The Emasculation of Boyhood

It’s tough being a boy these days.

Just ask 6-year-old Hunter Yelton who was suspended from school for sexual harassment; i.e., he kissed a girl on her hand.

Just ask 10-year-old Johnny Jones who was suspended from school and threatened with expulsion for “firearms related issues;” i.e., he pretended he was shooting a bow and arrow.

Just ask 8-year-old Jordan Bennett who was suspended from school for using his finger to simulate a gun while playing cops and robbers with a friend.

Just ask James McGee, a first grader who was suspended from school—for talking about a toy nerf gun his family bought while on vacation.  The girl who reported him said that she felt her “health and safety” were being threatened!  (Where did a first grade girl come up with that?)

Just ask 7-year-old Alex Evans who was playing an imaginary game of save the world during recess at school.  He threw an imaginary grenade into a box, presumably to save the world, only to be suspended from school for an undisclosed period of time. “I was trying to save people and I just can’t believe I got dispended,” said Alex Evans, the little boy, who can’t even pronounce his punishment, let alone understand why it happened.

Just ask the boys in some New York schools, schools which have banned all use of balls and games of tag (this affects girls, too).

Think for a moment about what this is teaching our boys (and remember how young each of these boys is—life lessons have no nuance at this age):

       *That any show of physical affection or flirting or romance is sexual harassment.

        *That the God-created call to save the world is bad and must be punished. 

(Author Michael Thompson reminds us that when boys engage in imaginary fighting—shooting guns, arrows, lobbing grenades, etc.—that they are not acting out violence but rather a moral story about good vs evil—and their desire to conquer evil.  He further reminds us that just as most girls who pretend to be Disney Princesses don’t grow up to be Disney Princesses, most boys who engage in imaginary battles don’t grow up to be violent.  The recent shooting stories that horrify all of us have their roots not in make believe gun play as boys but in a variety of social, emotional, and psychological problems.)

        *That any kind of physical exertion is dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.

In essence, we are robbing boys of boyhood—of an important developmental stage where they discover what it means to be a boy and how to interact in the world.  Rather than training, modeling, coaching, and forging manhood, we punish it from an early age.  We are effectively emasculating our boys by emasculating boyhood.

The quest to create a generation of passive males rolls on…

Anyone want to change that storyline?


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About Tim Wright

I've been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 1984, currently serving as the founding pastor of Community of Grace in Peoria, AZ. My wife, Jan and I, were married in 1979. We raised two kids and currently have 3 grandkids. I love to ride my bike, travel, read British Mysteries, and Disneyland. I have written 6 books, including my newest--Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys From Church. My website:

  • Y. A. Warren

    The problem I saw as a the parent of a boy is that societies, including religious groups, teach boys to act out their feelings in very aggressive, non-productive ways, including irresponsible acts of aggression. Humans are given words for a reason.

    It is important for all children to be taught to use their brains over body. All children need to be taught to respect boundaries, physical and otherwise. All children need to be taught that true, everyday heroism, often seen as “boring” by those who haven’t been taught better can be rewarding to both male and female, especially when shared equally as committed equal partners. All children need to be taught how to channel all their energies into productive pursuits.

    “Christian” children need to be taught that true followers of Jesus as The Christ are not “soldiers of Christ.” Jesus had no soldiers.

    • RevTim

      While I agree with much of what you are saying–certainly we need to teach our boys to use their brains for good, noble purposes, the truth is that boys are walking volcanoes of testosterone, a hormone that expresses itself in movement, action, fighting (good or bad), and so on. To constantly tell boys that their testosterone charged play is wrong is telling them that they are fundamentally bad as boys.

      • Y. A. Warren

        There are many things to fight that are productive uses of the movement precipitated by testosterone. I am pleading, not for the diminishment of testosterone-fueled activity, but for the disciplining and channeling of it into productive capability. Anger, when harnessed and channeled productively, can move mountains.

        • RevTim


      • Unabashedly Christian

        I am a mother of a 6 year old boy so I have pretty good idea of what young boys are currently experiencing at the hands of the world. Though there will always be people who lack common sense and over react to childish behavior I can assure you there is no vast plot to tame boys or to convince them that testosterone makes them fundamentally bad. If anything the world is telling boys (and girls) to embrace their nature and indulge every urge and instinct. The actions you describe are not unique to testosterone or males. Hormones drive the behavior of women as well. Unfortunately for the most part mankind’s nature is at odds with God’s plan. By nature we are all walking volcanos of sin. As believers we are called to tame our selves. My job as a parent is to teach my son that following Jesus Christ entails producing fruit of the Spirit and that requires self control.

        John 15:8

        8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,
        showing yourselves to be my disciples.

        Galatians 5:22-23

        22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

        1 Peter 3:8

        8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love
        one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

        2 Peter 1:3-9

        3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

        5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    • ElrondPA

      Paul had no hesitation in using military imagery for living as a Christian. See, for instance, Ephesians 6:10-17 (“put on the full armor of God”); the equipment includes both defensive and offensive items.To be sure, our methods and purposes in “fighting” are very different; I like the imagery in Getty & Townend’s “O Church Arise” better than “Onward Christian Soldiers”: “An army bold
      whose battle cry is ‘Love!’”

      At the same time, boys and men need to learn appropriate times and ways to use their strength to protect the weak. Brains over body, while preferred when possible, is not always an effective solution.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Paul was a Roman centurion; his ways were not necessarily the ways of Jesus, but do seem to be the ways of the Roman church as envisioned and codified by Constantine. I am a Catholic (Universal) person who attempts to follow the lead of Jesus. I have officially defected from the church of Rome, as ruled by the absolute earthly monarchy of the Vatican, for this reason.

        • ElrondPA

          It’s not surprising that incorrect facts lead to an incorrect conclusion. While it is fashionable among liberal pseudo-Christians to pit Jesus against Paul, the attempt is ahistorical. Paul’s writings are actually earlier than the gospels, which were written precisely to tell the members of the churches Paul (mostly) had founded who it was they were worshiping based on Paul’s proclamation. Paul predates Constantine by some 250 years; it is anachronistic, to put it gently, to suggest that he’s carrying Constantine’s water, or that of the Roman Catholic Church.

          Paul was not a Roman centurion; he was a Roman citizen. Given the tension between Jews and Romans, enlisting would have been seen as almost treasonous, and certainly would not have given one favor with the Jewish authorities like Paul in his pre-Christian days clearly had. I’m not aware of a shred of evidence suggesting Paul was ever a soldier, aside from his references to other Christians who shared in his ministry as “fellow soldiers” (such as Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Archippus). But this is clearly a Christian, not military, reference: Note that contrary to your original comment, Paul explicitly calls Timothy a “soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). It might be noted that legionaries had to serve 25 years; it’s impossible to fit a term of service that long into Paul’s life. And if he was a former centurion, wouldn’t he have pulled rank when he was arrested in Jerusalem and then sent through the Roman judicial system?

          Paul, to be sure, dealt with different situations than Jesus, and discussed them in different ways. But your insinuation that you understand better than he did how to follow Jesus is both breathtakingly arrogant and in defiance of 2000 years of apostolic Christianity.

          • Y. A. Warren

            Thank you for your feedback. My point is that both Constantine and Paul made up a religion that Jesus had not. This is the Roman Catholic religion of today, not the simple life following the real Joyous, Jewish Jesus.

          • Tom B.

            If Paul made up a Religion and the later Gospels presumably did too, where are you getting this “Real” Jesus from????

  • Hung Hippo

    The examples you cite are not examples of the “emasculation” of boyhood. Rather, they are examples of wrongheaded, good intentions gone wiid, and of just plain stupidity. It is rather obvious why there is a fear of gun play in the schools these days. The headlines have created paranoia and panic in the administrators of our schools. It doesn’t make the overreaction to little kids playing soldier right, but the motivation is at least somewhat understandable in view of the highly publicized acts of wanton gun violence in schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia and elsewhere.
    I think you are attaching the wrong cause for the problem. it is not emasculation, it is rather fear, and paranoia generated by the graphic violence we’ve witnessed. We do need to control our reactions so that we don’t go overboard and suspend kids for playing cops and robbers.

  • Charles

    Having raised 5 sons and a daughter, in all honesty I enjoyed raising the boys more, but love and cherish my daughter equally. I grew up with six sisters so I would imagine some out there in the world would probably consider me effeminate, which I am not… Have been called a mans, man, many times by my peers. I believe the issues noted in the article are more societal VS individual. All of my children were raised in a very religious atmosphere, yet they were raised in the world trying, as always, to strike a median balance. Raising in the world, though included lessons on manners, respect, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness. They were all taught to love their neighbors and do good for them. They are all kind, generous and a credit to society. They all handled and were educated about fire arms from a very early age. All with caveats and rules. They know about them, they understand them, and they all have been trained in safety measures. The main issue, as I see it, is this malady our country has, called “political Correctness” which neuters our offspring and their offspring. It is an attempt politically to neuter the general population, control them. I played with toy guns, my children played with toy guns, my early ancestors, arriving from Germany 1726, another group arriving 1757, a father and son serving in Washington’s army of the revolution, played with toy guns and all of us used, use real guns. Education is everything, whether it be human relations, mathematics, English and guns. Yes, we boys are taught to save the world, save the down trodden, protect our women, protect our children, protect our religion, protect the American way of life, protect the innocent, and our selves last. I had people in the Revolution, people on both sides of the American Civil war, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, distant relatives in the gulf and a son who served in the army. As far as I am concerned, imaginary play with imaginary guns, made of pointing fingers, is just that, imaginary, yet at the same time it begins an education process, laying a possible corner stone for a responsible gun owning citizen. The American Indians used bows and arrows. Get a life! Boys need to be boys so let them be boys. Don’t penalize them for using their imagination, the imagination is a powerful resource for their personal future.

  • David Murrow

    The type of man we’re creating works very well in our relatively peaceful, prosperous times. But when evil rears its head will there be enough men to respond?