Let’s Stop Faulting Boys and Start Channeling Their Energy

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 Boys can learn, and we should teach, that it is not reckless abandon that makes a man but steady self-control.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”  Matthew 5:5

Several months ago I attended a community training entitled “Hear our Cry: Boys in Crisis”. It was hosted by a local mental health committee and was attended by social workers, therapists, pastors, law enforcement, and educators.  Anyone and everyone who works with boys were in that room. We were all there to learn more about how to help the boys that we encounter in our daily work that seem lost, hurt, and destined to fall through the cracks. Towards the beginning of the day the speaker asked us to yell out adjectives that come to mind when we think of boys. It started slowly, but things warmed up pretty quickly. People yelled out: aggressive, dirty, hyper, smelly, fidgety…  on and on it went with adjectives shared in a tone that implied “bad”.

Being a father of three boys, who at times truly are all of the things mentioned above, my heart started to boil. Stepping out of my normally quiet self for a bit I yelled out, “AWESOME”. I was angry with this group of people. The very people that were supposed to offer help and support to struggling boys seemed to have a predetermined view of them as bad. I was fearful that my son who would start school in the coming months would enter a system that views him as a trouble maker even before he walks through the door.

I have the wonderful privilege of getting paid to play games with elementary school kids on a regular basis. I lead groups in several local elementary schools for kids who are struggling with behavior in class. We use fun and engaging games to teach them impulse control, following directions, self-regulation, teamwork, and affect expression. I am currently involved in three groups that consist of 21 kids. Of these 21 kids one of them is a girl. I am not sure why this was a surprise to me. The majority of kids in special education are boys; according to the CDC’s website 11.2% of boys ages 3-17 are diagnosed with ADHD, yet only 5.5% of girls in the age group are given the diagnosis.

The majority of kids in special education are boys; according to the CDC’s website 11.2% of boys ages 3-17 are diagnosed with ADHD, yet only 5.5% of girls in the age group are given the diagnosis.

What is it with boys?  Is there really a boy crisis going on? Are boys bad? Most importantly, what can be done to help our boys grow up to be men? It is my opinion that the aggressive, dirty, hyper, smelly, and fidgety characteristics sometimes viewed, as weaknesses in boys should be harnessed as strengths. In her book, “Boys Should be Boys” Meg Meeker offers a unique definition of meekness. The dictionary definition of meekness is “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed upon.” Meg Meeker defines meekness as “constrained power”. She uses the example of a horse. The horse is a very very powerful, energy filled animal. If the horse is left unharnessed however that power and energy cannot be used for good.  When the horse is harnessed his power and energy can be used for many positive things. I really like this definition of meekness. It reminds me of the meekness of Christ. Jesus, the all-powerful God, chose to die on the cross, the powerless death meant for criminals.

So, as parents, we strive to harness the aggression, high energy, love of dirt, and constant movement of our boys. If we can channel these traits into constructive activities, boys will learn to view them as positive parts of who they are.  They will learn to control their aggression, energy, and movements. They will see that it is not reckless abandon that makes a man but steady self-control.

—photo by EaglebrookSchool/Flickr

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To read more from Mark Vander Ley

I Hope My Sons Don’t Go To High School…

No Kicking In The Face

Parenting In Community

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About Mark Vander Ley

Mark Vander Ley is a father of three energetic boys and one baby girl. He is passionate about his wife, his kids, writing and serving others. All of these passions come together in his work at Parenting Boys Raising Men, a blog he started to be a resource and encouragement for parents. Mark has worked as a camp counselor, youth pastor, and therapist. He is currently the school counselor at a therapeutic day school. Follow him on twitter @Markvanderley

Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you.

  2. Alastair says:

    Great piece, Mark.

  3. If you were in that room, what would you yell?
    CURIOUS!

  4. Nicely put Mark and without once invoking the seemingly ubiquitous buzzing of privilege, patriarchy and entitlements!

    It seems possible if you are a problem solver rather than a problem marketer -:)

  5. Gint_Aras says:

    My son and I garden and play in the dirt all the time. What’s wrong? My kids love to get dirty. So do I.

    • Mark vanderley says:

      Gint,

      I hope the intent of my message came across clearly. My boys also love to be dirty, and I think that is a very positive thing for them. I think we should celebrate the dirtiness, aggressiveness, and energy of boys. I also think however that boys should be MEEK as defined in the article. Very powerful yet restrained. I would love to hear more of your thoughts. Thanks for reading and commenting

  6. wellokaythen says:

    Meanwhile, please accept the millions of boys like I was who are NOT high-energy, not physically restless, not outgoing, not into wrestling and athletic competition, and not into screaming. There are actually some boys largely content with reading books, playing by themselves, and entertaining themselves in fairly quiet ways. Those boys are not “acting like girls,” and they are not necessarily being suppressed or being brainwashed out of their true masculinity.

    I faced a lot of invasive, annoying attention from well-meaning adults who thought it just wasn’t right for a little boy to be so quiet. I was told that “real” boys run around and wrestle and play baseball and scream and fight, so if I wasn’t doing much of that then somehow I must be lacking something in my development. Walking around with my head in a book was not considered “boy” behavior, which depressed me at first but eventually just annoyed me until I became an independent adult.

    Absolutely, allow boys to get dirty, be physical, scream, and compete. And the ones who aren’t into that? Don’t try to make them into your narrow definition of what it is to be a boy.

    I don’t know if extraverts realize how oppressive their worldview can be for people who aren’t like them.

    • Mark vanderley says:

      Wellokaythen

      Thanks for offering balance to this discussion. I am actually more of an introvert myself, however my first boy is the most energetic of all three of mine. I have struggled quite a bit to adjust my natural desires to be alone, reflective, and quiet with his need for more engagement and activity. I gladly accept boys who are more introverted I am just concerned that the more energetic And aggressive boys are the ones that do not fit well into the boxes adults want them in. I strive myself and challenge other parents to be more flexible as to adjust for individual children

      • There are also adults who seek to force introverted nonathletic boys into boxes that do not fit well. In fact, we live in a society whose schools elevate the athletes above everyone else while denigrating the nonathletic boys as “sissies” and “feminized males.” How many athletic fathers love nonathetic sons who have no interest in sports?

        • Bill,
          There’s one problem with your last sentence. The majority of these “athletic fathers” never played at a level beyond high school, if even that. I played at the collegiate level, and know many who played Division I and on into pros. None of the men I know care if their sons play sports or not. They simply want their children to find what makes them happy and focus on their strengths.

          • That’s encouraging to hear! :) I must admit I am surprised.

            Perhaps the culture has changed since my boyhood (1950s through the ’60s), when machismo prevailed and masculinity was narrowly and exclusively defined in terms of athletic prowess. (Incidentally, I have never denigrated any guy for participating in a sport. I respect their dedication, as I would that of a concert pianist or anyone else committed to an endeavor requiring dedication.) I deeply appreciate fathers who love their sons even when they are different from them.

            Thanks for sharing this info with us, and thanks for being civil! :)

  7. Jameseq says:

    . Towards the beginning of the day the speaker asked us to yell out adjectives that come to mind when we think of boys. It started slowly, but things warmed up pretty quickly. People yelled out: aggressive, dirty, hyper, smelly, fidgety… on and on it went with adjectives shared in a tone that implied “bad”.

    Being a father of three boys, who at times truly are all of the things mentioned above, my heart started to boil. Stepping out of my normally quiet self for a bit I yelled out, “AWESOME”.

    that brought a smile to my face.
    i would have loved to have seen the faces as you said, ‘awesome’.
    did the colour of the adjectives change after your input?

    • Mark vanderley says:

      Glad the comment caused you to smile. The crowd actually burst out into laughter. I think my comment pointed out the lopsided perspectives being expressed by those in the room. I think many of the attendees appreciated my sticking up for the boys

  8. Will Best says:

    I heard good things about yoga balls as a chair replacement to deal with faux ADHD. There are also a dozen other simple things teachers should implement before they even broach chemically altering your child. And it doesn’t help that parents are all to eager to dial their boys energy down.

    Thankfully my son’s school isn’t as insane as some of the others out there. He only gets warnings about finger guns while playing cops and robbers rather than suspensions and trips to the school shrink like show up in the news these days. Half the time I feel like at some point since I was a kid there was some sort of informational explosion that erased how to deal with boys from 97% of the populations brain.

    • Boys bear the brunt, no denying, but I think the real issue is people don’t know how to deal with KIDS. The whole thing of ADHD is just stupid, and (as a woman with actual, debilitating mental health issues) rather offensive. I mean, I’m sure that there are kids out there with an actual illness, but I’ve known a dozen with the diagnosis (and meds), and the only one who wasn’t plain old bored was my cousin whose father was abusive. None of these cases needed psychotropics, most just needed outlets for normal kid-level energy, and my cousin needed therapy. Instead we drug them into passivity despite not having one damn clue what the long term neurological consequences might be. It’s revolting – hell with that, it’s criminal!

      • Matthew says:

        I can agree that ADHD is over-diagnosed, but I caution against going too far in the other direction. I was not diagnosed with ADHD until high school and I struggled with whether or not it was “real”. I was encouraged not to take any medication and to struggle through on my own. This made things MUCH harder for me. It was a part (one of several reasons) why I dropped out of college the first time I went. 10 years later, on proper medication and in counseling, I have graduated from a more prestigious university with a 3.5 GPA and will be continuing on to graduate school. A large part of the difference was proper medication and tools for dealing with my ADHD.

  9. Me with my two girls, I’ve been nervous about having a boy someday if God is willing. Your IRL example and writing are an encouragement that this can be done. Thanks!

  10. As a girl who was incredibly hyperactive, aggressive, and dirty, and as a youth pastor with both boys AND girls who are all of those things, I agree with you wholeheartedly. We have to stop expecting bad from one gender & perfection from the other. Kids will be kids, and they’re all awesome. Also, that definition of meekness is very similar to the Biblical definition, which is about knowing who you are and where you stand, how much power you possess and how to use it properly. Anyway, I love this article. Well done.

  11. Mark, this is “AWESOME!”
    I’ve never heard Meg Meeker use the example of the horse, but it is one that I’ve used myself.
    I’ve always stood firm in my belief that ADHD is over-diagnosed. I believe these words that were used by the experts who attended the conference have falsely created the acceptance of the diagnosis by millions of parents. Their “predetermined view of them as bad,” has become the norm, and this is incredibly sad and unfortunate as these boys grown up.
    Well done, Mark. I applaud your courage to step out of your comfort zone and speak up for boys.

  12. Great stuff Mark. I’m also a dad to three boys and they certainly keep me busy. Favorite part of my day – coming home from work to be greeted with “Dad, can we wrestle?!” I’ve found that if I don’t wrestle with my two youngest on a daily basis, their level of aggression and disobedience skyrockets.

  13. I wholeheartedly agree with this. I run a leadership program for teens, and have had many boys over the years who have been labelled as “bad” and find it hard to not associate themselves with that stigma. The most effective way I’ve found is to continually remind them that some of their choices or decisions may be “bad”, and some of the things they do may be “stupid”, but that doesn’t make THEM inherently bad or stupid…it’s the choices that were. And then move from there to coach them in better decision making skills.

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