Raising boys: Parenting confident young men

I am concerned about boys today. While the culture has been decidedly male-focused for decades, the subtle switch in how children are raised is creating confused young men with fragile self-esteem. The rates of both depression and suicide in boys are sky-rocketing according to the research done by William Pollack in his best-selling book, "Real Boys, Rescuing our sons from the Myths of Boyhood." He is not the only one pulling the alarm; nationally recognized psychologist Lawrence Steinberg agrees.

In my own suburb, yet another boy committed suicide last month. His sudden death only stirred up all the feelings of the other suicides that have taken place over the past few years. Nationally, 85 percent of completed suicides are committed by boys. The increasing demands put on boys, combined with conflicting expectations, are putting boys at risk. Add in the overwhelming amount of technology and it is a recipe for disaster.

American boys are 15 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, they are twice as likely to die in a car crash and they are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of school. In fact, in a huge societal flip flop, women earn a larger percentage of both college and graduate degrees in the U.S.

Boys may put on a stoic mask, but under the surface they are screaming for answers. I am not going to pretend a few tips will turn the tide, but we have to start taking a look at what can be done. They may be little boys today, but as the men of the very near future, parents need to provide a strong base.

What moms can do to raise confident, self-assured boys

Connect

It is vitally important to talk to your son. Starting from when they are very young, talk and talk some more. Actively listen to their thoughts, (even if they are rambling about robots or dinosaurs!) Show respect for what they like and what they are thinking.

Communicate

Developing a strong, caring man involves giving them the skills they need to communicate effectively. It may start with robots and dinosaurs, but soon enough there will be more pressing matters to talk about. As boys get older, they tend to shy away from face-to-face discussion with adults. Make communicating a habit.

Move

If your boy is older, it is not too late. Find something to do with your son, maybe it is shooting baskets after school or walking the dog. Maybe you can "hire" your son to be your personal trainer like my neighbor did with her 15-year-old. Communication is much easier when the body is moving.

Reframe

There are a million different reasons for a boy to feel insecure about himself. Too-tall, too-short, too-this, too-that, kids can be cruel. Subtly change their focus on what they lack, but reframe who they are in a different way. You do not have to convince them they are fine the way they are, but by frequently pointing out strengths, they may begin to internalize those facts.

Respect

A great way of fostering respect for themselves and others starts with responsibility. Chores are more than just a way to delegate the workload; they help the home run smoother and can give your boy a sense of importance. Show respect and expect respect.

Work

Go a step further and let them use their skill set to help others. My son is responsible for taking care of my elderly neighbor's yard. At first I was concerned at how much she seemingly spoiled him by not only paying him for his work, but making him treats and bragging on his landscaping skills, but it was nothing to worry about. He now takes care of several lawns and is well-paid for his efforts.

Search

Find something your son does well and capitalize on it. More than a hobby, help them master a skill. It can take time to find the right fit, but once you do, jump on it. Once they learn all they can, encourage them to teach someone else or develop a web site dedicated to the subject. Having an outlet for their energy is important to combat feelings of insecurity.

Surround

Good role models, from fathers, to teachers, coaches and extended family can give a boy a wide range of men to emulate. If the people in your neighborhood are not exactly praise-worthy, look harder. This may mean turning to books and movies that portray good men.

Ignore

Don't ignore your son, but it is time to ignore how society has demonized the emotional connection between a mother and her sons. Raising a boy who is self-assured and respectful has a lot to do with your relationship. Ignore those who worry that you are raising a mama's boy.

Those are just a few ideas to help moms protect their sons and raise boys with a strong sense of themselves and a healthy respect for others.

More by Sylvie Branch:

5 mistakes coaches and parents make

New rules for a healthy mom

Wild weather and kids: Be prepared, not scared

.