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How Do We Teach Boys Courage?

The need to take risks in order to feel alive, to do the impossible, to face one’s fears and not back down is present in the warrior heart of every boy and man. But too often our culture teaches boys that this drive is bad or unnatural. We punish boys for being too aggressive, too boisterous, and too loud. We medicate them in school when they exhibit normal behaviors that are biologically driven.

So how do we teach our boys to have courage? First, teach your son to embrace failure. Fear of failure keeps most men from even attempting something. Most males feel humiliated by failure or inadequacy. But males learn best by trial and error; by attempting something, failing, and then persevering until they succeed. Boys who avoid anything they are not sure to succeed at live very limiting lives. No one wins every time. But the only way you always lose is to not try at all.

Another way to teach boys any character trait is to see it modeled for them by authority figures they look up to. Many times as men we avoid things that are unpleasant. In reality we are often afraid to do them and use our veto power as a low-grade form of cowardice. We justify not standing up and speaking our mind at school board meetings because we “don’t like to speak in public,” when in reality we are afraid someone might criticize us. We choose not to have a heart-to-heart conversation with our daughter’s date because we don’t want to seem un-cool or old-fashioned, when truthfully we are just afraid of confrontation. We do not address issues in our relationship with our wives until they have become nearly irreparable problems because we fear emotional confrontation and self-examination. Our sons (and daughters) eventually see through this guise and come to believe that if Dad doesn’t think anything is important enough to “put it all on the line,” then why should they. We teach them to become cowards without even realizing it.

You can also teach your son courage by making him aware of the courage you show in everyday life. We can’t brag about our own actions, only model them for our sons. But this is where a spouse, working together as a team, comes in handy. For instance, it would be really difficult and probably unproductive to tell our sons, “Hey, did you see how brave I was there?” But a father could say to his son, “Did you see your mom help that elderly person in the store? I’ve always appreciated how much courage she has to walk up to strangers and offer to help them. I’m usually a bit nervous that I’ll embarrass myself somehow.” Or a mother can say, “Did you notice how your dad always tells young men in public to watch their language because women and children are present? Don’t you think that takes courage? That’s the kind of bravery all men should show.”

Look for opportunities to edify your spouse when they show courage, and always point those times out to your children. Tell your spouse in front of your son how proud you are of them for the courageous action they engaged in. That engrains in your son’s psyche the value of acting courageously. He will grow up just naturally assuming that courage is a character trait that all people exhibit.

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