After numerous, harrowing experiences babysitting little boys, a friend recalled saying to God, “You know Lord, I don’t think I want kids. And I especially don’t want boys!” But as you may know, God has a sense of humor, and this young lady not only had seven kids, but six of them were male!
Being a mother to six boys, my friend became well acquainted with messy rooms, muddy shoes, smelly clothes, wrestling tournaments in the house, stupid pranks, dumber stunts, holes in the drywall, fiery tempers, and stubborn wills. In the process of raising a pack of wild boys into mature and responsible men, this mom discovered that God had changed her heart considerably. Where once she could not imagine coping with a house full of adolescent men, she found that she loved being a mother to these boys, despite the challenges. Watching them develop, she had a front row seat to the unique challenges and obstacles that men face in today’s world. Over the years, my friend gained a deep appreciation for the work that goes into training a boy to be a man.
Maybe you’ve got your own wild son at home, and you can relate to the trials and tests that come with being a parent for that particular gender. Obviously, the goal of every mom and dad is to take that wild and willful boy and teach him to be a caring and courageous man. To get to that point, parents have to understand the qualities and characteristics that make boys special.
Boys Are Different
Boys are different than girls, and I’m not just talking about the physical plumbing. Each gender learns and grows differently. The best way to talk with a girl is eyeball-to-eyeball, using words, attitudes and tones to convey information. But boys learn best shoulder-to-shoulder. You have to come alongside them in order to instruct them. Boys process information in the course of living life. Ever been talking directly to your son, looking him right in the eye, and it’s clear the words are washing right over him? That’s because boys are wired that way. Sure, it’s important that our kids pay attention when we speak and learn how to communicate properly with others. But the best way to reach a boy’s mind is through action. Spend time engaged in an activity with your son, and you’ll discover you’re training and teaching him as you participate together. He’ll learn the value of taking care of property when you show him how to replace the oil in his car. Your son can learn to make his own decisions when you take him shopping for school clothes. If you feel like you’re banging up against a teen boy who is just not listening, switch your approach and teach him through doing.
Boys Are Independent
Here is the truth. Boys from an early age want to be independent. So they often challenge you on what you say, or question your actions and motives. It’s why dads and sons can engage in some heated discussions. Having two independent men butting heads in the same house can be difficult. But if your son is showing signs of independence, it may just be part of the natural growth process. As teenagers mature they begin to separate themselves from their parents as they test their capabilities in the outside world. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Look, it’s not always comfortable when your son starts pushing away from mom and dad. You might feel some grinding in your relationship with him, and that’s when the sparks start flying. But in reality, he is sharpening the beliefs, convictions, and attitudes you’ve worked hard to instill in him. As moms and dads, we want our teenagers to have some independence. We want them to learn how to think and make decisions for themselves. So when your son starts questioning or seems to be testing your authority, don’t take it personally. He’s flexing his muscles of independence. Don’t allow disrespect, but don’t dampen the healthy independence in your teen. Instead, give him more responsibility. Feed your boy’s desire for self-reliance. It will give him the needed experience to become a responsible adult.
Boys Are Macho
I’ve been around enough teen boys to know that a bravado attitude begins to enter the picture around twelve years old and sometimes doesn’t leave! When the voice starts to drop, that’s when the swagger starts. This need to prove their manliness, to display their tough guy attitude, is what leads boys to perform idiotic stunts, grow wispy tufts of hair on their chin, and pursue girls with reckless abandon.
Dealing with an arrogant teen is frustrating. Parents often feel the urge to take them down a notch or two. But try and look past your son’s macho behavior and respond to his heart. Dig deep and find that inner softie in your son. Once you get past the tough guy act and connect with your son’s heart, you’ll have a devoted friend for life.
Also, give your macho teen a model of strength under control. Point them to Jesus, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage” (Philippians 2:6). Jesus could have easily walked around, thumping His chest, and using His power and might to beat people into submission. But instead, Jesus showed His great strength by being a servant. And as He did so, people followed Him. Dads, be an example of humility and quiet courage your sons can follow. Show your boys that inner confidence and strength of character means more than how much you can bench press, or how many girlfriends you have. You don’t have to be macho to be manly.
Boys Are Relational
What would make a teenage boy ditch school to hang out with a cute girl? Hormones would be one answer, for sure. But really it’s because teen boys are relational creatures. Adolescence is the time when they are yearning for connections outside the home. That’s why they spend so much time on Facebook, or texting, or hanging out with friends and girlfriends. Boys crave relationships where they are valued, respected, and needed. It’s a natural and important part of becoming a man. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife.” (Genesis 2:24) Boys want to form bonds outside the parental borders. That’s why they’ll walk backwards in the snow for sixty miles to hang out with their friends, or stand outside a girl’s window with love songs blaring on the stereo. Boys are on the hunt for relationships. This means parents need to be careful that a teenage boy is building relationships appropriately and with the right people. Also, the predilection to pursue these connections also means boys get stuck emotionally very easily. Teenagers longing for relationships may get frustrated and turn to drugs or pornography and get caught in a damaging cycle that is not easily broken.
If you’re a single mom struggling to play the part of both parents, encourage your son not only to maintain healthy relationships with peers, but more importantly, to build friendships with a group of godly men. It’s within a group of mature and responsible guys that your son will be initiated into manhood and find mentors that can help him make the transition into adult life.
Boys Are Fighters
Why is every stick in the hands of a boy magically transformed into a sword? Why do boys crave the competition of sports, the challenges of video games? It’s because boys are fighters. It’s why they grow up to be boxers, soldiers, football players, firemen, or policemen. In his book, Wild at Heart, author John Elridge writes, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” This inner warrior in your son is a good thing. A healthy, fighting spirit is what gives men perseverance, strength of will, and the ability to tackle life’s obstacles in their path.
But like all good qualities, being a fighter can get a boy in trouble. And I’m not talking about getting in skirmishes at school or wrestling with siblings. Many parents are struggling to understand why their sons are addicted to violent video games. Left to their own devices, some teenage boys will spend hours and hours in front of a screen, lost in a world of adventure. For them, it might be an outlet for that daring spirit, the need to do battle and feel accomplished. So rather than ban your son from video games, channel that desire into more worthy hobbies. Get him a membership to a rock-climbing gym. Assign a section of the garage for him to paint or make pottery. Sign him up for karate classes. Buy a second-hand guitar, and take him out to dinner when he finally plays “Smoke on the Water.” Boys go to battle to accomplish something. So fuel that good desire for ambition by giving them opportunities to succeed at projects, quests, and activities that are worthwhile.
Boys are different than girls. Parents must develop an entirely new skill set to get their teenage boys to the next phase of adulthood. Though training a boy into a man is challenging, it’s also rewarding. This world needs more men who are strong and humble, who lead and serve, who stand for what’s right and fight against what’s wrong. Mom and dad; you have the awesome privilege of training and teaching the next generation of men. And when you understand how boys are built, you can better raise a godly man.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.