True Parent 10
Your teenage son just gave you a cagey response when you asked why he got home last night way past his curfew; your tween daughter isn’t saying where she suddenly acquired a new supply of glossy magazines—when you know they aren’t from the library or purchased with her allowance.
So, you’ve caught both of your kids lying to you. Have you ever given thought to how you might enact consequences based on gender?
I’m not talking about the double standard consequences of yore; when “boys will be boys” was an excuse to let a son off for bad behavior while his sister was grounded for the same infraction simply for being female. And if we step back and look at the bigger picture of raising sons and daughters, is there a different approach we might make for each of them, taking into account what role gender might play in growing up in the Western World in the 21st century?
According to two newly-released parenting books, the answer is “Yes,” but with an overarching shared theme: A child’s missteps are an opportunity for learning, and it’s the parent’s responsibility to recognize, act on, and sensitively manage those opportunities. Do not let those opportunities pass by.
The just-published 10 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son (2016, Penguin Random House) by Tim Hawkes, and the newly released third edition of the acclaimed Queen Bees and Wannabes (2016, Three Rivers Press) by Rosalind Wiseman, take on the specifics for boys and girls, respectively.
Hawkes, who is a career educator and former headmaster of several private schools in Australia, makes the case for being proactive with your son in 10 Conversations. He begins his book with an outline for a boy’s physical, social, and emotional development as the baseline for when to begin and how to have those conversations. For at certain points in a boy’s trajectory, he’s going to listen to his friends before he’s going to listen to you. Hawke’s suggested conversations are canny from his years educating tween and teenage boys, and raising one son.
And what are those conversations? They range from training your son for emotional intelligence (developing a value system, and learning to cope with disappointment), to the nuts and bolts of living in community, managing money, staying healthy, and being educated and respectful about sex.
Hawkes approaches the boy world as single-sex for most of the book, suggesting the power of male culture must be managed and made better within itself. That’s not to say this book is written strictly for fathers of sons; what Hawkes writes is accessible and sensitive to mothers of sons, too. This is a practical book full of dog-eared pages that I’ll keep on my shelf as my own son grows up.
The now classic Queen Bees and Wannabes gets its latest update with new content that addresses how the internet landscape has changed the girl world, and the successive parenting challenges that arise because of it.
Wiseman’s advice is based on the input of girl editors—the tween and teen girls she’s met throughout her years of educating and speaking on the emotional and physical well-being of teens. The suggestions she gives to parents come directly from the girls she’s interviewed, and the synthesis of their input. In Wiseman’s book, the girl world is made up of peer social ranks and rules which parents can’t ignore when rearing their daughters.
Hidden protocols in the girl world are now compounded by the ease with which gossip and teasing is perpetuated across the digital world. You have to be nimble in addressing issues in language your daughter understands, but know that the world she inhabits is unforgiving and based on rules you probably think are crap. The trick is not to make her life worse among her peers, while raising her to be a halfway decent adult.
If you think Wiseman’s book sounds terrifying, it is. But it’s a thrilling read, spelling out the girl world like a Shakespearean drama. Wiseman intersperses her parental suggestions throughout, but maintains a tension to the narrative that compels you to read the whole book in case you should miss any detail. Who would think a parenting tome could be as page-turning as a great mystery novel?
So back to the original question: Is there a difference in raising sons and daughters? Ultimately, you have to talk to your kid in a language he or she understands, coming at it from an angle your kid takes seriously, and with respect to where your kid is at present. Whether in the checklist format of Hawkes’s book or the thrill ride of Wiseman’s, it’s worth investing in the education either way.