Melinda Wenner Moyer: Raising Boys Who Aren’t Assholes

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You don’t want to raise an asshole. 

None of us do!

Melinda Wenner Moyer, a science journalist, author, and mom of two, says that science can show us the way. In 2021, she published How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes: Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting – from Tots to Teens.

Melinda is up front about the fact that raising a non-asshole is a long term project. Kids, she notes, are supposed to be assholes sometimes.

“We feel like — and I think that sometimes society tells us — that ‘good parenting’ is kids that are always obedient, never speak unless spoken to, and never break the rules,” she says. “And that is so not true.”

Kids’ brains are still developing, so it takes time for them to develop impulse control. Additionally, skills — including social and interpersonal skills — are learned over time.

Over-Reacting to Boys’ “Bad” Behavior Doesn’t Help

In our quest to raise non-assholes, many of us are quick to react when young boys say or do something sexist or racist. And while it’s correct to call out the behavior, a harsh, punitive response is not necessarily the best choice.

“Ultimately, in these moments, what we want to be doing is teaching out kids. We want to use this as an opportunity for growth,” Melinda says. “And if we come down really hard — how dare you say that! — that angry sort of reaction can cause boys to shut down. They then go into defensive mode and/or shame; they feel shame for having said it. That makes is really hard for them to be able to engage in a conversation and really be able to learn.”

A better approach is to take a deep breath and then start with a question like, What do you mean by that? Then, dig a bit deeper: “I want to hear a little more about that.” Add historical and cultural context as needed, and help your son consider other perspectives.

The tendency to harshly punish boys’ mistakes is often counter-productive. Boys need consequences and compassion, not punishment and shame.

Supporting Boys’ Friendships

Humans thrive when they’re part of caring communities. Friendships are an important part of that, but a lot of boys (and men) say they don’t have anyone they can confide in.

Boys, like girls, “crave connection,” and young boys typically form close, loving bonds with their friends. But over time, most boys’ friendships become more superficial, less intimate. “The irony,” Melinda says, “is that they’re pulling away from their friends to be accepted as a boy.”

It’s important to remember, though, that male friendships may look different than female friendships. Boys & men may express intimacy intimacy and connection differently than most girls and women – and that’s okay.

“We really have to trust our own instincts in parenting because we know more than we think we do,” Melinda says.

In this episode, Jen & Melinda discuss:
  • The genesis of Melinda’s book, How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes
  • Why asshole-y behavior is perfectly normal (and developmentally appropriate) as kids grow
  • Allowing kids to see our imperfection & vulnerability
  • Responding to offensive, sexist, racist, & misogynistic comments
  • Why lying is an important developmental milestone
  • Natural & logical consequences
  • Male loneliness & friendship
  • Using TV shows & pop culture to discuss values & behavior
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes: Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting – from Tots to Teens, by Melinda Wenner Moyer

Is My Kid the Asshole? – Melinda’s Substack newsletter

The Epidemic of Male Loneliness — one of Melinda’s Substack newsletter posts

Ending Sexual Violence by Raising Better BoysSlate article by Melinda

Sexism Starts in Childhood Slate article by Melinda

How to Raise a Decent Human Being — BuildingBoys post

The Truth About Raising Teen Boys — BuildingBoys post (first line: “Are all fourteen year old boys assholes?“)

Just Don’t Be an Asshole (w Kara Kinney Cartwright) — ON BOYS episode

Phyllis Fagell Discusses Middle School Superpowers — ON BOYS episode

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