Today, more boys than ever are growing up without fathers. It is estimated that 25% of children live in mother-only households. Of those children, many don’t see their fathers on a regular basis, if at all. Even in two-parent homes, research indicates that many fathers spend less than ten minutes per day engaged in one-on-one time with their children. Fatherlessness is the new normal. Although many mothers are capable of raising healthy, happy, and successful sons, a mother can never replace a father. If you’re a father, here’s what you need to do to ensure you’re being a strong role model for your son.

The Importance of Learning

A large percentage of American boys struggle in school. Boys are more likely to have learning disabilities. They are also more likely to be underachievers. Teach your son that being smart doesn’t necessarily mean having the answer the fastest or finishing the quiz first. Help your son to gain confidence in school by praising the effort he puts into his work as opposed to his grades. Be his coach as opposed to a judge. Teachers are most often female and mothers are more likely to get involved in boys’ learning. Set an example by getting involved in your son’s education.

Teaching Sensitivity and Gentleness

“Gentle” and “sensitive” are rarely words we use to describe our boys. But they should be. Spend time with your son and talk to him to help him develop emotional literacy. If you want your son to thrive in relationships later on in life, he needs to be able to express his feelings in words. This may be one of the most difficult things to model as a parent, especially if you were raised with the idea that talking about emotions is unmanly or weak. If you fly off the handle or lose your temper when you’re angry, what kind of message are you sending to your son? Even if you tell him otherwise, your son will be quick to notice that you don’t act that way. In order to raise a son who is able to talk through frustration, anger, or fear, you need to be able to do the same.

Encouraging Team Activities

Team sports, clubs, and other group activities are a great way for boys to forge a sense of identity. Boys are able to make friends and develop their own unique talents and skills. As a parent, it’s important to teach your son about healthy competition, teamwork, and good sportsmanship. This is something you will have to model as a father and coach. Showing disrespect for other teams or coaches or pointing out the weaknesses of certain players will send your son the message that winning is more important than being respectful and kind to others. Cheer your son on without putting too much importance on sports. Allow your son to choose what teams he wants to play on and even miss a game from time to time. Remember that sports are supposed to be fun.

As a father, you have a duty to be a good male role model for your son whether or not you live under the same roof. Boys are less likely to have male role models in their lives. Be a good role model by living out the type of behavior you want to see from your son.