Monday, July 27, 2015

Ten conversations you must have with your son

Ten conversations you must have with your son, Dr Tim Hawkes

This is a sensible and helpful book with lots of good ideas. Hawkes is a father, and has also been an educator of boys for 35 years as a teacher and headmaster. You quickly realise he has had a lot of exposure to young men over the years and the things we should be teaching them, in schools and in society, but most of all in the home.

He starts with outlining why we want to engage in conversation with our sons, somewhat obvious, but no doubt it needs to be pointed it. Then what we should be talking about and how we could go about doing so.

Each following chapter outlines the 10 major topic areas we should be planning to address with our sons over the course of their adolescence. Most are aimed at the teenage level, but can be adapted to suit younger boys and indeed young men who still need to learn. They are:
  1. You are loved – and the ways we can demonstrate love to them.
  2. Identity – how we help them to discover who they really are.
  3. Values – part of realising who you are is determining what it is you stand for.
  4. Leadership (or taking responsibility). All of us have power, what matters is how we choose to use it.
  5. Living together – this includes living with compassion and kindness in the home and also in society at large.
  6. Achievement - helping to think through how we value achievement, but also helping them to think about what they want to achieve in life, careers, etc.
  7. Sex – how to think about sex, love, wise choices, consequences and values in this area.
  8. Money – practical money management from the beginnings of savings, investing and giving right through to teaching about credit, debt, home loans, etc.
  9. Health – how to instill good habits and knowledge about caring for your body and brain: sleep, healthy food, no drugs, wise alcohol use, etc.
  10. Coping – helping to develop resilience and persistence, especially through occasions of failure, divorce or death.

Most of what he has to say is very helpful and there are many practical suggestions along the way for how to talk about it, and specifics you might want to address. Much of it is common sense, but still helpful to enunciate. There were things that might not be crucial knowledge by the age of 18, but useful to know later in life – such as older men’s health issues, detailed financial matters and how things work when someone dies (wills, executors, etc).

Many will read it and realise they are talking about some of these issues already, some may think “oh, we need to address that now!” or perhaps “we can leave that one for a little longer”. I have found this book (and others like it) have helped me to think about the vast range of things we want to teach our children and to break it down into manageable chunks. In fact we are that process at the moment - developing a list of the things we want to teach our children by the time they are 18.

I felt there were a few minor things that detracted from it. It was longer than it needed to be, he often mentions that we should teach our kids using the stories of others, and then includes some details of such stories.  It was not enough detail to share it with your son properly, but enough to make the sections seem a little long.  Many of them were also military stories, which will only appeal to some parents and children. 

It is written from an atheist or multi-faith perspective, and it will appeal to a wider audience as a result. For those of who clearly follow the Christian faith, it means you will have to adjust it to suit what you are teaching in the home. Of course we do that with everything, so that is not a major challenge.

The only other thing that struck me as I read it was that these are the same 10 conversations I will also be having with my daughters, perhaps with the application varied a little along the way. There is, however, value in thinking about these issues specifically for a son and what we want him to know and learn to become a man, in the true and honourable sense of the word.

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