Growing into manhood

by Bonnie J. Toomey | Parent Forward | 04/15/2012

Are we raising our boys to be men?

Not if they live rent-free in our basements, are hooked on video games, hang with a questionable crowd, can’t concentrate on school and won’t find a job.

It’s like cigarettes and lung cancer — everyone knows a lousy education leads to a lousy job. Right now in this country, 60 percent of the girls are completing college as compared to 40 percent of the boys.

And speaking of jobs, our sons were always better men when they were working — even as young as 2 years old. Yes, start young and never let up.

Here, take your diaper and throw it in the trash for Mommy! Thank you!

It’s called Introduction to Jobs and Responsibility 101.

A job gives a child a sense of productivity and self-worth, and when a child turns 16 1/2, a little gas money in his pocket as well.

Look, parents have to encourage independence early on and expect the very best that their sons can give until they become adults or dads or both. Then parents can pass the baton of high expectations on to the next generation.

Have you seen the commercial where the guy proposes to his girlfriend in his candlelit cellar-dweller pad?

Her joy slowly turns to concern as she realizes the room’s crammed with sports equipment, a futon, a dining set, large speakers pasted with concert stubs and baseball cards, and a slew of tacky trophies and she says, “Oh my God!” just as his mom awkwardly interrupts carrying a basket of laundry down and immediately pivots back up the basement stairs, hoping she hasn’t jinxed the idea that her son might be finally moving out.

But the RE/MAX playful humor on “what moves us” pulls on an even more serious chord. It seems our boys are slipping, and the pathway to manhood is getting steeper all the time.

And it’s not just that parents are taking longer to nudge their fledglings out of the nest due to a downturn in the economy.

There seem to be several factors working against our boys these days.

Warren Farrell, author of “Father and Child Reunion” and leader of the charge for a new White House Council on “Boys to Men” has researched the rising problem facing our young males today.

He sees boys losing ground in education, jobs, emotional well-being, physical health and time spent with fathers.

It’s not surprising when out-of-wedlock births and divorces in this country tip the scale, leaving our boys out of their father’s favor by default. The lack of commitment from an uninvolved father sends a strong message to boys: “I can fool around, and I don’t have to be around.”

Not good.

Then there’s an educational system geared to girls.

When the kids were growing up, my husband said teachers should let boys run a few laps in between classes. He might just have a point. In my experience, teachers who got moving and who were more hands-on got better results from our sons. And the way our sons roughhoused with each other every day was as certain as Old Faithful blowing off a geyser on the hour.

I grew up with one brother and two sisters, so this concept of boys physically needing to tumble through the house with a swath of catawampus furniture in their wake was totally foreign to me. My husband, who grew up with two brothers, used to tell me it was par for the course for him. After rolling around the floor, our sons would get up and stand around the kitchen island debating issues and proving theories of all kinds. I can see my son now: He’s taping toilet paper indicators in the doorway to prove to his brother whether cold air comes in or warm air is let out when you open the door on a winter day.

I’m glad I didn’t say sit down and be quiet and don’t waste the toilet paper!

But I’m afraid many of our boys in school are hearing similar phrases. Boys could use just as many good male role models as female ones, especially if dad isn’t around.

Couple those realities with a huge overdose of media — TV, video games, music and movies — and link it up to the lack of both physical play and real-life relationships, and we might see how boys are going down the wrong track.

Alarmingly, the U.S. Census Bureau warns us that the rate of suicide is almost five times higher for males than females once males hit their late teens and early 20s.

It is as if our sons are caught in a perfect storm.

Farrell points to the success of societies throughout history. Most societies that survived were willing to sacrifice their men and then call them heroes. But can you imagine accepting the notion that our girls systematically and mandatorily register for the draft?

Farrell wants the government to figure it out. After all, there is a White House Council on Women and Girls, which was started in the late 1990s with success. Fair is fair. But does it have to be an either “the boys or the girls” mentality?

I don’t think so.

Parents have to do their jobs as if their sons’ lives depended on it. Otherwise, they can expect them to stay down in the basement forever.

Bonnie J. Toomey writes for magazine and blogs about families in today’s world. You can visit her at and contact her at


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