Much has been written lately about the decline of men, or more precisely, that boys are delaying the all-important process of becoming men. As you wade through the literature, you find plenty of factors combining to make their assault on our sons. But rather than focus on the challenges, let’s rally around some solutions.
Boys often grow through the process of hands-on-learning. Through experiencing. So check out this list of ten experiences on how boys can move towards manhood:
• Disassemble an Engine – Many lessons come from this fun, shoulder-to-shoulder experience. Boys learn the value of tools, of two-way ratchets and the smell of oil. They get their hands dirty. But it goes beyond that to conceptualizing how an engine works and learning the difference between a piston and a valve. And notice that it doesn’t take a mechanic to rip it apart. Once the project is finished and all the parts are in a box, the boy can learn the value of recycling. If taken to a local scrap yard, his view of the world will grow a bit and the money spitting out of the machine (for his contribution of scrap) becomes the icing on the cake.
• Raise Something & Keep it Alive – A friend of mine has several young children who’ve gone into business raising chickens and selling eggs. The day-to-day responsibilities of caring for and feeding, the responsibilities and enjoyment of handling money, and the interaction with customers have become an incredible education.
• Earning by Reading – Most of us have some type of chore list and allowance for our sons. If we begin early enough, our boys can grow in their ability and enjoyment of reading. We paid our son $1 for every book he read (commensurate in size for how young he was at the time).
• Hunting, Skinning & Processing – I don’t hunt. But a friend of mine does. So when my son began asking questions, I got the two of them together. Not only did Matt get a deer in his first season, but the seasoned mentor made him experience every phase of the game. From scoping out a blind, to wind direction and most importantly, gutting a deer. ‘Yep, reach your arms all the way in and pull out all the stuff.’ How do you think my son viewed the meat department in the grocery store the next week?
• Sports League – Numerous lessons abound in the world of sports. Life is unfair, bad calls, coaches who favor certain players, lucky bounces. Perhaps most important for a young boy is the opportunity to get knocked down and discover that he can get back up. Leagues range from high-end competitive schools to social, pick up games. At our church, two boys started a league 13 years ago after getting cut from the local school team. Extraordinary? Not at the time. But the league now has over 300 boys playing, reffing and speaking at halftime.
• Work Camp or Mission Trip – Multiple opportunities exist for connecting with a small group of students to serve. From local food banks to extended trips, boys need to get beyond themselves and see the real world. A curious thing happens when the Xbox gets left behind. It gets left behind.
• Restoration Project – The book, ‘Dallas & the Spitfire’ (Bethany House), chronicles a mentoring relationship that occurred while restoring a car, it’s humor captured in the fact that the mentor didn’t particularly know much about cars at the beginning. A longer, more detailed project like this can be the perfect antidote for apathy and technology overdose. And the shoulder-to-shoulder payoff is incredible.
• Join a Small Group – ‘Into-It’ groups or all-guy groups are fantastic experiences for adolescent boys. What is he ‘into?’ Find other like-minded guys and start something. Examples could include: soccer, readers-writers, car repair, gun care, business and micro loans. In an increasingly non-relational world, where technology is mediating relationships, small groups offer gut-level relating.
• Study Abroad – Admittedly, this is a large endeavor but we’re discovering a need for boys to get out of this culture for a several month experience. Popular at the college level, it won’t be long until it trickles down to the high school scene. Mission experiences are fantastic opportunities to blow up a small mind and a small vision.
• Ceremonies – This is becoming increasingly popular in an attempt to restore ‘rites of passage.’ It usually involves gathering some men (those close to your son) and having a shared experience signifying that the boy has now moved into a new stage. Think of the stages of a boy’s life: 4-8 years of age, 9-12, 13-15, 16-18. Catastrophic change happens biologically and socially. And we can take advantage of celebrating movement. Often commemorated by a sword or some manly object, the experience and the gift mark a new beginning, calling something from the boy. A great book (shameful plug as I co-authored it) hit the market called ManMade: Reclaiming the Passage from Boy to Man. Lots of stuff about ‘rites of passage’ in it.