always “#likeagirl” campaign!) Don’t get me wrong; I am a HUGE proponent of supporting young girls in every way possible. And not just because I have a daughter, but also because we are still not where we should be with gender equality.
But I do worry that boys get left out. I feel that even I have focused more on developmental issues for my daughter than I have for my son. It might be because he’s older, or maybe it’s because I feel he doesn’t need me as much as my daughter does. I sometimes wonder if I am guilty of what I believe society is doing — assuming that boys can “tough it out” and don’t need their moms as much as our daughters do. This is when I remind myself that I am not just raising a son, but I am bringing up a young man. What kind of man do I want my son to be? What can I teach him that will help him in his future relationships and broaden his views about women?
I am incredibly proud of my son. And aside from raising someone who is happy and healthy, I hope that my son is learning some special and invaluable lessons from me as a woman. Because one day, I hope he will be an amazing husband and father.
5 Lessons to Teach Boys
1. Women can have careers AND children.
Of course he knows that when he grows up he can have a career and a family, but I want to make sure he knows that about his female peers, too. I’m showing him by example. Every day I show him that even though I work full-time in a career that often takes me away at nights, weekends, and even some holidays, he is always my No. 1 priority. I am always plugged into his life and what he is doing. If we’re working toward a world with gender equality, I want to make sure my son’s point of view is part of the solution, not contributing to the problem.
2. Real men are in touch with their emotional sides.
I didn’t have to try very hard to teach him this, since he naturally fell into the role of interpreting his sister’s emotions whenever a big drama occurred at home. I acknowledged that skill of his, and encouraged him to use it. I want to encourage that sensitive and empathic side of him, and all I had to do was support what he was doing naturally. I’m not suggesting he wears his heart on his sleeve all the time, but I want him to value being in touch with his feelings and being able to articulate them when necessary.
3. Men can be strong AND sensitive at the same time.
He has an incredible gift in working with and interacting with children who have special needs, and I have tried to make him realize how important that aspect of his character is. I have tried to instill a certain character in him that reinforces the value in using brains, brawn, skill and sensitivity.
4. Real men SHARE the responsibility for birth control.
When the time comes that he is sexually active, we’ve talked about dating and safe sex, and I suggested that he offer to pay for half the birth control costs of any current or future girlfriends. Having safe sex is not a woman’s issue — men have a responsibility too.
5. No means no!
I’ve been talking to my son about sexual behavior since he was 13. I’ve told him that alcohol should not be involved in sexual behavior, because it can impair judgment on both sides. I’ve told him that “no means no,” and that it is never appropriate to engage in any non-consensual behavior.
I don’t have all the answers — I’m just a parent like everyone else, trying to do the best I can. But I know with certainty that I want my son to become the kind of man who is happy, healthy and has relationships marked with respect and mutual responsibility — hopefully I’m doing my part to make that happen.