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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.”
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 – 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.