Raising Boys to be Real Men

Boys are misunderstood.  Too often, they are disciplined and shamed by their teachers, parents, or grandparents because it is falsely assumed that good boys should act just like good girls.

Raising boys is a topic of numerous books, but one that stands out is Raising Cain, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  I had the privilege of hearing them speak at a conference, and their wisdom impressed me deeply.  Here are my notes and thoughts from two of their sessions.

Emotions.  Give boys permission to have an internal life. Give approval to their wide-ranging emotions, as long as they behave civilly. Their tendency will be to hide their emotions at every turn, but this is not healthy. Help them use words to express their feelings effectively, since it is not in their nature or in their culture to speak openly about their feelings. So, give respect to their inner life, and speak about your own inner life. Share your likes, dislikes, fears, sorrows, regrets, hopes, and weaknesses with each other.

Activity.  Accept the high activity level of boys as a healthy part of who they are. Give them a safe place to express their need for action. Embrace their physicality as natural, normal, and in need of channeling, rather than suppressing.  Boys need to learn to manage their physicality, but they do not need to be shamed for their exuberance.

Speak to them.  Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and masculinity. Be direct with them. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  And when possible, use them as consultants and problem solvers. They will love feeling important to you. It is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and respect.

Re-define courage.  Teach boys that there is more to being a hero than physically defeating an enemy. Continue reading “Raising Boys to be Real Men”

I Believe in Encouragement

By Lauren Baum, in her senior English class at Westminster Christian Academy, St. Louis (Class of 2011).

Without any hesitation, he said, “I’d be better off dead.” Hearing those words come out of my best friend’s mouth tore my heart apart. He has repeated that phrase more than once, and my mind continually plays it over like a voice recording.

I met my best friend about three years ago. After knowing me for six months, he told me about his struggles with depression. Sadness was not the only emotion that came over me; I was shocked. He seemed so outgoing and happy all the time. I soon learned that he was physically and emotionally abused as a young child, prompting him to bottle up suicidal thoughts. I cannot begin to imagine the physical pain he has suffered during his lifetime.

He refuses to talk to others about his depression because he now distrusts adults, especially those in his family. Nevertheless, he feels as if I understand him and that I know the right words to speak. Consequently, when it comes to helping him, convenience is not in my vocabulary. It does not matter where I am or what I am doing, for he takes priority. Sometimes he just needs the assurance of my voice telling him that everything is going to be okay and that I will not let him down.

Many students at his school mock him when they notice the scars on his arms from cutting. As he sees it, other kids have every right to tease him and to look down on him. But no one holds such a right, so I encourage him to ignore the heartless kids who treat him less than human. When he feels the weight of judging eyes or hateful voices, I always remind him that I care about him unconditionally.  Just hearing me say I will always be his best friend seems to give him the security he needs to keep on going.

My best friend once told me that if he had not had me, he would not be alive. He said that my encouraging words convinced him not to take his life. I never took a bullet or rescued him from a burning fire, but, in his eyes, I saved his life. Our friendship has taught me that no matter the situation, a single kind word can impact someone’s life. With the fragility of life as it is, I believe in the necessity of encouragement.

Life in the Shallows vs. Life at Sea

In the area of technology and society, nobody is an expert because we just don’t know what the long-term effects are.  In fact, nobody even knows what a digital life will look like five years from now.  Most of us don’t even understand what is going on right now.

This video displays many of the realities of the digital lives of teenagers and young adults in 2010.  I think you’ll find it enjoyable, informational, and thought-provoking.

Jordan is a complex picture of modern adolescence, so it’s not as if this portrait can be labeled as entirely good or bad.  However, there are two things that are striking about this video: 1. Jordan is alone and 2. his social connections and activities all exist to serve himself.  In a word, I’d describe his relationships as “immature.”  In many ways, it is a sad picture of someone whose primary motivation is to entertain himself.  Jordan is living for himself and having a pretty good time.

While Jordan is not an evil young man, he is clearly living a life in the shallow end of the pool.  He has not grown up yet.

Hopefully, we can raise a generation with a reality that is more rich in meaning than this. Here is an example of a man and his family who are living life well, in spite of daily trials and extreme tragedies.  Furthermore, they are passing good character on down to the next generation.  Prepare yourself for the remarkable story of Ed Thomas, his family, and his community.

And to accept the award…

Questions to Ask Kids

Kids want to be known, and not just by their parents (their #1 source of value).  They want their teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and neighbors to know their names, their interests, and their talents.  Granted, some kids seem to want to be left alone, but even the shy ones deeply desire to be known by others on some level.  It’s ingrained in all of us.  Nobody likes to called by the wrong name (sibling confusion is common).  Nobody enjoys being overlooked by the cool coach who loves to talk with the cool kids on the team.  And when it’s halfway through the year and the teacher still can’t remember your name, it hurts.

Some adults are natural-born kid-lovers.  They just know exactly how to talk to kids and make them laugh.  Somehow they get away with teasing them to no end, or the kids just flock to them because they feel safe and loved with them.  They make great youth leaders, mentors, and assistant coaches.  However, it’s not so easy for most adults to connect with kids, especially if they don’t think they have anything in common with them.

Fortunately, it’s not rocket surgery.  So, here are some easy conversation starters.  First and foremost, always call a kid by name every time you see him or her.  If you can’t remember his or her name, then find out (to avoid the same problem next time).

“Hey, Joel…

How’s it going today?  What’s up this morning / afternoon / evening?

What did you do this last weekend?  What was the best / worst part of it?

What are you doing this next weekend? Anything fun or unusual?

What are you doing for Christmas Break?  (Adapt to whatever break is upcoming)

What sport are you playing this season?  How’s that going?  What position do you play? What team?  Who is on that team that I might know?  Who’s your coach?  Where do you play?  Does your teams travel?  Is it your favorite sport?  Do you think you’ll play that in high school?

Continue reading “Questions to Ask Kids”

The Value of Pain

As I walk through the halls after school, there is a barrage of faces along my path.  Some I know well; some I don’t know at all.  Some are happy; some look very frustrated.  But all of these kids have stories inside.  Some of their stories are silly — full of joy from a life yet unblemished by heartache or tragedy.  And some have stories they keep to themselves because they are not the kind that they want to tell or others want to hear.  There are some broken kids out there, some of whom will mend well, and grow up to be good and strong.

As I walk briskly by them each day, I think about what stories I know.  Not enough, unfortunately.  But I know that boy; he’s has had serious struggles with perfectionism and an eating disorder in middle school and is now very healthy, athletic, and academically successful.  I know that girl, whose mother died of cancer when she was ten; her dad remarried a woman whose spouse also died of cancer.  Their blended family is an inspiration.  I also know the story of that girl, whose little brother has Down’s Syndrome and whose parents are on the brink of divorce; she’s serious, smart, and sometimes silly.  Actually, I just know bits and pieces of their stories, but it’s enough to see the depth in their eyes.  I know that they know pain.

Continue reading “The Value of Pain”

Fandango: How boys make friends

fandango  |fanˈda ng gō|  noun
1. a lively Spanish dance.
2. a foolish or useless act or thing.

In May 1993, six young men on the cusp of college graduation, decided to forgo the prudent way to spend the final two days before final exams, in favor of driving south all night toward Mexico in a small Toyota pickup, in pursuit of an adventure worthy of a lifelong memory.  Inspired by the little-known movie, Fandango, they piled three in the cab, three in the bed, with nothing packed but a desire to do something truly memorable and perhaps meaningful.  It was their final act before each going their own way in life to sundry cities, careers, and spouses.  It would be a celebration of the privileges of youth. And it would be repeated many times later.  Only later it would be a celebration of something more meaningful – deep friendship amidst life’s struggles.

Ten years later, those men, returned to retrieve what was left behind: a makeshift time capsule buried a stone’s throw from Mexico, full of meaningful tokens, such as pictures, prophecies, jewelry, notes to self, and a pact of friendship that they wrote on the spot.

And ever since 2003, they reunite for another summer fandango (each year someplace new).  Fandango began as a silly 36-hour road trip, and it’s become a rich tradition for these men. I am privileged to be a part of that group that grows in friendship each year.

We have talked about writing a book about it, but we can’t seem to agree on exactly how to do it well. I believe that the adventures and the lessons need more time to percolate, and in time, it will make a good read.  In the meantime, we’ve dabbled with some small pieces of writing.  Last year, Yancey wrote a piece about our 2009 Fandango, and this year Jeff has written a bit about the 2010 Fandango on his blog. I think it deserves attention in this space, since it deals with how men form strong friendships.

Boys, 10-14 especially, need to learn how to make friends well, in order to grow up to be effective men.  So if this interests you, follow this link to Jeff’s article about how men make lifelong friendships.  Here’s a taste: “For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans, and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.”

I hope it helps you better understand how to help boys make friends, for they are a very different social animal than girls.

In short, find ways to give boys opportunities (within basic safety limits) to get together to…

  • be physical  (wrestle, tackle, flip, chase, body surf…)
  • be silly  (tell jokes, tease, perform skits, practical jokes…)
  • take risks  (compete to win, jump off the high dive, ride a roller coaster…)
  • go on an adventurous journey with a mission (road trip with dad, bike ride to grocery store, hunting with grandpa…)
  • play with stuff (build forts, make a bonfire with dad, Nerf, foam swords…)

Boys need to share these kinds of experiences with other boys in order to make friends.  It rarely happens any other way.

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