Raising Self-Controlled Sons

“Today’s men are obsessed with money, greed and sex. We will talk about the first two, somewhat, but the last one we avoid.” So writes author Archie Wortham. Wortham believes dads need to talk to other men about the challenges they have faced or are facing as men, then they’ll be better prepared to help their sons mature.”

Wortham’s comments resonate with me, especially since I helped to facilitate a Passage event that was attended by 360 fathers and sons. It was evident that the young men wanted to learn from their fathers about their development, and dads for the most part felt a little uncomfortable.

To break the ice, during the Friday evening session we asked sons and fathers to write anonymous questions that a panel would answer the next day. Here are a few of the common questions sons wrote: “Does my dad struggle with the same temptations I struggle with?” “How do I talk to my dad about the things I’m doing sexually?” “How do dads fight or defeat lust?”

Similarly, the fathers had these questions: “How much should I tell my son about my past, particularly when it’s bad?” “Should I tell my son about my own struggles and some dark secrets in my life?” “When talking about sex to my son, how much do I share?”

I could list many other questions, but suffice it to say, we had a very lively panel discussion.

The take-away was this: For dads, it is critical to model responsible behavior. The way we conduct ourselves—e.g., our interaction with women, the way we expose ourselves to media, and even some of the behaviors we think are secret—is in reality being recorded on our child’s mental camcorders. Ultimately, a “code of moral behavior” is caught as much as it is taught. We must model responsibility and self-control!

Second, as your son matures, don’t share your past unless you’ve resolved it. In other words, if you can’t share your past struggles at an appropriate time in his development, where it could be a help to him, chances are you haven’t resolved it yet. If you have unresolved issues, particularly sexual ones, get help. Do whatever it takes to get them resolved. Then at the right time, share your failures or struggles with your son and let him know how you overcame them.

Third, don’t try to deal with these challenging issues on your own. Find another dad you can confide in or seek competent professional help.


  • Point out inappropriate scenes on television or in the media. Talk with your children about how those can influence our thinking (and thus our behavior) and why we need to establish a high moral code.
  • Invest in technology that will block some of the images and messages that try to invade your home through the computer or TV screen.
  • Have an “origins” talk with your young children and tell them how they came to be. Take it up a notch for your teens.
  • With whom have you processed your sexual history? Talk to your wife or another man and share how they have helped you through the process.

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.