THE BLACK FAMILY: Raising a Son in 2014
Ten Keys to Raising a Son in 2014
By Vernon R. Heard
I was scared to death when I found out we were expecting a child back in 2000. Not because of the added financial responsibility or for not being ready, but because I was not accustomed to having to set an example for anyone who would be watching me 24-7. I’ve always loved kids so no problem there. But the thought of that mini-me microscope on me at all times was a bit daunting. Will I have to stop smoking? Should I stop cussing? Can I keep my porn? LOL!! You get the picture. I was very excited at my son's arrival in 2001. IT'S A BOY!!! Our goal, like all parents, has been to provide a loving environment for our son with structure and boundaries. It’s been important to me for my kid to have untethered imagination and thought process. Outside the box as his norm, I mean. We’ve encouraged him to have the attitude that he can do anything he sets his mind to. From building a dog house to being a photographer to learning a new language to having his own business to doing a take-home Social Studies project. No fear. When he was 12, I had him print out a Booker T. Washington quote and I try to get him to consider it whenever a challenge or new obstacle crosses his path. “I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed.” Hopefully he will carry this forward in his life as a mantra. No fear.
1. Teach him that his word is his bond. In business, relationships and friendships, you don’t give your word unless you’re willing to go out of your way to keep it. Once you get the reputation for not keeping your word, it’s hard to redeem yourself.
2. Teach him to walk upright and be a man. Don’t let opinions of others dictate how he sees himself or how he carries himself. Choose his own route.
I hope I don’t live to regret this but, I refuse to tell my son “how to act” around police. My attitude is that he should expect to be able to navigate his life (within the law) without the fear of police thugs interfering with his peace of mind. He is entitled to his livelihood.
We do, however, ensure that our son has awareness of how corrupt some police can be; how prejudice still exists in spite of, and maybe because of, a Black president; how some people will just choose to hate you for no reason. We teach him to respect everyone but not at the expense of his own self respect; and until they give you a reason not to.
3. Give him space to make some of his own decisions to get a feel for trusting his own judgement and falling back on what he’s been taught in the home. In this, expect him to make some mistakes but the lesson there is to learn from them and learn not to repeat them.
4. Set the example of the importance of family. Make sure to spend time with the full family unit; eat dinner together, talk together and LISTEN when he has something to say. No matter how kiddy or trivial you may perceive it to be or no matter how busy you are, listen.
It’s important to me for our son to understand different experiences and storylines within Black culture, not just his own. For most of his young life, we’ve lived a middle class lifestyle. He hasn’t grown up in the streets so he hasn't really experienced the 'hood first hand. It's been very important to expose him to where his family comes from and ensure that he doesn’t discredit people, Black or otherwise, just because he doesn’t come from an identical environment or background. Sounds like an obvious lesson but, given the almost unavoidable misinformation about Black culture in the media, it’s important he know what to disregard. So we talk. My wife and I talk about our lives growing up, good times and bad. I tell him about my experiences growing up without a father. Life with my mom and my brothers. The fighting, the butt whoopings and our struggles. He talks to my mom about back in the day raising me and my brothers and about her life growing up in the 1930s and 40s.
5. Teach him to always be the hardest working person in the room. Like Will Smith said, ‘You may be smarter than me, better looking than me or even more talented than me… but you’ll never outwork me. Never.’ (or something like that.. hahaha). That’s it. He must condition himself to be a high performer.
6. Hold your son to high standards. Don’t let him off the hook with a “that should be good enough” kind of attitude. Don’t let him take the easy route. One of my most annoying rules, if you ask my son, is to take the time to double-check your work. For instance, with math homework, he has to prove his answers by working backwards from his answer to the constants. Rule: Always confirm your theory or answer from a second source.
Navigating the waters to raise a son in 2014 is tricky at best. I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught over the last 13 years. Another one of my soapboxes with my son is integrity. The integrity speech has caused more eye rolls to our ceiling than any other. My repeating the saying “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”. We preach and preach to him to always fall back on what he's taught at home. It’s essential to me that the my son makes life decisions based on his morale center, when applicable. Taking a shortcut is not always the right path. Recognize the shady path and avoid it. Self respect and integrity are essential to a man's tool kit.
7. Teach him about financial independence. We took our son off of his weekly allowance and tasked him with coming up with ideas to get his own money. Obviously, he wasn’t cut off from the necessities, but new video games, online gaming membership fees, gift cards for the multitude of birthday party invites he gets, etc. were deemed his responsibility. He was slow to warm up the task but when he actually started earning dough through odd jobs or his online resell business and getting things he wanted, he was all set.
8. On that same financial note, teach him about saving and managing his money. Although earning his money is his responsibility, saving some of it is as well. He should put aside 5-20% in his bank account. He has to balance his own bank book. Most importantly, he collaborates with you to ensure that when he wants to spend his money on something that he has enough in savings that the purchase doesn’t wipe him out completely.
One of the hardest parts about being a parent, in my opinion, is when they grow up and don’t want to spend as much time with you as they needed/wanted to as a smaller child. It's a major letdown when they opt out of a movie or a ball game with you to hang with their own friends instead. BURN!!! My son and I were inseparable! I even took him on tour with me briefly when I was in a band and on the road. He’s 13 now and is more independent. I had to realize that if I’m going to demand he grow up in other aspects, I have to be ready to allow him to do so in this one as well. I’ve never talked baby talk to him but now the conversation has changed to more young adult topics. It’s tough letting go though.
9. Talk frankly about sex. You’ll find he’s probably more embarrassed about it than you. But answer his questions forthright and don’t put a judgmental spin on your answers. Let him sense that he has an open door to approach you with questions or curiosities. Don’t leave it up to him to learn 100% of what he knows from the street and his uninformed homeboys. And don’t demonize all girls as diabolical hussies who just want to get pregnant. LOL. But teach him the difference between a young lady and a hoodrat. I talked to my son about sexual hygiene, protected sex and condom use (left him a couple different types to ‘practice’ with), porn, the impromptu erections teen boys go through, the first kiss, and just.. everything. It wasn’t easy but it was constructive. The result is, I think he knows he can come to us if he is uncertain about something and he has.
10. Teach him to stand for something. Make sure he has an awareness of his culture and community and how his participation effects their destiny. Teach him to VOTE. Teach him to say no when it feels wrong. Teach him to say HELL NO when it’s obviously wrong. The ‘minding my own business” and “stop snitching” mindsets are not one size fits all attitudes. Teach him to stand up for something. Whether that something is himself, his family, his community, or his country.
If you know me, you know kids have always been my passion. Kids’ education, child welfare and psychology were important to me growing up even before I knew to acknowledge them as such. Part of that probably stems from my mom being involved in education. Kids are adaptable to any lesson or knowledge imparted to them. We have to be aware of the messages we teach our kids and, more importantly, the ones we demonstrate to them. No one’s perfect and God knows we fall short with our son, but we do have a goal to prepare him to be a man.