In today’s social environment, particularly surrounding the #MeToo movement, there is much talk about respect for women and for boundaries when it comes to social, professional, and dating relationships and interactions. Since all adults start off as kids, as parents we should be questioning what we are doing to ensure our children are being raised in a manner that teaches respect for others.
When it comes to our sons, this translates into training our boys to grow up to be gentlemen and to learn the respect that this lifestyle entails. Here are some intentional actions parents can take to teach their sons to be gentlemen and practical ways I’ve incorporated these into raising my son.
This may seem like a minor thing to worry about, but training your sons to have a firm handshake when greeting someone teaches them to have respect for others and confidence in themselves. This includes making direct eye contact and even throwing in a smile for good measure!
For my son, we’ve begun teaching this by having him go up to his coaches after a game or practice and shake their hands and tell them thank you. We hope to have this habit spread to teachers next and then ultimately to any adult they meet.
Practicing Polite Manners
The power of manners often goes highly underestimated. A “please” and “thank you” spoken in kindness go much farther than the “now” and “owe me” mentality that seems prevalent in many kids today. Teaching these basic manners as a habit in young boys will establish a platform of respect as they grow into adults.
My son knows that he will not get what he’s asking for without a “please” and that his response should always be “Yes, Ma’am” or “Yes, Sir” when responding to us or another adult. Although there are times when he forgets or becomes lazy in this, as a general rule this is now a habit for him. He also knows in those times he forgets, he can expect a raised eyebrow and “the look” until he says it.
Opening and Holding Doors
While a girl may be more than capable of opening a door herself, a gentleman will open her door as a sign of courtesy. It creates a heart of service in your son by making the statement that he is there to help and to show kindness to her by holding or opening the door. This doesn’t just apply to girls—a gentleman should hold the door for anyone passing by.
In our family, we have the practice of our son opening the car door for me and his sisters. This naturally progressed into him now instinctively opening the doors out in public for us and even continuing to hold it until everyone behind us has passed through. Once he is old enough, we will also teach him that he must walk up to the door to pick up a date and walk her to the door after. She deserves to be shown much more respect than a honked horn!
Beyond just the benefit of chores for kids, teaching your son to look for opportunities to help others every single day is a way to help him learn to look outside of himself. This teaches him that the world does not revolve around him, and that when someone in his path needs help, it is up to him to step up.
I’ve instructed my son that he should look around school every day for someone who needs an act of kindness. Whether it’s someone sitting alone, someone dropping books, or someone looking unusually sad, he should always be cognizant of those around him. Additionally, around the neighborhood, actions such as shoveling snow or raking leaves for an older neighbor can be a small act that goes a long way in making a big difference in someone’s day.
Offering His Seat
This one is quite simple. A boy should offer up his seat to a girl, an elderly person, a pregnant woman, or someone who obviously looks like they would need a seat more than him. This is basic courtesy and is another way to demonstrate concern for others.
There have only been a few times where my son has had a chance to do this, but school, sporting events, or even benches in a public setting always have the potential to present this opportunity.
Defending and Respecting Girls
Around this topic, we tend to think about knights in shining armor valiantly coming to the rescue of a damsel in distress. While that specific scenario is antiquated, boys coming to the defense of girls starts with their own individual acts of respect. Obviously, there definitely exists those situations where a gentleman would need to physically or verbally come to the defense of a lady. However, demonstrating respectful speech, averting eyes when something is inappropriate, being mindful of spatial boundaries, and always asking before assuming are practical ways that boys can learn that respect for girls is not optional.
Since my little gentleman is still young, we’ve not broached too much of this yet; but he has learned to help watch out for his sisters, to accommodate and understand that girls often want to play differently than boys, to never put his hands on a girl (in his young mind, this only translates to playing games together), and to look away from inappropriate commercials or displays at the mall.
While there are many family dynamics influencing ways for a son to demonstrate chivalrous and respectful behavior, setting the standard for lifestyles reflective of a gentleman is one way that we can raise a generation of truly honorable men. As parents know, our behavior is mimicked in our children. As the old adage goes, “Values are caught not taught.” If we want to raise daughters who will not settle for anything less than being treated honorably and sons who instinctively and without hesitation respect women, then we must model this in our own relationships and patterns of behavior and begin forming these habits now when they are still young.