7 Things We Should and Shouldn’t Say To Boys

There are certain lines and phrases that I am sure that only parents of boys will be familiar with saying. That’s not parents who only have boys and don’t have any girls (that’s our household, two boys, no girls) but parents who have sons whether they have daughters or not.

In fact, I’m sure that a parent who has both boys and girls may be better placed to write some of this than I would, but in the absence of having a daughter of my own, and based on what I know about the female anatomy and the female psyche, I’m fairly sure that no one is going to pull me up on any of these and say “hey, I’d say that to my daughter too…”

Some of these are things that we should keep saying to a boys, but others are phrases that need to be removed from our minds so that we don’t say these to our boys. With that let me present to you my list of things that only parents of boys would say or putting it another way, things you don’t have to say to your daughters…

1. “Push your penis in…the toilet. …your underwear. …your nappy.”

The penis is one of the hardest things to deal with when raising young boys. As an adult male with decades of experience behind me I would like to think that I know the ins and outs of owning a penis. I know what this appendage is capable of. I know that when you are really busting to urinate that the penis can act like a garden hose turned onto full flow without anyone holding onto it. I know that it takes concentration to aim it properly (although my wife would argue that I don’t always apply this knowledge myself).

We have a three year old son who has been toilet trained for many months but like many children waits until the last minute to advise us that he needs to go to the toilet. Then, when taking his pants down and sitting him on the toilet, he can release the flow before he is fully set down on the seat or often before he has pushed his penis in. As he runs to the toilet my wife or I chase after him reminding him of the number one rule when using the toilet;

“Push your penis in the toilet.”

It doesn’t matter how many times we tell him, it doesn’t matter if there’s the offer a treat for following the golden rule (pun intended); that penis of his only makes it into the bowl on two out of every three times and on that third occasion, it’s “grab the mop and bucket” time.

It doesn’t matter if it’s after a trip to the toilet, or when getting dressed each morning, but the importance of pushing the penis into your underwear or nappy (diaper) is essential. I’m sure we all remember that scene from There’s Something About Mary where Ben Stiller’s character gets his penis caught in the zipper of his trousers. A study conducted by Universities in California, San Francisco as well as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia confirmed that each year approximately 2,250 males end up in hospital due to serious incidents of getting the skin one’s penis or scrotum caught in their zipper.There's Something About Mary Zipper Ben Stiller

2. “Do you want to do a stand-up-wee or a sit-down-wee?”

My wife is the big user of this line more than I am, but when the occasion arises, I use it too. You see, she really wants our youngest to start doing stand-up-wees because it makes it easier for her when they are out and about and there’s no toilet about, she is happy for the boys to go behind a tree or in the bushes. I’m not a fan of this myself because I know that public urination is frowned upon by many.

Seeing that both our sons are short for their age, I know that unless there’s trough-style urinal that’s at ground level or a urinal that is exceptionally lower than most “child friendly” urinals (I’ve seen some that are more suited for short men rather than young kids), or a child sized toilet that again is low enough, then for our youngest at the very least, sit-down-wees are the only way to go.

When we are out and about and there’s a ground level trough-style urinal our youngest is more than happy to copy Daddy, mostly for the novelty of it. But still, it’s something that as a parent we must ask because sooner or later the embarrassment of going into a public stall when out with friends because “that’s what girls do” will get the better of most boys.

3. “That’s only for girls to play with…” or “that’s not for boys.”

Speaking of “that’s what girls do” or similar phrases, I often hear parents say this line to their sons. Whether it’s because their son has taken his sister’s doll – to play with, or just to be mean – or if the child has picked up a “girl’s toy” off the shelf in a toy shop, the line “that’s only for girls to play with” gets used.

keanu's birthday
Our boys playing with the Peppa Pig house playset we bought the youngest

I don’t hear the opposite when a girl picks up a toy car or a boy related toy. The world is very focused on making sure that we don’t discriminate against girls telling them that they can do anything that the boys can do. And that’s a good thing. And in our modern society we have almost eliminated the need for the term “tomboy” with many Generation X fathers happy of the fact their daughter wants to help them do handyman work around the house, but are equally as happy to see them do it in their Disney Princess outfit. Yet we are not ready for the opposite.

It’s interesting to note that when I quizzed some friends about the term “tomboy” it was confirmed that this term is not seen a pejorative, rather a girl who has the tomboy tendencies is seen as outgoing, ambitious and adventurous.  Yet the opposite of “tomboy” when applied to boys being into girls’ things is “sissy.” Now explain to me how this could be anything than a pejorative term. I bet you can’t.

We don’t use either of those phrases or any related phrase in our house.

4. “It doesn’t matter that there’s pink on it, no one will think you’re a girl.”

It doesn’t matter if he’s one of the only boys at a fairy princess party, or having dinner at a friend’s house who only has pink plastic plates that are child friendly, it’s inevitable that sometime during your son’s childhood that they will be forced to use something that has pink on it.

Both of our sons have had it drilled into them that just because the item is pink, it doesn’t mean that they are using a girl’s item, nor that anyone will think that they are a girl. From our youngest whose obsession with owls which I wrote about recently (with most items for kids with owls on them being pink or purple), to either boy receiving a non-gender specific party-bag at the conclusion of a birthday party with a pink water pistol, bouncy ball, balloon, slinky or other trinket; just because it is pink, it doesn’t mean it’s for girls.

We have been fairly successful with this line of thinking with just this following weekend our youngest son receiving a party bag with a pink water pistol in it. When he lost his water pistol the following morning and his brother offered him the spare orange one the little one yelled;

“I want my pink gun.”

Of course he did. And why? Because it matched the pink bouncy ball he received in his party-bag the week before.

5. “Be a man.”

I have had a post about this phrase in the draft section of my blog for almost a year. I wanted to write about the use of this phrase after I heard a dad say it to his son. When I heard it I whipped out my phone and emailed “be a man” to myself so that I could write a post about it when next I sat down to write. And when that opportunity came, I felt overwhelmed. It’s a bigger issue than what a one-thousand word post could allow. So I kept it in my drafts hoping to do research into the effects of that phrase.

One link that I had embedded within that post was to Joe Ehrmann’s brilliant TEDx Baltimore talk from January 2013 entitled “Be a Man” where he states;

“I want to say it’s the three scariest words that every man received in his lifetime…”

I am looking forward to seeing the documentary by film-maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom which is called “The Mask You Live In.”  The film is due for release in 2015 and I believe that it will be an important tool for raising boys in these days of social awareness where connecting with like minded people is only a click away, but it only takes the same amount of clicks to come face-to-face with cyber-bullies with antiquated views of how a boy should act, and how he should feel. I have embedded the trailer for the film below, or you can watch it with an introductory forward by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and an interview with her here.

6. “Eat it. It will put hair on your chest.”

My own mother used to say this to me. Let me tell you this; she lied. Despite my longer than shoulder length hair, I’m not a very hirsute man. My facial hair is about as good as a late teenage boy could hope for. My back looks like it has been permanently waxed, and my chest looks like those aerial shots of deforestation that we see in the media when they’re telling us about a landmass the size of 17 billion football fields has been cleared by commercial loggers.

If I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, if I wasn’t who I am, content with the man and father that I become despite the lack of hair on my chest, then that phrase is one that surely could have done as much damage as the aforementioned line “be a man.”

7. “Who’s a handsome boy?”

My wife and I are guilty of this one. We’re always telling our sons that they are good looking young men. But much in the same way that we need to stop telling young girls that they are all about the way they look, we need to stop doing this with our boys because just as many boys are starting to feel the pressure of always looking their best. Body image is an issue that many boys are struggling with every day.

We need to promote a sense of self-worth that is more than just the way they look. Whether disfigured through and accident, putting on weight or being scrawny and thin so that they don’t meet society’s expectation of what a boy or man should look like, they need to know that the way they look is only a small part of who they really are, or how they are or how they see themselves when they are older can negatively affect them.

It doesn’t matter if your child is not academically gifted, or an elite athlete, or talented in any way, as their parent you need to find the thing that they can be good at and focus on that. You need to build them up by working on their strengths, especially when psychical strength is not their forte. And it doesn’t matter if they are the next pin-up boy-next-door just like it doesn’t matter that every girl must fit that ideal.


What we say, and how we say it can have lasting effects on our children. Some of these phrases are important in teaching our boys important lessons that will have positive impacts. But some of these are lines that we need to stop saying to our boys.

When I first started listing some of the phrases that I wanted to include in this post I was aiming it being a jovial and humorous piece. There were lines that I deleted (I could have listed seven lines just to do with little boys and their penis). But soon, each line that I collected started telling a story, and each of these lines that I collated suddenly felt out of place as I wrote them down, and when put “onto paper,” each line and the blurb I wrote after it lent itself to introduce the following phrase and it started telling a a more complex story than I had set out to write.

And what I have learnt is, we really need to change that story. We keep telling girls that they don’t need to wait to be saved by the knight in shining armour, or by the fairytale prince, or a hero. But are we still teaching our boys that they need to be that hero? When we are looking at changing the gender balance we only seem to be focusing on adding weight to the girls’ side of the scales, not taking away the weight of the world from the boys’ side.

We aren’t teaching boys that being a stay-at-home-parent is a worthy role for a man. We aren’t teaching our boys that taking a low paying job in a field that may interest them is a good choice, rather that they should focus on a career that will bring in the big money so that they can be the bread winner for their family. Rather than teaching our boys to “be a man,” we should focus on them being good and decent people, no matter what gender they identify with. I’m not talking about raising every boy to be a cross-dresser, trans-gender or even overly effeminate, but there is nothing wrong with our boys should that be the way their story reads.

Do you use any of these phrases? Are there any that you would add to this list?

7 thoughts on “7 Things We Should and Shouldn’t Say To Boys

  1. I agree with so much of this post. But .. I am a girl whose dad said “Eat this, it will put hair on your chest” equally if not moreso to the girls .. but we love his groan-worthy sense of humor. But I’m glad you brought it up because I never considered how it might affect my son’s self image.

  2. I realise this post is a little dated, but I had a little laugh to myself at #6. I was always taught to eat my crust (of a sandwich), as it would “put hairs on my chest”. As an adult, I still eat the crust. Yet, my chest is bare. While my father, who almost always leaves some portion of his sandwich, has a chest that resembles a neglected lawn in summer.

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