1. Cultivate Relationships
Boys need dads who remember the world of backyard matchbox cars. Who can recall the time when dirt roads were carved from mulch beds, rocks became doughnut shops, cars drove to the tops of trees, and perils awaited in the grass jungles.
Boys need men who elbow crawl through furniture forts and wage nerf ambushes from across the room. Men who build rail worlds for Thomas the Train, assemble legos on the living room floor, share hot dogs and cracker jacks at a baseball game, throw a football in the front yard, bait a hook on the bank of a lake, and who pause to roast one last s’more before crawling into a tent and camping under the stars. Raising godly boys takes men who understand the language of boyhood and dare to enter a boy's world.
A boy needs a man who is enthralled by his exuberance, recognizes his abilities, understands his passions, and nurtures his strengths. When a man takes time out of his schedule to engage with his son, communicate affection, and speak encouragement, he creates a golden opportunity to speak truth and meaning into his life.
2. Grow Independence and Responsibility
From a young age, most boys want to be just like dad. They want to climb in his strong arms, be tossed high into the air, wrestle on the floor, play games in his lap, help with projects around the house, and be right in the middle of anything dad is doing. As they grow older, the relationship needs to grow. A boy increasingly wants to do things by himself. He longs to prove himself and enter the world of manhood.
A boy’s longing for independence and responsibility is a necessary God-given desire to enable him to develop into a mature man of character. While they are young, involve them in household projects, trips to the store, and together take on responsibility for daily chores. As they grow in ability, they need parents who recognize their maturity, who provide proper channels of risk and challenge, and who empower them to rise to the occasion.
Boys thrive when provided with proper challenge, adventure, accomplishment, accolade, and advancement. Intentionally increasing responsibility and independence as sons mature is essential. If challenge and encouragement are not sufficient and developmentally appropriate, instead of becoming confident, resilient leaders of character, boys fall into one of the twin pitfalls of adolescence: anger or apathy.
3. Build Self-discipline
To grow in confidence and character a boy needs a caring adult who can convey wisdom, provide a solid sense of boundaries, and impart a vision of who he can be. “Boys take great comfort in firm, fair, and consistent guidelines, and anticipated reward” (Hancock, 2017). When provided in a healthy manner, these essential elements provide a secure foundation for healthy relationships and building character. When a boy is provided with structure and boundaries he is able to build muscles of self-discipline he cannot develop on his own.
On his journey to manhood, a boy must test limits and discover firm boundaries. Healthy relationships and clear, consistent expectations provide the necessary support for parents to raise expectations. As boys grow in self-discipline, confidence, and character, they become prepared for greater independence and responsibility.
The structure built into the Trail Life USA program is designed with these truths in mind. Boys are intentionally engaged by men in adventurous uniquely masculine challenge – accomplishments are recognized before their peers, parents, and community – then boys strategically advance to greater challenge and responsibility producing growing, self-confident, godly masculine leaders.