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 your 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!

Could the Church be the Best Hope for Our Boys?

These are tough days to be a boy!
·      Boys are falling behind girls in virtually every area of education from pre-school to college
·      The average reading skills of a 17 year old boy have declined in the last 20 years
·      17-18 of the top 20 growing professions favor the verbal and relational skills of women over men
·      Boys are growing up in a world without a compelling vision for noble manhood

These are tough days to be the Church:
·      Sex scandals in the Catholic Church
·      The numbers “nones,” those reporting no religious affiliation, are growing
·      Pastors of mega-churches caught in various scandals of their own making
·      Church and denominational splits over gay/lesbian issues
·      Church attendance in decline, especially among young adults
·      70-90% of all boys leaving the church in their teens and early 20’s…and most not returning.

So it may seem cavalier or reckless to suggest that the Christian Church could be the best hope for our boys.

Having spent over 30 years as a pastor, and having worked on the boy crisis for the last 9+ years, I believe the Church could be best positioned to help us solve the boy crisis for the following reasons:

·      The Church is rooted in a deep, rich, sacred view of men and women.  The Bible says that men and women are created in the Image of God.  Both male and female are good.  Both are equal.  But they are also different.  Take off our clothes and we see the difference.  Take the clothes off of our brains and we see the difference (at least 100 differences between the male and female brain have been identified so far).  The male is not better than the female, just different.  The female is not better than the male, just different.  Both are rooted in the sacred view that they are created, male and female, in the Image of God.  Based on that, the Church can rise above political correctness and stereotyping to draw out the best in our boys and our girls.  It can take the lead in reshaping the discussion, moving us from antagonism of one sex toward the other to a comprehensive, sacred appreciation of the equality and uniqueness of both.

·      The Founder of Christianity offers a vision for compelling manhood. Jesus offers boys a vision of what it looks like to be a man: Courageous, compassionate, a warrior against injustice, an advocate for the voiceless, a friend, passionate, committed, a man of his word, a man of action, gracious, humble, gentle, tough, forgiving, purposeful, commanding, strong, fully in tune with who he is, and ultimately a man willing to lay down his life not just for his friends, but for his enemies.  Imagine our boys growing up into that kind of manhood.

·      The Church understands the primal need of every boy for a blessing from his father. Part of what makes a boy a man is the blessing of his father—that moment when dad looks his son in the eyes and tells him he loves him and that he is proud of who his son is becoming.  Sadly, most boys never hear those words from dad.  For some it’s because dad isn’t around.  For others it’s because dad never received that blessing from his father and so has no idea how to give it to his son.  The ministry of Jesus began with the blessing from his Father.  Armed with his father’s love and approval, Jesus had the masculine power he needed to change the world.  The Church stands in a unique position to train men to give that blessing to their sons and to boys in general.

·      The Church has an army of men who can pour masculine energy into our boys.  In a time when our boys have few men investing in them, the Church is loaded with potential male mentors, who, with a bit of training, can begin to pour good masculine energy into our boys who desperately crave men in their lives.

That’s why the Church could be the best hope for our boys.  Why could be? Because the Church has a checkered record, at best, when it comes to raising boys into honorable men.  Too often the Church has raised boys to lord it over women rather than serve them.  Too often the Church has devalued women, treating them as inferior to men.  None of this is Biblical.  None of this is in line with Jesus and his agenda.  Yet sadly, it’s still happening today.

If the Church can get its act together and embrace its deep, sacred understanding of male and female, if the Church can let go of its past sins and truly follow Jesus, the one who is the vision for manhood, and more than that, the vision for humankind, then the Church can take the lead in changing the storyline of our boys.