10 Things I Want My Son to Learn Before He Becomes a Teenager

As we stand on the cusp of zits and body hair and raging hormones, I am beginning to think about the type of teenager I want him to be in a couple of years. And the type of man I want him to eventually become.
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By Shannon Ralph/The Next Family

I have an amazing 11-year-old son. He is smart. He makes me laugh every day. He is kind and he is generous. And despite my nightly pleading to the universe to please -- for the love of God -- slow down time, my son is becoming a man before my very eyes. He is no longer the chubby little blonde boy I first fell in love with 11 years ago. He grew three inches over the summer, nearly passing me by. His new school shoes this year were a size 11. As I trip over the giant Nikes in the middle of my living room floor every day, there is no denying that he is changing. In ways both extraordinary and somewhat terrifying, my little boy is flailing towards adulthood.

My son and I are finding ourselves in a unique, transitional period right now. Not quite a teenager. Not quite a child. As we stand on the cusp of zits and body hair and raging hormones, I am beginning to think about the type of teenager I want him to be in a couple of years. And the type of man I want him to eventually become. There are so many life lessons I still want to teach him. There are so many crucial skills he needs to be a good man in a sometimes less-than-good world. Below are 10 lessons I want my son to learn before he becomes a teenager.

1. Kindness is power, not weakness. Gentleness is strength. As is empathy. It is not "manly" to be cruel. It is not "weak" to be gentle. All too often, we underestimate the power of kindness to turn the world around.

2. A girl's body belongs ONLY to her. You have no claim to it, no matter who she is. No matter how long you've been dating. She makes the rules regarding her body. In the same way, you make the rules concerning your body. A boy can say no, too.

3. Express your feelings. Use your words. Don't bottle it up. Don't push it down. Our feelings are what make us fully-evolved humans. Don't be a caveman.

4. Cook, clean, and do your own laundry. Every man should be able to cook something delicious (or, at minimum, edible), clean up after himself, and wash his own clothes. And please, please understand -- and don't just say it, but actually believe -- that none of this is "women's work."

5. Say "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" every day. Manners are important. Manners, though underutilized in this modern world, will set you apart. In school. In your career. In your future relationships. Manners will get you far in life.

6. Don't trust everyone. At the same time, don't NOT trust anyone. People need to earn your trust. Don't give it away freely, but give it to the people who deserve it. We all need an inner circle of people who have our backs.

7. A little confidence goes a long way, even if you have to fake it. And there will be times when you totally fake it. Trust me on that. But know that you are smart. Know that you are capable. Know that you are talented. You have what it takes to make your dreams come true. Just believe in yourself.

8. Never kiss and tell. It is disrespectful. It is rude. It takes advantage of another person's vulnerability. Your friends do not need to know the details. Leave them to their fully capable imaginations.

9. Sometimes the joke is just not worth it. You know I am a fan of wicked wit. Expertly executed sarcasm is one of my favorite things in the world. And you are quite adept at both. But it is not always appropriate. There are things more important than a perfect punchline. Like friendship. Trust. Kindness. Think before you make the joke. Is it worth it?

10. Explore the world. Get out. See new things. Explore new places. Broaden your horizons. Backpack across Europe. Safari in Africa. Trek through the rain forests. Cultivate a worldlier perspective. I will always be your home base.

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