A friend sent me an email with the header: Why Boys Need Parents. The email consisted of several pictures of boys about to do something reckless and goofy. For example, picture:
- A young boy standing on a skateboard at the top of a steep hill in San Francisco about six blocks long, ending at a pier jutting into the ocean
- A young boy sticking a knife into an electrical outlet
- A boy with a huge frog in his mouth
And the question is, Why do boys do that?
In a word: Testosterone. Testosterone in an energy hormone. An action hormone. A get something done hormone. A risk-taking hormone.
Testosterone is the energy that causes boys to fidget when they sit too long, that demands movement to learn and bond, and that enables boys to laser focus on a particular item but makes it difficult for them to multi-task. Imagine experiencing a surge of that volcanic energy 7 plus times a day! That’s the story of boys as they begin to move into puberty.
On a deeper level, testosterone is the hormone that gives some insights into the purpose of boys.
Testosterone is the fuel of superheroes. Testosterone is the energy that motivates a boy, when forged in healthy ways, to save the world. Every boy begins life wanting to be a superhero…to fight the bad guys, to save the world. To make the world a better place. When harnessed for good and noble purposes, testosterone is the power that energizes our boys for greatness.
It seems, however, that our boys are increasingly growing up in a kryptonite world, a world that devalues, demeans, dismisses or misunderstands the unique power of testosterone, robbing them of their purpose and superhero power.
An example: I was watching a cartoon with my granddaughter designed for young preschool children. Each episode teaches a lesson about getting along with others. The main character is a girl and she has three male animal friends.
In this episode one of the boys was expressing his testosterone. He was a bit rambunctious. He wanted to move…to play…to make noise. The other two boys were having nothing to do with it. Each time he splashed them or ran a circle around them, they would whine and say, “He’s being rough!”
The girl character taught them a new song: Don’t be rough…be gentle. Each time the boy got rough (and he was never really rough, just a boy moving and playing) the other boys would whine, berate the “rough boy,” and sing the song, Don’t be rough…be gentle.
Seems fair enough. But consider how a little boy might internalize that message: Could it be…that what might hear is: Boy behavior is always bad!
Rather than helping the rambunctious boy harness his energy in appropriate ways, the lesson essentially said that boy behavior is always wrong. Never be rough. Always be gentle. Never once were the whining boys encouraged to stop their whining. Instead, their whining led to the rough boy being told to stop acting like a boy!
I think boys subtly and not so subtly hear that message over and over again as they grow and those messages act like kryptonite, robbing them of their power and purpose.
Could it be…that every time boys are made to sit quietly for extended periods of time or reprimanded for getting fidgety after longs periods of sitting, they hear: boy behavior is bad? After all, girls, who produce more calming hormones and chemicals than boys, are often rewarded for their ability to sit quietly and listen. Education and that favors sitting, listening, talking, relating, and emoting at the expense of action, building things, and moving subtly tells boys that there is something wrong with them.
Could it be…that the fact that 85% of all stimulant addressing drugs prescribed in the entire world are prescribed to U.S. boys suggests to boys that there is something wrong with them?
Could it be…that the increasing blurring of the lines between equality and “sameness” subtly sets culture up to say that testosterone-charged boys are a problem to be solved?
Linda Lewis Griffith, a marriage and family therapist published an article focused on boys and violence, with a "teaser" paragraph stating the following: Most rough-and-tumble behavior is normal, but parents should keep an eye on out-of-hand aggression.
She writes: Little boys seem pre-programmed to behave in rough-and-tumble ways. A five-year-old dreams of being a superhero and killing bad guys with his sword. A preschooler pretends his carrot stick is a gun and points it at the child sitting next to him at snack time. Experts generally agree these acts are the result of increased levels of testosterone. Yes, they cause parents (especially moms) to cringe. But they seldom indicate an underlying mental disorder. In fact, they may be perfectly normal...
However, boys may be more sensitive than their sisters to the impact of witnessing violence...
She then offers some great advice for molding and shaping the power of testosterone in boys:
- Understand that rough-and-tumble play is appropriate for boys.
- Encourage lots of outdoor time.
- Provide appropriate outlets for physical aggression.
- Seek male role models.
- Take strong stands against violence.
- Get professional help if you're concerned.
The best way to forge boys into good men is not to drain them of their energy but to mold and shape that energy, teaching boys how to harness their super power for good and noble purposes.