To be a good man, you first need to see a good man. Or two. Steve Biddulph
Fathers influence their children’s development in crucial ways. When they play an active role in a child’s upbringing they can positively impact almost every aspect of their development and future self.
Children with involved fathers grow up to have more successful relationships, stronger social skills, greater self-control, higher self-esteem and are more likely to do well at school. They are less likely to be overweight, less likely to get into trouble at school, less likely to take drugs and to engage in risky behaviour. That’s a pretty impressive list to underline just how important a father’s influence is to a child. Boys need strong male role models to show them how to control their behaviour and emotions. They need someone to teach them how to develop through boyhood to become a man.
6 is the magic age for dads
Steve Biddulph, renowned psychologist and author of the best selling book Raising Boys believes that boyhood can be divided into three distinct stages. He outlines that it is around the age of 6 when dads can really begin to make the most difference. In Raising Boys he sets out these three stages in a boy’s upbringing:
0-6 years: The Mum Stage
In the early years boys (as well as girls) need their mother more. Dads matter and they can be involved and help create a close bond of love and security but it is the mother who is more at the centre of a boy’s world.
6-14 years: The Dad Stage
It is at around the age of 6, that boys first discover, on a more intellectual level, that they are male. They look around for role models to learn what this entails. It’s at this age that boys turn to their fathers as the primary parent. They watch and learn how a man behaves and responds in the adult world.
Mums are still important and provide the strong sense of love and security that every child needs, but a boy’s focus will, at this stage, be more on his father as he looks to him to show him the way. This stage is a precious opportunity for dads to make a difference and Biddulph’s advice to dads is not to squander it.
14-18 years: The Mentor Stage
By the age of 14 hormones have kicked in with the arrival of puberty. With a staggering 800% increase in testosterone, boys tend to face a time of volatility as they move from boyhood towards manhood. During this time they can feel more distant from their fathers. As they face the challenge of becoming a man, boys often need male role models and mentors other than their own parents, to help them find their way.
Throughout these three stages the most important role dads play for their sons is to be a strong role model. Biddulph says:
Girls regard dads as their first role model for the opposite gender [while] boys look to dads for how to behave.
“ADD or DDD (Dad Deficit Disorder)” – One-on-one time makes all the difference
The most important way fathers influence their sons is simply by spending time with them. Steve Biddulph finds that boys that don’t get enough attention from their fathers tend to misbehave and act up more and more. This is their way of attracting attention, as even negative attention is better than no attention, and they find ever more imaginative ways of getting it. He found a number of cases when this behaviour resolved when fathers put aside the time to be with their sons, to focus on them, to talk to them and to play together.
Boys need time to build a relationship with their father, to understand him and to learn from him what it means to be male. If a dad works but still carves out time to be with, play with and be there for his children, they can feel very special. They feel worthwhile knowing that, even though Daddy is busy he’s willing to spend time with them.
Rough and tumble play isn’t just play
Little boys need to wrestle and play rough and tumble games with their dads. It teaches them so many important lessons like: how to control their body and its strength, how to get creative and solve problems for themselves (such as how to get out of dad’s bear hug) as well as helping with spatial awareness and physical development.
What often happens is that these games eventually get out of hand. Steve Biddulph writes:
Inevitably, a child wrestling on the carpet will hurt an adult by being too boisterous. If this happens, the father stops the action and says clearly to the boy, ‘You’re too precious and I’m too precious to be hurt. Will you be careful while you are fighting not to hit or hurt?‘
When dads stop the game to say this, they’re also teaching their sons a number of lessons: when to stop things getting out of hand, how to control their energy and their anger, and the importance of not hurting others.
This alongside the other benefits of rough and tumble play, shows that it’s not just play at all.
Staying in touch with their soft side
As well as showing boys how to control their bodies and their strength, fathers play an important role in helping their sons manage their emotions.
Steve Biddulph believes one of the most important things fathers can teach their sons is to ‘honour their tender feelings’. By this he means that dads should teach boys that they have big feelings and that they should be allowed to feel them. If they can be comfortable with their feelings, if they are able to talk about them and are guided to find ways to deal with them, then they will grow up to be better men.
Yet again, one of the best ways dads can do this is to lead by example, not being afraid to show their own feelings. Biddulph says that dads can show their boys how have an open heart:
Affectionate dads who hug and cuddle, show their own feelings easily and can say “I’m sad” or “I was scared” raise mentally healthy boys.
Teaching boys to respect women
Another key way that fathers influence their sons, is by showing them how to respect women.
Throughout childhood boys look to their fathers to show them how to talk to and treat women. And the best thing dads can do is to lead by example. Steve Biddulph states that it’s vitally important for dads to support their wives when they discipline their children. Presenting as a team shows a child that his father respects their mother. He says:
Most boys end up larger or stronger than girls, and eventually, larger than their partner. So it’s absolutely vital that we teach them to never hit or hurt, or even disrespect or be rude to girls or women, starting with their mum or their sisters. Dads and mums together have to reinforce this message, sitting down with them and being clear what a good man is like, and that they expect this and will never go along with anything different.
What about single mothers?
One third of British mums are raising their sons alone and might feel dismayed on reading about the important role a father plays in their son’s upbringing. Steve Biddulph has a message for single mothers that they can absolutely bring up their sons just as successfully, but that they should find a good male role model to play a part in their child’s life. This can be a grandfather, an uncle or a family friend. What matters most is that boys have role models to show them ‘what a good man looks like’.
The good news is that today’s dads are more involved than ever before. As our article here shows, dads are stepping up and spending three times more time with their children than previous generations. And it is changing the way children see the world and see themselves. For the better.
Take a look at our article Involved dads blaze the trail: stepping up more than ever before.
- “Raising gorgeous boys to become good men”, A one-day conference by Maggie Dent
- “Importance & Benefits of Rough & Tumble Play”, Study.com
- “Raising Boys”, Steve Biddulph