5 Vital Things You Can Do to "Harden Off" Your Son

5 Vital Things You Can Do to “Harden Off” Your Son

Overview: Our homes are safe zones. And that’s a good thing! But it’s important that we “harden off” our sons so that they will be able to transition successfully from the safe environment of our homes to the harsh reality of the world.

In my opinion, boys in school are exposed to things before they are ready. They are forced to leave their homes and be responsible for themselves in a way that my boys never had to at those young ages.  School kids grow up so much earlier than do homeschooled kids and I think that it is hard on them in a way that is completely unnecessary.

5 Vital Things You Can Do to "Harden Off" Your Son

On the other hand, at some point, we do need to expose our homeschooled boys to certain things so that they won’t be completely shocked once they leave our homes.

Our family usually has quite a large garden every summer. We love to plant all sorts of various fruits and vegetables. Frankly, it’s much easier to buy transplanted plants to stick right into the garden. However, these plants cost a lot more than do seeds. So we usually buy seeds for whatever can be stuck directly into the ground and we buy transplants for other things such as herbs, peppers, and tomatoes.

One year, I decided I wanted to try growing my herbs, peppers, and tomatoes from seed. I did a ton of research, bought seed mats and grow lights, and got to work. In our area, seeds need to be started indoors in March. So, I carefully watered my seeds and watched them grow. I was so careful with my little seedlings. I did everything in my power that I knew to do to help them grow into healthy plants.

5 Vital Things You Can Do to "Harden Off" Your Son

After several months of growing these seeds under ideal conditions, it was time for me to take my plants outside. I knew my plants needed to be “hardened off” before they could survive outside. That basically means that the plants need to be slowly introduced to the more harsh reality of weather outdoors so that their chance of survival increases.

So, I stuck my plants in my wheelbarrow and wheeled them out into the shade for a few hours. At night, I wheeled them back into the garage. I did this for several days. Finally, we had a beautiful, sunny day. I wheeled my plants out into the sun and let them stay there for the afternoon. When I came back, my plants were completely wilted and even looked burnt. I had spent months and months of babying my plants only to scorch them in the span of a few hours. Talk about heartbreaking!

We need to be sure we don’t do this same thing to our boys. We must harden them off to ensure our boys will survive the transition from the safety of our homes to the harsh reality of the world.

Here are 5 Vital Things You Can Do to “Harden Off” Your Son:

1 – Get Him an Outside Coach or Mentor

A few years back, my boys joined a competitive basketball league and it helped them to mature them greatly. They had been part of sports teams before; however, most of these teams were led by fathers who were coerced into the job. These more relaxed teams taught my boys about good sportsmanship, being part of a team, and the mechanics of the game from these experiences but being part of a competitive team was different.

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Their new coaches pushed them a lot harder physically than they’d ever been pushed before.

My boys came out of these practices with ashen faces and dripping sweat. They would collapse in their beds after they got home. Their coach got them to give their all to the effort. If I had tried to get my boys to work that hard, they would have insisted that they were tired. But they rose to the challenge when their coach demanded that kind of effort. Having a coach helped them to get stronger and to learn more quickly than if either myself or my husband were encouraging/pushing them.

2 – Let Dad Decide

Our husbands have a better idea of when our son’s playing, behavior, and joking are appropriate than do us moms. I hear my boys using mild bathroom humor and it isn’t funny to me. I have visions of them growing up to be these rude, crude men. I hear my boys wrestling or arguing back and forth and I’m afraid that someone is going to get hurt. My husband has to tell me when they’re just joking around or they’re both having fun. I have a hard time seeing it.

5 Vital Things You Can Do to "Harden Off" Your Son

Here’s a little secret you might not realize: Guys don’t act the same around us women as they do when it’s an all-male environment. My husband often goes to Men’s Retreats with a bunch of guys from our Baptist church – and he has told me just a few things that go on at these retreats – and even pastors are involved (gasp!) There are practical jokes; lots of loud, competitive body functions; and other raucous behavior. Guys like to let their hair down when they’re away from us women. It’s normal for your son to be gross on occasion. You can, however, teach your son that there is a time and a place.

My husband is training our boys not to act like that when a lady is present. Or, at least, that’s what he’s trying to do. We aren’t there quite yet.  🙂

→ Related Content: Do Hard Things – 11 Ways to Help Our Boys Become Responsible Men

3 – Youth Group

There are different opinions about whether or not we should allow our kids to be involved in the church youth group. I don’t always agree with everything that goes on in our youth group; but, I do think that overall it has been a good experience for my boys. They have had a chance to gain some independence from the family at these events. They have a chance to put their faith in action while they’re still at home to discuss hard situations and to get advice from mom and dad.

I know that our youth group also has a heart for helping kids to own their faith. They are teaching the kids to have a servant’s heart. Every year, they participate in an event called “A Widow Bit of Help” where they help the widows in our church with yard work. Once a month, the youth group puts on a church service for a nursing home in our area. My boys have enjoyed these service opportunities as much as they appreciate the events which are merely entertaining and fellowship building.

Being part of this group is also helping them to see other people who are putting their faith into action. It helps them to see that Mom and Dad aren’t the only Christians who believe “this stuff.”

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4 – Some Cyber Experience

When my boys were tweens, they enjoyed playing Minecraft. They loved meeting on a server with one of their cousins and building extremely complicated bases together. I remember one time they had spent a bunch of time creating a detailed base when some bully with diamond armor came along and killed them all. He took over their base and they had to start over. My Mommy Heart was broken. I didn’t know how someone could do something so mean!

I was about to say that we needed to find a different server for them where there weren’t any bullies when my boys came out of our office laughing and with adrenaline pumping. They had a meeting to determine how they could come up with better strategies so that they wouldn’t be so easily defeated next time. They were energized by the experience!

Our world is not filled with a bunch of nice people. Our kids are going to encounter individuals who don’t always treat them with loving kindness. It’s good for our boys to have a chance to have some of these experiences now so that they won’t be completely shocked when they have a less than supportive boss or an irritating coworker. They need to know how to cope in these difficult situations.

While on the internet, obviously, precautions need to be taken. But we live in a technological world and our boys will benefit from feeling comfortable with technology and knowing how to wield it in a good way.

Once they turned 15 and 16, they both got cell phones and Facebook accounts. We worked to help them learn how to manage them properly. And since they started driving at those ages, it was comforting for me to be able to get a text once they’d reached their destination.

5 Vital Things You Can Do to "Harden Off" Your Son

5 – In Over Their Head

People used to teach their kids how to swim by throwing them into a lake and letting them save themselves. While I certainly don’t advocate that type of behavior, I do think it’s good to sometimes put our sons into positions where they feel a little bit out of their league.

A few years ago, my sons’ basketball coach scheduled a scrimmage against a college basketball team. These guys were savvy basketball players who had obviously been playing together for years. They made numerous 3 point shots. If you could get 4 pointers, some of them would have made those as well. They were passing halfway across the court, they dunked the ball, they stole the ball from our guys like crazy, and they won 108-8.

It was crazy watching this game as a mom. I wanted to walk up to one of the college guys later and say, “Are you proud of yourself for dunking the ball while being guarded by my 12-year-old?!?” But the reaction my boys game me after the game shocked me. My oldest son said, “I was really nervous for our first game but I’m not anymore.” Apparently, they knew they had seen the worst that they could possibly see and they felt more prepared for whatever they would actually encounter during a game. Being on the losing end of a landslide game had helped them to overcome their fears. It wasn’t as bad as whatever they were imagining in their heads!

Have you hardened off your son? Do you think he will completely wilt and burn up once he leaves your home or will he be ready to flourish in the harsh world in which we find ourselves? Consider allowing your son to experience some “hardening off” opportunities so that he will be well prepared for whatever he will encounter once he is a man living on his own.

Question: Have you found this to be true for your son? Do you have any other tips you’ve found for helping to prepare sons to live in the world? Please leave a comment below.

5 Vital Things You Can Do to "Harden Off" Your Son

19 thoughts on “5 Vital Things You Can Do to “Harden Off” Your Son”

  1. I love this. Such a good reminder and I can completely relate to the Minecraft raiding reactions. My boys sit and plan and research new tactics for hours after that happens. 🙂

    1. Michelle Caskey

      Crazy how that happens, huh?!? At their age, I would have taken it personally and would have been crushed… Who am I kidding?!? I probably would be crushed at my age, too. But it definitely energizes them!

  2. You hit this one right on! We have watched so many homeschool families make this mistake, and it can be heartbreaking. We’ve done these things with each of our sons as they grow up. They have also dual-enrolled at the local state college once they got into high school. Having them come home and process their experiences each day has been a huge benefit for them as they go on to “life beyond homeschool”. Thanks for posting!

    1. Michelle Caskey

      That’s good to hear, Cindy. Thanks for commenting! It’s always encouraging to talk to someone who has graduated kids and has experienced some “life beyond homeschool” years. I’d love to hear from you any time you have advice you can share with those of us who are still walking by faith and not by sight! 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for this post, I only have one 9 year old son and he has a 13 year old sister, I am going to let her read this post. They both take Tae KWON Do 3 days a week and sometimes it is so hard to watch them not pass something or get whipped in sparring by another kid. Many days I just think it would be so much easier to just stay home. There are so many reasons in this post to keep going.

    1. Michelle Caskey

      Yes, it’s hard but it IS worth it. Remind your kids that they will learn much more quickly by sparring with kids who are better than they are than if they always won. My boys got whipped in another basketball game last night… but I was so proud of their attitude. They always ask what we noticed that they can improve – which is so impressive to me!

  4. I know this is an old post, but I just had to say, “You are so right”! We have done a lot of these things with our 4 boys (and 3 girls), even going so far as letting my oldest son take a train from TX to Chicago to spend 2 weeks, by himself, when he was 17. My mommy heart didn’t want to, but it was good for him and probably prepared him for his cross-country bicycle trip a couple summers later. Talk about ‘hardening’! You can read more about his ‘adventures’ here http://www.karentrina.com/2013/11/thats-not-safe.html

    1. Michelle Caskey

      What neat experiences! I’m sure your boys really appreciated that you allowed them to have those. 🙂

  5. Encouraging the older boys to take part-time jobs and to start paying for some things has been helpful. Helping them establish a budget is vital as well.
    Our eldest son flew from NE to NY when he was 17 to attend a Lamplighter Guild event. He had to manage airports and trains and to engage total strangers for a week. He came back on top of the world, both for the event itself and for the chance to be so independent.
    When our eldest son couldn’t play sports with the high-school team, he asked the coaches if he could be their reporter. This led to weekly articles for the paper and traveling with the team to away games. It wasn’t always easy for him to be the outsider, but he took pride in filling a needed role.

    1. Those sound like wonderful experiences for your son, Janna! I’ve seen the Lamplighter Guild and thought it would be fantastic!

      And I agree with you about the part-time job thing. My boys both have part-time jobs this summer and it’s amazing how much they’ve matured from that experience alone. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I agree with all of this with the exception of the social media. I get porn spammed and inappropriate ads on Facebook often and I won’t put that temptation or cell phones with internet in my 16 year old’s realm. My husband says no way to all that opening that world up to him! The rest of it, Amen!

  7. Interesting perspective. I don’t sugar coat much, and don’t shelter him from the real world. I find we talk about a vast number of topics that sometimes I feel may be too “grown up” for him. But, I feel that’s a better policy than sheltering him from the real world. #The Homeschool Nook

    1. Yes, I agree that it’s important to talk to our kids about what’s going on in the world. This is especially true as they get older and we’re trying to prepare them to enter the world. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. From a male perspective, I try to demonstrate the behavior I want from my boys by doing it myself. They see how I treat my wife, and I expect them to treat her the same way (holding the door open for her, watch her back while she’s loading groceries in the van, situational awareness when out with mom). They are not single digit age anymore, but teenagers, transforming into men. My expectations are higher, but the rewards and benefits are higher. Also have those awkward conversations with them. If you don’t, they’ll get it from somewhere else. We’re involved with Trail Life (Christian version of Boy Scouts). Not exactly their favorite thing, but they have fun, and I believe they benefit from the exposure to other godly men. Plus they need to be around others. It’s tempting as homeschool parents to just hide in our homes until they turn 18. I’m also honest with them about my own struggles. If they see that dad has his own struggles, but is open about it, they are much more likely to approach myself or my wife to talk out their issues. And yes, the roughhousing and “fart jokes” are a fact of life. Still love wrestling with them (just don’t tell my wife about that hole in the wall in the garage!).

  9. Lourdes Velandia

    Hi Michelle,
    after reading several of the posts left by your readers/subscribers I would like to say that my teenage son wanted to ride on bicycle to the sports park and I said no but he consulted with dad and said yes to the idea. I didn’t intervene (by God’s grace & mercy I’m learning to step aside) and ever since he’s met people with like interests and has been invited to several events, by people of different ages. What had me cringing & worrying before has now shown me how God blesses my child and He keeps his promises faithfully, as long as we act with prudence.
    And I just realized that my post is about our belief in God, not sure what views you allow.

    1. That’s wonderful, Lourdes!!! I’m a Christian, too, and I love hearing about ways that God works in other people’s lives. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us!

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