Calling Out the Super Hero in our Boys

Faster than a speeding bullet. More fidgety than a rabbit with an itch. Able to run circles around mom and dad for hours on end. Look, in your living room...in your classroom...in your church…it’s a boy!  

Where does all that energy come from? In a word: Testosterone. Testosterone in an energy hormone. An action hormone. A get something done hormone. A risk-taking hormone.

Michael Gurian, in his book, The Wonder of Boys, offers these insights into testosterone:

  • Because of their dominance by the hormone testosterone, aggression and physical risk-taking are programmed into boys. It’s important to distinguish between “aggression” and “violence.” As psychologist Aaron Kipnis has put it, “Violence is not hard-wired into boys. Violence is taught. Aggression is hard-wired.”  (p. 6)
  • A little boy (on average) will turn toys into guns or swords more frequently than girls will…He will tend less toward empathic first responses to other’s pain and more toward provocative first-responses. He will generally be more competitive than his sister and especially in the few activities in which he perceives the potential to dominate over or be superior in…He will seek rough-and-tumble play… (pp. 7-8)
  • When a boy hits puberty, the influence of testosterone on his body and brain will increase manifold. His testosterone level itself will increase in quantities ten to twenty times more than girls. (p. 10)

Testosterone is the energy that causes boys to fidget when they sit too long, that demands movement to learn and to 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. And they often leave in their wake frazzled moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers.

That, of course, begs the question: How in the world do we help our boys harness that energy productively?

It begins by giving our sons a vision for their lives.

Testosterone offers us and our boys a powerful insight into the overarching purpose for the boys in your life: To save the world.

Testosterone is the fuel of superheroes. Testosterone is the energy that motivates a boy, when forged in healthy ways, to positively shape life around him. 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.

Managing the force of nature that is the boy in your life can be a daunting task. But it is a noble, sacred call—the opportunity to raise a boy who can change the world.

Here are some things you can do to begin to forge your son into a world-changer:

  • Let him be a boy. If the boy in your life is a testosterone tornado, give him space to exercise his super hero powers. Let him fly. Let him explore. Let him breathe. Let him move. Let him build.
  • Give him boundaries. Boys need strong men and women to harness the energy of boys. While you want to give a boy his head (to use a horse training metaphor) you also need to let him know that you are the boss and that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use his energy. Boys thrive in hierarchies. As dad and mom, you are at the top. Teachers in the classroom or youth leaders are at the top as well when the boys are with you. Loving, compassionate, safe boundaries will teach a boy how to use his powers for good.
  • Hold up models to emulate. Teach boys about heroic men, men of different temperaments, personalities, race, and religion, to give them a vision of what’s possible. Washington, Lincoln, Patton, MLK Jr., Fredrick Douglass, Jesus, Gandhi, Grandpa, Dad, and so on give our boys insights into men who used their energy for good. To say to a boy—This is the line of men you come from—energizes him with a noble vision for his life.
  • Affirm his super hero actions. Whenever your boy does something honorable, responsible, good, or sacrificial, pat him on the back in a variety of ways. Keep affirming in him his power to do great things and he will live into his purpose for saving the world as a man, a dad, a husband, a brother, a co-worker, a boss, and a citizen.

Imagine a world filled with boys living out their purpose of changing the world!

Does Advocating for Boys Mean Dissing Girls? A Final Rant

For the last two posts I have been responding to a column written in response to a column I wrote advocating for boys.  I usually don’t spend so much time obsessing over these kinds of things…but since so much of her argument is the current storyline in our culture, used to downplay the boy crisis, I couldn’t let this one go.  

I am going to reprint my column here and then wind it up with a few of the comments the author made in response…and add in another perspective as well.  Then it will be off my chest and I can go back to being the balanced, even-keeled boy advocate I want to be!
Here’s my column (I had a max of 650 words allowed)

How About Equality for Our Boys?
Equal Pay Day.  Women’s Equality Day.  A Day Without Women.  Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.  Title IX.  The White House Council on Women and Girls.

All good and noble expressions of our desire to fight for equality for our daughters and women.  As the father of a daughter and the grandfather of two granddaughters, I fully applaud these efforts.  My daughter has a law degree because of the hard work many did to fight for her equality.  My granddaughters are growing up in a world of unprecedented opportunity because women and men have worked hard—and continue to work hard—for their equality. 
But what about our boys?   

·      Boys have fallen significantly behind girls in every area of education from Pre-school through Graduate school

·      85% of stimulant-addressing medications (like Ritalin) prescribed in the world are prescribed to US boys

·      America has the highest rates of male incarceration per capita of any country in the world.  Among males 17 or younger, the boy-to-girl ratio in correctional institutions is 9:1.  Among 18-21 year olds, the ratio grows to 14:1

·      Boys are twice as likely as girls to be victims of violence in America, but in certain age groups the ratio is 6:1

·      Boys receive two-thirds of the Ds and Fs in our schools but less than 40 percent of the As 
·      Boys are twice as likely as girls to be labeled as “emotionally disturbed” and twice as likely to be diagnosed with a behavioral or leaning disorder

·      Boys are four times as likely as girls to be suspended or expelled from early childhood and K-12 learning environments

·      Over the last 20 years the reading skills of 17 year old boys have steadily declined

In 2015 the World Health Organization published a major study of mens’ and boys’ health worldwide.  In it the study’s authors—from Europe, the U.S., and Asia—provided statistics and analysis from all continents, including the most comprehensive health study worldwide to date, the Global Burden of Disease Study led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The study concludes: In most of the world, girls and women are doing better than boys and men in both physical and mental health indicators…In most parts of the world, health outcomes among boys and men continue to substantially worse than among girls and women.  Yet this gender-based disparity in health has received little national, regional, or global acknowledgement or attention from health polity-makers or health-care providers.

It seems as if, whenever the subject of our boys is raised, it’s rebuffed by charges of male privilege and patriarchy.

Do we really want to lose our boys?  Is our world better off with boys growing into underachieving, undereducated men, underappreciated men?  Imagine the negative societal impact if we continue to leave our boys behind!

For equality to work, it must be equality for all—female and male.  For the last 60+ years our nation has collectively and passionately taken up the cause of equality for our daughters.  In the 1960’s, for example, the Federal Government invested $100 million into getting our girls caught up in school.  Girls caught up in 1982 and have soared past our boys ever since.  But so far, with a growing decades-old boy crisis, not one dime has been invested into getting our boys back into the education game.

Who will fight for our boys?

Some of her reactions:

In a May 6 “My Turn,” Tim Wright asks why girls are getting so much attention and who is fighting for our boys?

I don’t see anywhere where I asked why girls are getting so much attention.  But I’ll let you decide.

He dismissively lists public policies that have attempted to level the playing field for women (who have been denied equal access to basic human rights for thousands of years).  Equal pay.  Title IX.  What will they ask for next?

I don’t see anywhere where I dismissed these important initiatives on behalf of our girls nor where I asked, What will they ask for next? or implied it.  But I’ll let you decide.

He says the fight for gender equality is good, but now we have gone too far and boys are suffering.

I don’t think I said that.  I certainly don’t believe that.  But I’ll let you decide.

If we’re going to have important conversations about our boys and girls we need to actually read/hear what people are saying.
 
Here’s another perspective from a woman who wrote to me:

It was with tears that I read your column in the Arizona Republic May 6th.  The subject of equality for boys has been heavy on my heart for some time, and I have been praying for someone with authority to start a campaign to make the public aware of how boys and men have been marginalized throughout the past few decades.

(I liked her letter better!  😏)

Final word: We need to continue to fight for our daughters and thankfully we have lots of energy on that issue nationwide.  What I, along with many boy advocates, am pleading for is equal energy around our boys without pitting one against the other.  Both are created in the image of God.  Both should be treated equally.  Let’s get at it and change the storyline for both our boys and girls!

Are Boys Falling Behind Girls in School Because School is Girly? A Rant--Part 2

Per may last post, I’m venting/ranting about a response to a column I wrote advocating for boys.  For context, the author of the response is a mother of three daughters, who essentially turned my advocacy for boys into some sort of patriarchal plan to diss girls.
Stockbyte

Here’s what she wrote in response to my statement (which I backed up with statistics) that boys are falling behind girls in school:

Girls do seem to be catching up in math and science.  Girls tend to underestimate their abilities in these subjects and boys tend to overstate them.

The result is that girls who end up in STEM classes are the best and the brightest and boys are taking classes above their abilities.  This increases test schools for girls and decreases them for boys, making boys appear to be falling behind.

Appear to be falling behind?  Huh?  Girls are the best and the brightest and boys are in over their heads in STEM?  And this is an argument against what I’m saying?

English and language are the opposite situation.  Boys tend to say they hate these subjects.  They don’t see them as appropriately “masculine,” so they underperform.  Girls often love them because they get to discuss thoughts and interpretations, which is encouraged, and test scores reflect this.

Again, huh?  This is an argument against what I said?  She’s proving my point trying to disprove my point.  A girl’s brain is wired to be far more proficient in verbal/emotive skills.  If English and Language classes skew to a girl brain—encouraging the discussion of thoughts and interpretations—rather than an action-oriented boy brain, is it any wonder boys think these classes are girly?  Shouldn’t we change the system rather than try to reprogram the wiring of a boy’s brain (by the way, there are over 100 differences between a boy's brain and a girl's brain.)?

In the U.S., boys generally regard academic disengagement as a sign of masculinity.  Showing little care and effort toward schoolwork is a badge of honor.  Academic engagement is considered questionable, “feminine,” and frowned up by their male peers.

This wasn’t always so.  Up until 1982 boys were ahead of girls in education.  But that changed in 1982 when girls soared past boys and never looked back.  What happened?  Why did boys begin to believe that school was for girls?  Because, for all good reasons, we decided to teach more to verbal/emotive girls to get them caught up.  But in the process we forgot that boys learn differently than do girls and we started losing our boys. 

So boys have fallen behind.

Her conclusion:

The problem with academic differences is our rigid definition of what is means to be a “real man.”  (Again…huh?  How about some statistics or studies to back this up?  There are none!)  Blaming girls for boys’ problems is unfair and unproductive.  (No one is blaming girls for this.  We’re saying that the good work we’ve done for our girls has had some unintended consequences for our boys that we can easily address!)  This is not a zero sum game: Girls are gaining and boys are losing.  This means more resources, not punishing girls.  (No one has suggested punishing girls.  And I agree, this is not a zero sum game.  So why do we keep playing at it by constantly countering the boy crisis with these unhelpful broad generalizations and stereotypes?)

Friends, let’s stick to the studies, the facts, brain-science research, and the statistics.  The system—not our girls—is letting our boys down on several levels.  Our systems and emphases are the cause of the boy crisis, not girls.

But make no mistake, there is a boy crisis.  And no amount of trying to turn this back on boys or suggesting that to fight for boys is to fight against girls will change that fact.  Nor will it help our girls, many of whom will marry or work with these undereducated, underskilled men.

I’ve never heard or read any boy advocate even come close to suggesting that we should blame girls for the boy crisis or stop our battle on their behalf.

But I have heard and read over and over again girl advocates, claiming to be passionate about equality for all, continually denigrate boys and the boy crisis with stereotypical generalizations rather than facts.

One more rant to come…Then I’ll try to get back to my warm, fuzzy self!