This is a first for my blog and thoroughly exciting: a guest post by Amy Herbst, educator, counselor and author, and most importantly, mom to two boys. You can visit her site here and purchase her book here. Enjoy!

Today it seems our sons are bombarded with so many influences coming at them left and right of mixed messaging about being a ‘good boy’.  Further confusion from parenting strategies that have swung from strict and authoritarian to passive or free-range over the last 50 years. It can be difficult to know what’s the best approach as we are raising our sons to be healthy and confident young men and can feel like unchartered territory.  Considering that for our school-age sons, approximately half of their waking hours are spent in school, you do everything you can as a parent to raise your son to do well and make good choices outside of your home. So when conflict or struggle happens or if his behavior goes sideways, then it must be some other kids’ fault or their teacher’s and you blame the school right?  WRONG!  

The truth of the matter is that challenges and struggles are a healthy part of your sons’ growth and development.  How else will your son learn problem solving and pro-social skills that will be necessary to survive in our ever changing world?  The ability to overcome and be adaptive to any situation or manage relationships with every person in every walk of life are all 21st century skills needed for success in school and as they launch into successful careers.  I say this with love as mama bear of 2 young boys; LET THEM STRUGGLE!

NEVER, and I mean NEVER, go into your child’s school and demand that they “fix something” or “make something better” for your child.  Your child is watching this and learning not only that they need mommy or daddy to fix their problems, but observing that they can make demands on school personnel or people in authority positions.  You and your son will be paying for this behavior later down the road during the teenage years, when he is unable to handle things for himself, and you are still ‘fighting his battles or when he is disrespectful and defiant to his teachers or bosses.

In the Oscar award winning documentary, “Free Solo”, Alex Honnold climbed 3,000 feet up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes.  My hands are sweating just typing this. Honnold quotes in his documentary, “Nothing good happens in the world by being happy and cozy. Nobody achieves anything great because they’re happy and cozy.”  Remember the old adage, “90% of success is showing up.” Imagine if Albert Einstein quoted, “90% of success is having your mom show up and do it for you and make it all better.”

Consider, how moms of some of our current male role models raised their sons. In recent articles with Maye Musk, mother of entrepreneur and phenom engineer Elon Musk, she shares her story of struggling to survive as a single mom.  Having to work 5 jobs to raise her 3 kids. Elon attributes his early life in poverty to lessons he internalized about working hard. Maye also insisted that her 3 children, all successful in their own right, have good table manners and that they follow what she says they should do, a lesson she carries through to her grandchildren as well. 

Sonya and Dell Curry raised 2 sons and 1 daughter, all star basketball players, Seth, Stephen and Sydel Curry.  In interviews with Sonya on ESPN and the Today show, she discusses her parenting style and how Seth wasn’t allowed to play in a very important playoff game in high school, because he hadn’t finished his assigned family chores.  He was held to a high standard of behavior expectations and he knew that in order to have any privileges he had to meet them. Responsibility and respect is given and expected.

Photo by Jonas Mohamadi on

Here’s the deal…  The helicopter and lawnmower parenting is harming your son.  Your son needs guidance and support, but also the space to work through his own challenges.  When issues arise at school here are some strategies to ensure that you model those important social-emotional skills for 21st century success:

  1. Always approach school personnel as you would any other healthy relationship.  If there are true issues that cannot be solved by your son, then ask for a conference to express your concerns.  You always use “I” statements. “I am observing the following”…. You can even say, “I am frustrated hearing that”…  Then you follow it up with, “How can we solve this problem together?”, or “What options do we have?”  
  2. Don’t assume that your son has handled himself well or met your high expectations for behavior.  The meeting is to hear from all sides of the issues, any concerns and to get the facts, not just take your sons’ version of any story.  
  3. Don’t ever criticize your son’s teacher or school staff in front of your son.  The message you are giving him is that the adults that are in the role of taking care of him are not capable of good care.  This creates mistrust and will ultimately entitle him to not follow their directions in the future.
  4. Your son, not following the directions of school personnel, is not only ‘disrespectful’, consider it to be a big safety concern.  Again, you want to trust that he is making good decisions when he away from you and that includes listening to adults, as they are entrusted to keep him safe.
  5. You thank them for all that they do for your son and the community in front of him and make sure that he understands that they are the adults in charge when he is not with you.

How you communicate with the people your son spends most of his waking hours is teaching him how to navigate the world.  You are modeling respect for anyone your son is entrusted to, and you are also honoring that education is his pathway to success, so don’t muddy the waters by shaming or bad mouthing where he attends.  Your son’s ability to handle situations is one of the most important lessons he will learn and you won’t get positive outcomes by showing him (and the teacher) what a bad mama-jama you are. Instead, consider the options and opportunities to support him in his current school, or consider other options for him.  Either way, consider that you are teaching him through you own example that there is a solution to every problem, especially when we work together.