Have you asked your teenage son this question? Do you know what kind of man you expect him to be? Does he know he has a responsibility to ask himself that question and live in a way that leads him to that answer? Have you showed him the road map to getting that answer?
Ask him the question. Sometimes an easy, soft start to that question is, what do you want your life to look like? He might be able to dream about unlimited video game playing, a cool car, a job that doesn’t start until noon everyday and pays a million dollars a year. Go with those answers! They are a great starting point. Listen carefully to those answers. Be open to helping him slowly work toward that reality. He will gain maturity and insight as he grows. He will be more and more able to put reality into his answer. You can keep asking and supporting any thought and emotion he puts into his answer.
Point out his existing role models, the real life ones; his father, his uncles, the next door neighbor, a teacher, a relative, etc. The positive role models are an ideal to set a bar high for your son and to encourage him to reach for those values. But negative role models can be learned from as well. Talk about the uncle who has always struggled with addiction or anger and how his road to being a good man was challenged. Point out what that uncle was like as a boy, what he was like as a teen and what you miss about him now or what you wish he would do differently.
Use role models in the community or in the media. Point out the ones that are doing powerful, amazing work that means something to you. Find out what matters to your son and build from there. If he seems to only care about skateboarding, find a role model that is using skateboarding to make a statement or make a connection to the world. Be a part of his world in terms of music he likes, movie actors he is drawn too, even the women he finds attractive. Point out the values you see and ask him his opinions on people in the media or in his community. Help him see his future depends on the kind of man he strives to be. And his choices begin now.
Growing from a boy to a man is a long journey and is complicated by society’s expectations and social pressures to be cool, to be strong, and to be tough. Giving your son a safe place to challenge those expectations and someone willing to listen and talk through those expectations is the best way to get him started on mapping his own road to manhood.
The biggest challenge for parents is to resist the urge to draw the map to adulthood for your teenage son yourself. You must help him know that the journey has many choices along the way, but it is his journey. He needs to take a few wrong turns, try a few detours, and maybe even stop in the middle of the road for a while. Resist the urge to jump in and take over. Trust that your son is refueling, taking in the sights, mustering up the courage to continue. And trust that the man he intends to be is more amazing than you could have ever imagined.