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Transforming Conflict to Cooperation

What Africa Can Teach Us about Parenting Our Sons

By Dr. Mark Schillinger, DC  February 26, 2015


AfricaIn order to raise their sons to know how to overcome life’s adversities, parents need to trust their own biological instincts.

It was an incredible experience trusting my life to a young African man.

I was recently thinking back to a journey I took to Kenya eight years ago. I was at the Elephant Watch Camp in in the northern foothills of Kenya. The wildlife researchers at the Camp introduced me to a small Samburu clan who were living just a few miles away.

I was lucky to meet the shaman of the clan, and I frequently hung out with four young men in the community. I had a chance to play music with them (I’m a drummer) and listen to their stories (thankfully, some of them spoke English) about their initiation into male adulthood.

I Was Really Scared

During one of my visits to the village, one of the young men took me for a walk. He carried a sword and a spear to protect us. I was freaked out! Here I was, walking with this young man – he was in his late teens/early 20s – trusting that he would be able to fend off lions, tigers and other wild beasts, if necessary.

On the one hand, it was hard for me to accept that my life was literally in the hands of this young man. Paradoxically, I was also relaxed, knowing that this young adult had thousands of years of survival wisdom and knowledge flowing in his blood.

Most importantly, I trusted him because I intuited that he sincerely wanted to be responsible for taking great care of me. He accepted this challenge with great seriousness.

Our Ancestors Figured out How to Parent Young Men

For hundreds of thousands of years, there have been communities, like the Samburu, who learned to live as a cooperative society. This required families to work together, in order to successfully adapt to the adversities they commonly faced.

They accomplished this by upholding specific virtues, such as respect, curiosity and integrity, in the highest regard. By teaching their sons these positive beliefs and productive behaviors that demonstrate these virtues, they gave their sons a Way or Path to guide their lives as members of the community.

In addition, the adults also applied their Way to the raising of boys and young men by recognizing the personal virtues each boy had.

They taught the boys how to channel their energy by undergoing a formal initiation. This rite of passage brought them both responsibilities and prestige, as adult members of the group.

What Can We Learn?

As a doctor and family coach who has done lots of research and teaching on male adolescent brain development and family dynamics, I have learned this one thing: most parents are overthinking how to more effectively communicate and motivate our sons.

I believe that when parents go back to trusting their innate biological intelligence – which includes intuition and experience – they’ll have more confidence leading their sons in the right direction. In order to do this, parents will need to become more like mentors to their sons, actively and respectfully showing them how to achieve personal and communal well-being.

I look forward to the day when parents gracefully know how to activate their sons’ instinctual desire to be responsible for their own well-being and that of the community they live in.

Originally posted on The Good Men Project:



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