5 Modern Lessons Our Sons Need to Learn
New technology and a swiftly changing planet have made the challenges our sons will face different than those we faced growing up. It makes the job of teaching them what to watch out for that much more complicated—and important.
In many ways, the lessons I'm trying to teach my daughter and son are interchangeable. For example, I want my son to value relationships over material possessions as much as I want that for my daughter, and I'd also like to teach both of them how to avoid getting punched (I feel like that's just a universal life skill).
However, as a guy who has experienced what my 10-year-old son is about to go through as an adolescent and a teenager, I ended up scaring myself to pieces thinking about how much more complicated it's going to be for him than it was for me (and it wasn't exactly a walk in the park for my generation). Technology has only made the missteps that boys can make that much more dramatic, and made the job of trying to educate our sons about them that much more challenging. So while I wouldn't describe this list as a "fun" preview of some of the conversations I'm going to have over the next decade, it contains issues I better be prepared for.
1. Choose your words wisely—especially online. There is a point in a young man's life where he will discover that he can get a lot of attention for saying the most outrageous and controversial things he can think of. Whether he's looking for a quick laugh or to shock and impress, young men often have the loudest voices and are the least afraid to use them. Technology provides an opportunity to amplify those already loud voices. In a culture where the language of disrespect and snark has become the casual currency of online banter, I hope my son will learn to stand out by showing respect, patience, and thoughtfulness online, as well as in real life.
2. The world is watching. Unlike when I was growing up, my son's words and actions will be broadcast on social media for the world to see and hear. Being careless or unthinking can end up affecting his educational and employment opportunities in ways he never intended. If he doesn't want to get left behind, my son will need to go through his teenage years using much more self-control and making much better choices than the ones I was asked to make at that age. It's going to be harder for him because he's growing up in a world where the privacy that allowed kids (like me) to make big mistakes—and learn from them before they really affected their futures—is in short supply.
3. The Internet is not a substitute for human contact. The most depressing story I've read recently had to be the one about millennials in America not having sex. Let me explain why that's depressing: One of the major reasons cited for the decline in 18- to 24-year-olds' sexual activity is easy access to online pornography. It's heartbreaking that the most intimate display of human interaction is being replaced by its soulless digital proxy. I want my kids, and especially my son (because I think boys are more susceptible to the lure of online porn) to understand that the Internet is a tool for research (if used properly), cataloging, and communication. The Internet is not a substitute for human contact, intimacy, or creating community. For me, this concern goes beyond the issues surrounding just sex and porn; when you socialize through a screen with people you don't really know, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and loneliness. True bonds and authentic trust can only be created in the real world. To borrow a quote from Harry Potter's Arthur Weasley, "Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain." The real world is an amazing and challenging place, and it's where the majority of my kids time and energy should be invested.
4. Choose to embrace diversity and change. We live in a global economy, and in a country in which my son will be in the minority by the time he reaches adulthood. He has two choices when it comes to these facts: He can be scared of this reality; he can get defensive and claim that he's owed or entitled to something. Or he can embrace increased competition and cultural exchange, and find joy in helping to build new and diverse communities (with a wider variety of delicious restaurants). I hope he chooses the option with the better restaurants.
5. Enough with the comic books. As a kid, I went to comic book conventions and argued about comic book characters with my friends on my parents' back porch. I loved comic books, and they fueled my imagination between the ages of 11 and 16. By the time I was 18, though, I had moved most of my literary and artistic attention to stories that didn't include talking Space-Racoons and villainous, super-intelligent Apes. Today, superhero culture is so mainstream that it's starting to blot out other (better), more grown-up forms of storytelling. Superhero stories have become increasingly violent and misogynistic, and they have no idea whether they're being written for 13-year-old boys or 36-year-old men, so they are being written for both at the same time (it's not a good look). I love that my kid has a big imagination and that he loves the adventure and excitement he finds in comic book stories, but I also want my son to grow up and move on to more challenging and thoughtful stories that don't involve characters with names like Elongated Man. I want him to avoid the all-too-common trap of clinging to childish things after he's become an adult. I love my son as a kid, and part of me wishes he could stay this way forever—but honestly, growing up isn't so bad either.