How Do I Talk To My Son About Girls?
Just like talking to your daughter about boys is an ongoing conversation, talking to your son about girls is also an ongoing conversation that begins when they’re little and continues as they grow up.
If your sons are little, now is a great time to start the conversation with these tips. But if your son is already a teenager, it isn’t too late. Jump into the conversation now with these tips in mind.
1 – Encourage healthy friendships with girls. It’s important that boys see girls as valuable and equal. And one way to develop this healthy respect is through friendships. When boys are friends with girls, they’re less likely to view girls only as physical beauties or dating options or sex objects. So create opportunities for your son to interact with girls in friendly settings. And allow him to be friends with girls without teasing him about a girlfriend. Before boys are ready to date girls, they should have some solid friendships with girls.
2 – Teach your son to respect women. You can do this by modeling respect for the women in his life. Point out the strengths of the women you know. Show respect for women in leadership and authority. Refrain from commenting on women’s appearances so that boys grow up knowing that a woman’s beauty or lack of beauty has no bearing on her abilities and what she has to offer the world. Celebrate and champion other women so that your son will follow that example.
3 – Teach your son to set and honor boundaries. Your son doesn’t want to hug that relative goodbye? Allow him to offer a wave or a high-five instead. Give him permission to set boundaries about his own personal space. At the same time, teach him to respect the boundaries others set. It isn’t cute when he yanks on that little girl’s ponytail or chases his classmate around the playground trying to grab her. It’s never too early for your son to learn about consent, that we don’t touch people without their permission. Similarly, if he doesn’t want his teammates to smack his behind after a good play on the field or court, help him speak to the coach to create more comfortable ways for his team to celebrate and encourage each other. Physical boundaries are healthy and good, and it’s never too early to start teaching your son this truth.
4 – Provide a safe space for questions and conversation. Ask your son open-ended questions and attentively listen to his answers without rushing to give advice. Too often, we parents turn conversations into lectures, and this turns kids off from talking with us. Instead of lecturing, we can ask follow-up questions and guide our kids to think for themselves, offering our opinions or guidance in small snippets after our kids know we’re fully in their corner and interested in their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes kids are hesitant to have conversations that feel awkward if they’re sitting across from their parents looking eye-to-eye. The focus is too much on them, so they feel embarrassed. They may be more likely to talk if you’re riding in a car or doing a task side-by-side, like cooking a meal or folding laundry or washing the car. Kids also may be more willing to be vulnerable and talk openly at bedtime when the lights are low, so don’t underestimate the importance of stopping into a teenager’s room for a nightly tuck-in.
5 – Honor your child’s feelings. Just as we said about our daughters, it’s easy to trivialize a middle-school crush or to dismiss a 16-year-old’s break-up because we have the experience of knowing these are tiny blips on the big screen of life. But these sorts of things are big deals in their world. It’s a big deal when your son musters up the courage to ask a girl to a dance and she turns him down. Honor that hurt and embarrassment. It’s a big deal when his buddy asks out the girl who sits beside him in algebra that he’s been crushing on all year. Honor and validate that pain. Your son will be more likely to talk honestly with you when he feels his emotions are honored by you.
6 – Talk about sex in a way that doesn’t make him feel ashamed. Your son probably spends a lot of time thinking about sex. His teenage body is flooded with hormones, so he can’t really help it. You can talk to him about sex in a way that doesn’t make him feel ashamed. Reassure him his curiosity and interest are normal, even if your value system includes the preference that he wait until he’s married to have sex. If your son has looked at pornography, talk about that in a way that doesn’t shame him. Shame isn’t a very effective tool for teaching or for building relationship. You can convey your values in a way that expresses love and wanting the best for him without shaming him.
7 – Teach him that boys will be boys is not an excuse for bad behavior. Yes, boys are typically different than girls. But that difference doesn’t have to translate to disrespectful or selfish. We can appreciate a son’s adventurous spirit and appetite for risk-taking in ways that are healthy and legal and respectful — rock climbing, white-water rafting, mountain biking, platform diving, skateboarding. And we can make room for noisy, wiggly, attention-challenged sons by setting realistic expectations and encouraging creativity and movement when appropriate. But we can still teach manners and respect and appropriate behavior, rather than chalking up rudeness and disrespect to boys will be boys.
8 – Finally, teach your son that his value doesn’t come from other’s opinions or standards. There’s a lot of talk lately about the difference between healthy masculinity and toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity isn’t only toxic for women; it’s also dangerous for our sons. There can be a lot of pressure for boys to man-up or be manly enough – whatever that’s supposed to mean. Assure your son often of his value simply because he exists and is yours. Be mindful of messages your son may be hearing about what it means to be a man and counter those with the truth that healthy manhood can look a lot of different ways. Compliment him on his strengths and talents, even (or especially) when those strengths aren’t stereotypical masculine strengths. Help him learn to love himself exactly as he is. The first step to any healthy relationship is being comfortable with himself and loving himself.