These days there is a lot of pressure to “civilize” boys, to make them less strong and aggressive. Today we we want to talk about the uniqueness of raising boys in this culture, where there is confusion about masculinity and femininity, where there is confusion about what it is supposed to look like.
July 11, 2019
Don’t Miss the second part of the interview: What a Boy Needs
Bob: We’ve got a friend joining us, again, on FamilyLife Today, who is passionate about this subject. Mark Hancock is back with us. Mark, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Mark: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Bob: Mark gives leadership to Trail Life USA. Explain to our listeners, who aren’t familiar with Trail Life, what it is all about.
Mark: Trail Life USA is a Christ-centered, boy-focused alternative to Boy Scouts of America—that’s the shortest description. We’re unapologetically Christian. We focus on character, leadership, and outdoor adventure for boys.
Bob: So, it’s camping, and canoeing, and merit badges, and all of that?
Mark: Exactly; a robust awards program. Troops in over 800 churches across the country are going out and are doing camping, and hiking, and repelling, and all the boy stuff.
“I see boys becoming more passive. I see boys playing video games more and more. I see them being lost in a culture of not knowing: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my role in this place?'”
Bob: You’ve been doing Trail Life for—is it for a decade now?
Mark: No; just five years.
Bob: Wow! It’s growing year by year by year. I mean, every year, you’re seeing more and more boys get engaged with this.
Mark: We’ve got over 20,000 boys, and over 8,000 volunteers across the country, who are active in the program right now.
fact, you’ve got an event coming up here in a little bit. Tell listeners about that event. Tell them who the special speaker is going to be. [Laughter]
Mark: I would love to. It’s our National Summer Adventure and Family Convention. It’s being held in North Georgia. One of our special speakers is Dennis Rainey.
Bob: Well, if folks want to know more about that event and how they could be a part of it, they can go to our website: FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got a link there that gives them all the information.
Bob: This subject of boys developing a healthy sense of what it means to be men—this is a part of why you left what you were doing to get engaged with Trail Life; right?
“Boys are inspired by risk and competition.”
Mark: Yes; it really is. You know, when you look at our culture today, it says boyhood is some sort of social disease that needs to be eradicated. It’s got to be so confusing for boys—all the mixed messages that they are getting—the confusion around gender and the difficulties in just leading boys in, saying, “Hey, this is what a masculine man looks like.” We’ve had years of the fathers, on television, being shown as men of not great intelligence or really not good role models.
I think boys in our culture right now are faltering. We are seeing a lot of terrible things happen to boys—from suicide rates; they are twice as likely to be declared special education; three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. They are falling behind—they are behind girls in every single academic measurement. They are feeling the effects of a culture that’s unsure of who it is that men should be, and that’s affecting the next generation.
Ann: I think it is a confusing time. I love that women are being heard, and I think that’s great; but I also think that men don’t know what to do in that in some cases. I see boys becoming more passive. I see boys playing video games more and more. I see them being lost in a culture of not knowing: “Who am I?” and “What is my role in this place?” Why do you think that is today?
Mark: Well, here is what we know about boys—is boys are inspired by risk and competition. I mean, you have boys, you know that. Anybody who has ever sent two five- or six-year-old boys to go get a drink of water—you know, you’ve just fired a starting pistol—I mean, it’s a race. Boys are—they are inspired by risk and
competition. That’s what fires everything in them.
“The video game world was built for boys: They can compete there; they can get points; they can win; they can lose; they can take risks. There’s a clear scoreboard of how good they are. Boys love that environment. That’s where—we’re sort of driving them.”
When we’ve done things, like we’re doing in schools, by taking recess out and tag—we’ve declared that
tag is bad for boys’ self-esteem or kids’ self-esteem—so we don’t let them play those kinds of games. We’re taking the risk and competition out, so where do they go?
Well, the video game world was built for boys: They can compete there; they can get points; they can win; they can lose; they can take risks. There’s a clear scoreboard of how good they are. Boys love that environment. That’s where—we’re sort of driving them there, because we’re taking that risk and competition out of their real world. Then, when they get into that video game world, we criticize them for playing too many video games; so they can’t even win for winning. It’s a challenging thing to be in an environment, where you don’t quite know how to fit in.
We sit them in a schoolroom/in a classroom and tell them to: “Sit still,” “Be quiet,” and “Pay attention.” Well, I have two boys. You might as well just hit them with a stick, because it just isn’t going to happen—it’s a difficult environment. They start, at a very young age, feeling like: “I don’t fit in here. This isn’t quite my environment.” They are fidgeting in their chair; because they know, intuitively, they got to move to learn; but they are being disciplined because they are moving too much.
This is set up—this whole thing—where boys don’t quite know where to go. It seems like they have found
their place in video games, and we’re criticizing them for it.
“It’s absolutely true in our culture that it’s politically incorrect to say that boys and girls are different; but it also happens to be true—they just are. “
Bob: You know, Mark, as you are saying these things, there are some listeners, who are going: “Now, wait. Girls are inspired by risk and competition, too.” In fact, any statements that are made in our culture today that tend to differentiate—“Boys are like this…” and “Girls are like this…”—all of a sudden, we see a yellow flag waving. We’re not supposed to say things like that. We’re not supposed to make distinctions about differences in temperament or personality between boys and girls.
Is that really true? How much of that is a social construct versus the way God made us? In order to understand/in order to grow boys to be boys, we’ve got to face the fact that God made two different kinds of people when He made men and women. He made us as different creatures; right?
Mark: Well, it’s absolutely true in our culture that it’s politically incorrect to say that boys and girls are different; but it also happens to be true—they just are. You can’t argue with the biology or the psychology behind it. You know, boys have more rods than cones in their eyes, which means that they see things at a distance greater; and they are more sensitive to motion. That’s why you get, “Oh, squirrel,”—I mean, they see something. What it looks like to us is ADHD when it’s just that boy being a boy. So, there are psychological, biological—many differences—that are behind this fact that boys and girls are different.
Ann: Is school different now, compared to when we were all kids, for boys? You guys—you sat at a desk, and you wrote and did all that. What’s different in the classrooms?
Mark: Well, they recognized, at that time, that kids needed time outside. They needed that recess time, and they allowed for that. A lot of that is missing from our schools.
You know, in the ‘90s, there was a great emphasis on girls, because they had fallen behind in science and technology. What they didn’t look at, at the time, was that boys were falling behind in language skills and social skills. The system was kind of moved to help these girls get through science and technology, but we forgot the fact that the boys still needed some help.
The new classroom that we see—that’s so strict, and strict curriculum, and the following the guidelines,
and preparing for the tests—has really taken the flex out of there. It’s taken the energy away from those teachers, who really knew best, who were in front of the classroom and knew, “I’ve got to get this class outside for a little bit.”
They can’t do that anymore; so it’s putting the boys in a very, very strict environment that truly puts them at a disadvantage. They know, from the beginning, “I don’t fit here.”
“One of the things that is missing [is] physical activity that engages the brain. All fields of biology tell us, “You’ve got to get some blood moving to get the brain functioning.” We don’t; we sit children in chairs all day, and for—particularly, for boys — that’s a very difficult thing. “
Bob: There’s not calisthenics; there are not jumping jacks, like we used to do when we were in elementary school—some of the stuff that would burn off the excess testosterone in little boys and help them, then, go back to the classroom with some of that energy diffused. You’re saying that’s missing from our kids’ schooling today.
Mark: That’s one of the things that is missing—that physical activity that engages the brain. We have—in all fields of biology tells us, “Hey, you’ve got to get some blood moving to get the brain functioning.” We don’t; we sit them in chairs all day, and for—particularly, for boys, that’s a very difficult thing.
Dave: Why has it gone away? What’s the reasoning?
Mark: Well, part of it is preparing for tests, and squeezing in that schoolwork day down and taking out all this extra stuff, and trying to focus on things like science and technology—which is important stuff—but if you don’t put a boy in an environment, where he’s subject to great learning, he’s not going to do great learning.
Ann: So, when boys are fidgety, sitting in their seats, and the teacher is saying, “I think your son has ADHD,” do you think those diagnoses are possibly not true?
“We just have to face the fact that aggression/biological aggression is a part of the makeup of masculinity. If it’s improperly used, then that can be disastrous. If it’s channeled in the right directions, that’s productive and good for all of us. I think we live in a culture that says: ‘We’ve got to eliminate aggression of all kinds. We’ve got to drain it out of boys and get them to be non-aggressive.'”
Mark: There is a lot of research on what’s going on with those types of drugs. I’m not an expert on it; I can’t really speak to it, but I can tell you that things that—when you look at a bulleted list of ADHD symptoms—it’s things like
running and climbing when you shouldn’t be or not waiting to talk until it’s your turn—well, that’s me. [Laughter]
It’s amazing how quickly we’ll go to that because, of course, the teacher wants a controlled environment. We go very quickly to those diagnoses; we don’t realize, “That’s just a boy being a boy.” How early we start our education now—if kids aren’t developmentally ready to learn, we put them in an environment, where we’re expecting—we’re just expecting too much from them, and they are already behind. If they learn that they are behind in the beginning, they just accept: “This is the way that I am. I’m going to be behind.”
Bob: My mom loved telling the story about when I was—I think I was three or four. We lived next door to my best friend, “D”, who was a year behind me. “D” and I used to play together all the time. One day, my mom is looking out the back window, and she sees me just push “D” to the ground—just shove him down to the ground. She’s horrified; she comes running out. She’s like—“Bobby, why did you do that?!” I said: “Because I shot him. He’s dead, and he won’t fall down.” [Laughter] She loved that moment.
“In our effort to protect ourselves from mentally-unstable men, we’re going after boys. We’re declaring them of somehow being deficient.”
I don’t know that three-and four-year-old girls, playing with each other in the backyard, are pushing each other down or even shooting each other; but there was something going on inside of me—some of that testosterone buildup—even at age four.
We just have to face the fact that aggression/biological aggression is a part of the makeup of masculinity. If it’s improperly used, then that can be disastrous. If it’s channeled in the right directions, that’s productive and good for all of us. I think we live in a culture that says: “We’ve got to eliminate aggression of all kinds. We’ve got to drain it out of boys and get them to be non-aggressive.”
Mark: In our effort to protect ourselves from mentally-unstable men, we’re going after boys. We’re declaring them of somehow being deficient and “We’ve got to fix that behavior before they get older and do something,”—boys just know that.
Bob: The whole term, “toxic masculinity” is what we’re talking about here—it’s not masculinity that’s toxic—it’s that some men use their aggression and make it toxic. The problem’s not the masculinity—it’s the sin in the men, who are misusing their masculinity.
“It’s not masculinity that’s toxic—it’s that some men use their aggression and make it toxic. The problem’s not the masculinity—it’s the sin in the men, who are misusing their masculinity. “
Mark: And boys are paying a price.
Bob: Ann, talk to a mom, who has got boys at home; and she doesn’t get it. She is scared, and she feels like this is just wrong: “My kids are going to be juvenile delinquents when they grow up, and all of this aggression is a problem. I can’t take them out in public, because of how they act,” and “I don’t know what to do with my boys.” You would say, “Embrace what you’re seeing”?
Ann: I’ve had those exact discussions, where I have—especially, moms of young boys are petrified; because their boys are loud. They feel like they are aggressive, and they’re afraid of what this will lead to.
I usually say: “As a mom, with young boys, it is exhausting, physically. They are demanding. They are always on the go. They don’t sit down.” I’m not saying every boy is like this; but for our three boys—they were really active. We
spent a majority of our time, outside, playing. Dave was great; because I was fortunate to have [their] dad that was very involved, and not all moms have that.
Ann: What I realized, as a mom: “I need my boys to experience adventure and to embrace who they are.” If there is not a dad in the home, find a healthy male model, or a friend, or someone that could come and interact and be with our boys.
Bob: Mark, you’ve written a great 12-page booklet called “Let Boys Be Boys: Three Winning Strategies for Leaders of Boys.” Here are the three strategies:
#1: “Embrace the fact that there are differences between boys and girls”;
#2: “Risk and competition”—we’ve talked about that;
#3: “Physical movement.”
If a mom and a dad would say: “Our boys are different than our girls. They need risk and competition, and they need to be allowed to move,”—that’s going to make a huge difference in how those boys embrace the fact that they are boys; right?
Mark: It really does. In that situation—as you [Dave] talked about, that you had at your household—boys are asking the question: “Who’s in charge? Who’s with me?” and “What is our mission?” If we don’t answer those things for them, they’ll answer it in some way that looks like aggression, or apathy, or rebellion. In that situation at your household, they knew Mr. Wilson was in charge: “Get him out here so we can play.” They knew what the rules were; they knew what was going on. We need to provide those kinds of settings for boys, where we answer that question clearly.
“What I realized, as a mom is that I need my boys to experience adventure and to embrace who they are.”
Bob: You’re helping parents know how to answer those questions. You’ve put together a booklet called “Let Boys Be Boys,” which listeners can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and download it for free. Again, on the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, you can download Mark Hancock’s booklet, “Let Boys Be Boys.” Talk together, as a couple, about how you can encourage your sons to embrace what it means to be a young man. I think this is something that is important for teachers, and for youth leaders, and for all of us who are involved in the lives of young boys. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get Mark’s booklet, “Let Boys Be Boys.”
I should also mention there’s information on our website about the upcoming Trail Life USA National Summer Adventure and Family Convention that you’ve got going on. It actually starts July 21st and goes through the 27th. Dennis Rainey’s going to be speaking at the event, along with others. I think folks can still take part in this event if they want to. Go to the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and the information is available there about the National Summer Adventure and Family Convention called Rise Up, being sponsored by Trail Life USA. Of course, there is information about the Trail Life program and what you are doing with boys all around the country. All of it’s available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You know, the organization we’ve talked about today, Trail Life USA, is really a discipleship organization. We think of scouting or Trail Life as being about the outdoors, and about canoeing, and merit badges, and all the rest; but this is really about character formation, and understanding who you are and who God is, and what life is supposed to be all about.
I hope you can also join us back again tomorrow. Mark Hancock will be with us again. We’ll continue talking about how, as parents and grownups, we can help boys grow up to be young men. I hope you can tune in for that.