Why school-aged kids crave male role models

It is beneficial for children of both sexes to have at least one male parental figure in the picture, be it an uncle, a grandparent or a close family friend.

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Nine-year-old Evan Lowes was in near tears at the end of his first-ever baseball game. “He felt like he made his team lose. He didn’t even know what an inning was,” says his mother Leanne Lowes. As a single mother to Evan, she knew he needed some male support and encouragement. “So I took him to my parents and my dad explained the entire game to him, and then his Uncle Kevin taught him how to play.”

?Let’s hear it for the boys
Gina Panettieri, author of The Single Mother’s Guide To Raising Remarkable Boys, says that between ages six and eight, boys begin to differentiate themselves as males and develop a subconscious desire for male role models. In the absence of a father figure, she says boys will look toward their neighbourhood, television and media. In non-traditional family structures and in situations with an absentee dad, mothers should make an effort to provide a good alternative male role model. “Even a good male friend who shares your values and comes to dinner once a month will have a special way of interacting,” Panettieri says. “It establishes that someone cares, and that this is the kind of person you want your son to emulate.”

The gender specifics
The absence of a father affects girls too, but in different ways. University of Toronto professor and psychologist Katreena Scott says that while having two “positively involved” parents leads to improved development for all children, the outcomes are gender specific. “For boys, having a positively involved father is important for protecting against negative peer activities and delinquent behaviours.” And girls are less likely to develop depression, anxiety and eating disorders in their teen years if their father is part of their lives. Scott is careful to note that overall, “kids simply do better with two positively involved parents, but that can include a same-sex parent or a grandparent,” she says. “This is also true for kids who live with a primary caregiver and see one parent less frequently than the other.”

Finding positive role models
First and foremost, single moms should find another dependable adult, male or female, to support them as a parent. encourage contact with positive male role models in the extended family, and make good use of community resources. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Try programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, organized sports and other activities.

A version of this article appeared in our June 2012 issue, with the headline “A few good men” (p. 78).

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