This post: How to Raise an Old-Fashioned Gentleman in a Modern World
As far back as when my son was five or six years old, I remember encouraging him to hold the door open for others, to give up his seat in church for a senior citizen or pregnant woman and to look people in the eye and use his manners.
Even now with my son in college, I still find myself tossing out reminders every now and then – encouraging him to send a thank you note to a professor who went above and beyond for him, to help a neighbor when he sees them struggling to carry a box or put his best foot forward when he’s talking with his friend’s parents.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in manners.
I still believe we need to raise our sons to be courteous, honorable, respectful and yes, even chivalrous. (Not to negate the importance of raising our daughters to be equally as polite, respectful and courteous).
The truth is, I’ve been surrounded by gentlemen my entire life. It’s all I know. My grandfathers were gentlemen, my father was a gentleman and my husband is a wonderful gentleman – even after 27 years of marriage, I treasure the way he treats me every single day.
And now, I’m raising my son to be a gentleman, as well.
I know we’re living in a modern world where manners seem to be falling by the wayside, where men aren’t tipping their hats or rushing to the other side of the car to open a lady’s door like they once did and where it’s every man for himself, but amongst our world’s modern-day views, there’s still plenty of space for good ‘ole fashioned gentlemen.
Here are my thoughts on how to raise an old-fashioned gentleman in a modern world along with a few (I could add more!) of the “gentlemanly” qualities and behaviors I’m trying to foster in my son before I send him into the world.
How to Raise an Old-Fashioned Gentleman in a Modern World
#1 A Gentleman Respects Everyone, Regardless of Gender, Race, Religion, Class
Whether he offers to help a senior citizen put groceries in their car, takes the time to learn about the different cultural and religious views of his friends or classmates or invites the lonely child in the cafeteria to sit with him at lunch, raising our boys to be gentlemen starts with treating others with decency and respect – regardless of their gender, sexuality, religion, race, status, background or even where they fall on the hierarchy of popularity at school.
A Word About Respecting Women:
My son came to me one day and told me that a girl in school told him to stop opening the door for her because she thought he was being “condescending” and that she could do it herself. My response to him was, “There will always be those who don’t value or appreciate kindness and respect and will view your efforts as patronizing or superior, but don’t let that stop you from being the gentleman that you are. You don’t treat girls with respect simply because they’re girls, you treat them (and everyone else) with respect because you’re a gentleman.”
Please… let’s forget the notion that treating girls and women with respect is nothing more than benevolent sexism. Our boys should be able to treat all human beings with respect without worrying about ridiculous gender-specific implications.
#2 A Gentleman Values Honesty and Integrity
Let’s teach our boys to stand strong in their morals and values, to speak the truth, to say what they mean and mean what they say, and never compromise who they are at the expense of fitting in. In doing so, not only will they feel more confident, others will gravitate toward them because they’re trustworthy, reliable and someone who sets an example and inspires others to do the same.
#3 A Gentleman is Mannerly, Polite and Courteous
It’s taken my son a while, but he’s finally getting the hang of (and gaining the confidence) of looking people in the eye, offering a firm handshake, introducing others the right way, and being polite and courteous without my constant reminders. I consider our teen boys a “work in progress,” so becoming mannerly, polite and courteous won’t happen overnight. Baby steps, parents…
When your son is engaging with a teacher, professor, boss, or his date’s parents, for example, encourage him to “step up his manners game,” encourage him to put his phone down and pay attention to what others are saying, to apologize when he’s done something wrong, to be an honorable loser in sports and other areas of life, and to skip the swearing (at least in certain situations). Eventually, if he does it enough and begins to see the positive reaction he receives from others, it will become second nature and he’ll realize that manners really will set him apart from the rest.
#4 A Gentleman Expresses Empathy
I remember when one of my son’s best friend’s father died of COVID. My son felt for his friend deeply but was at a loss for what to say and how to comfort his friend.
Empathy takes time… and, quite often, even though our boys feel deeply about something, it doesn’t mean they know how to express those feelings and emotions. The good news is, empathy can be taught and strengthened.
Perhaps more of a human trait than a “gentlemanly” trait, empathy is the ability to understand what other people are feeling, to view life through the lens of others, and imagine yourself walking in their shoes. Let’s teach our boys to listen to others, pay attention to their body language (which speaks volumes about how a person is feeling), and imagine how others might be feeling. The upside to being empathetic is that it will improve our boys’ capacity to communicate with others – a skill that will carry them throughout their lives.
#5 A Gentleman is Open-Minded
Throughout their lives, our boys will encounter a variety of different cultures, languages, preferences, ideologies, and beliefs. As a gentleman, he’ll come to recognize that having an open mind is truly a stepping stone for growth.
Listening with the intent to truly hear and learning with the intent to broaden his view of the world will not only make him more worldly, it will also help him build more harmonious relationships and teach him the value of respecting the opinions of others, putting differences aside and learning to “agree to disagree” without being harsh or spiteful.
#6 A Gentleman Doesn’t Tell
A real gentleman protects his integrity and the integrity of those around him. He shuts down gossip (or walks away) and doesn’t jump on board the spreading of rumors.
He’s a good friend who can be trusted with secrets. He doesn’t “kiss and tell” – even if he breaks up with a girlfriend or partner and has juicy information to share. He does his best never to make anyone cry and, above all, he knows that words can cut deeper than a knife and he would never want to intentionally hurt someone – he holds himself to a higher standard.
#7 A Gentleman is Humble
Teenagers, boys specifically, have a hard time mastering the art of humility, so don’t expect this “gentlemanly trait” to take hold right away. It might take some practice. But with enough gentle urging and reminders, your son will eventually realize that he isn’t perfect and that accepting his flaws (perhaps even with a sense of lighthearted humor) is an honorable trait to have.
The more humble our sons are, the more they’ll open themselves up to listening and learning, the better they’ll be poised to accept criticism, and the more people will actually feel comfortable around them and enjoy being with them because they’re not an annoying “know it all.”
#8 A Gentleman Puts Chivalry Into Practice
Chivalry is still alive and well… at least in the eyes of gentlemen.
It may not follow the same antiquated behavior system as medieval knights, but true gentlemen, despite its rather old-fashionedness, still treat women with honesty, respect, decency and honor. And, the best part is, they don’t care what others think.
They remove their coat and drape it over their date’s shoulders when she’s cold, they walk on the traffic side of the street to protect her, they make certain she gets home safely by walking her to the door and always honors her boundaries. Gentlemen know that chivalry is most certainly not dead… it’s merely being forgotten by some.
#9 A Gentleman Tosses Gender Stereotypes Out the Window
A true gentleman doesn’t pay much attention to old-fashioned gender-specific roles. He won’t view housework as a woman’s job or believe that boys should pursue sports as opposed to creative outlets or that they need to be a “tough guy” and keep their emotions in check.
Let’s take our boys out of the gender box they’ve been cramped and suffocated in and encourage them to toss out any gender stereotypes our society has quietly laid on their shoulders. Teach them that they can pursue anything in life that interests them, that they can feel and express their emotions freely (even if it means shedding a few tears), to be keenly aware of gender marketing and that they can blaze their own trail and push aside gender roles that are clearly rooted in stereotypes.
#10 A Gentleman Reaches a Hand Out to Others
When a gentleman spots another person struggling, he reaches out to help. Whether it’s picking up a book his classmate dropped, offering to help a friend move into their dorm, helping his mom take the groceries out of the car, or helping his younger sibling with their homework. He doesn’t complain or pitch a fit, he merely offers his assistance – because it’s the decent, honorable, gentlemanly thing to do.
If we can follow these guidelines, we can all raise an old-fashioned gentleman in a modern world.
Of course, we can’t expect our boys to be perfect, to always present themselves in a gentlemanly way and to never mess up and forget how they were raised. But in time, our boys will come to realize that being a gentleman in a world where manners, common courtesy and human decency are slowly becoming a thing of the past, is a powerful attribute that will serve them well both now and into their future.
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