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The Informed Parent

On Raising Boys

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Dec. 06, 2004

An article titled “He Turns Boys Into Men” appeared in the August 29, 2004 issue of Parade Magazine. In this piece, author Jeffrey Marx told the story of Joe Ehrmann, former NFL star, who now serves as a volunteer football coach at Gilman School in Baltimore. I was very taken with Mr. Ehrmann’s beliefs about raising boys and wanted to share them with you.

Parents and educators want to assist boys to increase their sensitivity, gain greater understanding of others, and develop more intimate friendships. Little information has been provided to help with this task. Coach Ehrmann’s philosophy shows one way, a way that can enlighten us all.

In his program “Building Men for Others,” he attempts to tear down what he calls the “three lies of false masculinity.” He teaches boys that athletic ability, sexual conquest, and economic success are not the best measures of manhood. He believes that each of these traditional standards of masculinity leads to comparing and competing. This occurs both during the school years and into adulthood, and leaves many men feeling isolated and alone. He teaches that a better way is to establish a sense of community based on two ideals: relationships and having a cause beyond oneself.

“Masculinity, first and foremost, ought to be defined in terms of relationships,” says Ehrmann. “It ought to be taught in terms of the capacity of love and to be loved.” A young man must also develop some kind of cause or purpose in his life that is bigger than his own individual hopes, dreams, and desires. “At the end of our life, we ought to be able to look back over it from our deathbed and know that somehow the world is a better place because we lived, we loved, we were other-centered, other focused,” he says.

For a young man to develop a purpose beyond his own individual life, he must learn the importance of serving others. Coach Ehrmann believes this is done by thinking and acting in terms of ”What can I do for you?” To accomplish this, he teaches his code of ethics for manhood: to accept responsibility, lead courageously, and enact justice on behalf of others. This requires that young men learn empathy integrity, and inclusion.

Coach Ehrmann teaches boys to become better men, community-centered men, on the football field. We human beings live in many communities--the family, the classroom, the peer group, the athletic field, and the workplace. The values taught in “Building Men for Others” can be taught and practiced in any of these arenas.

I have taken Coach Ehrmann’s points and offered four ideas under each for assisting parents to raise their sons into men who are empathic, sensitive, and filled with integrity.

Recognize The "Three Lies Of False Masculinity"

  1. Appreciate him for who he is and not for what he achieves.
  2. Value his participation is a sport, not only how well he plays.
  3. Acknowledge cooperative behavior.
  4. Avoid comparing him with other boys.

The Capacity To Love And Be Loved

  1. Work and play together.
  2. Listen.
  3. Be supportive and encouraging.
  4. Take time to enjoy being his parent.

Develop A Cause Or Purpose Bigger Than Oneself

  1. Volunteer with him in the community.
  2. Help him develop skills in his areas of interest.
  3. Provide him with varied cultural experiences.
  4. Talk with him about his ideas.

Serving Others

  1. Ask him to help with household chores.
  2. Encourage him to communicate with family members living outside the home, i.e., write to or call grandparent.
  3. Encourage him to join a group such as Boy Scouts, or a service club at school.
  4. Make him aware of discovering ways to help others in the neighborhood.

Accept Responsibility, Lead Courageously, And Enact Justice On Behalf Of Others

  1. Hold him accountable for his behavior.
  2. Set specific limits with consequences if they are exceeded.
  3. Give him the opportunity to assist in family decision-making.
  4. Treat him with fairness and respect.

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