The Short-Sighted Battle to Tame Boys

The Short-Sighted Battle to Tame Boys September 5, 2013

Is (Aslan)—quite safe?

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

During a men’s retreat a few weeks ago one of the older men complained: All women want to do is tame men!

There’s a loaded statement!

I offered a couple of responses:

On the one hand I said, “Can you blame them?  When you look at the way men and boys have been behaving, and the destruction they are leaving in their wake, why wouldn’t we want to tame them?  From Tiger Woods to Anthony Weiner to “dead beat dads” to the Boston Marathon Bombers to the boys who shot the Australian, if this is what boys and men do, then yes, we ought to tame them.”

On the other hand, while it seemed to be the gripe of an old man, I had to admit that he has a point.  I told him a story I wrote about in my book, Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys from Church: 

I was watching a cartoon with my granddaughter designed for young preschool children. Each episode teaches a lesson about getting along with others. The main character is a girl and she has three male animal friends.

In this episode one of the boys was expressing his testosterone. He was a bit rambunctious. He wanted to move…to play…to make noise. The other two boys were having nothing to do with it.  Each time he splashed them or ran a circle around them, they would whine and say, “He’s being rough!”

The girl character taught them a new song: Don’t be rough…be gentle. Each time the boy got rough (and he was never really rough, just a boy moving and playing) the other boys would whine, berate the “rough boy,” and sing the song, Don’t be rough…be gentle.

Seems fair enough.  But consider how a little boy might internalize that message: Could it be…that what he might hear is: Boy behavior is always bad!

Rather than helping the rambunctious boy harness his energy in appropriate ways, the lesson essentially said that boy behavior is always wrong. Never be rough. Always be gentle. Never once were the whining boys encouraged to stop their whining. Instead, their whining led to the rough boy being told to stop acting like a boy!

One blogger asked this question in her post on boys: What are you doing to raise kinder, gentler boys?

Listen to the way men are talked about and you hear again and again this desire to tame men, to make them kinder and gentler.  (Bromance, anyone?)

There’s nothing wrong with men being kinder and gentler.  But do we really want to tame our boys?  Do we really want to program out of them the dynamic, risk-taking, get it done, competitive, spirit God created in them?  Have we really thought through the unintended consequences of a generation of boys who grow into tamed men, stripped of their male energy?

Every strength is a weakness.  And the great strengths of males become great weaknesses when misused.  But God created men in his image as males for a reason: the world needs men willing to take risks, willing to sacrifice their lives, willing to dive in, get it done, and change the world.

Imagine, for example, a kinder, gentler Jesus.  There’d be no cleansing of the temple.  No battle against demons.  No in your face subversive teachings.  No decisive move to the cross.  No world changing vision.  Because tamed boys usually, not always, become passive men.

The better option, rather than taming our boys, is to build character in them; to give them the tools they need to harness their male spirit for good and noble purposes; to mentor them in courage, honor, goodness, compassion, forgiveness, grace, and yes, kindness and gentleness, in order to shape their dynamic, testosterone-charged spirit.  Giving boys a world-changing purpose, a vision to follow, a deep understanding of what it means to be a good man, will forge boys into honorable men who at times will be gentle and kind, and at other times ferocious and fierce in the cause of fighting for life.

Taming boys is not the answer.  Shaping boys into good men, men who follow the Lion Jesus, is.

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