, , , , , , , , , ,

20 Books all Boys Should Read

20 Books all Boys Should Read

Here’s a list of 20 books all boys should read (in no particular order).  Consider reading these aloud with your son:
Treasure Island, by Robert Lewis Stevenson

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

White Fang, Sea Wolf, and Call of the Wild, by Jack London

The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Endurance, by Alfred Lansing

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Shogun by James Clavell

African Queen by CS Forrester

King Solomon’s Mines by H.R. Haggard

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein

List from Rick’s book, Better Dads Stronger Sons.  You can get a copy here:  www.betterdads.net

, , , , , , , , , ,

Michael Gurian: If I Were a Parent of a Boy…

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21stCentury.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features New York Times Best-Selling Author Michael Gurian, whose book, The Wonder of Boys, is credited with launching the modern boy’s movement.

                In working with her family therapy clients over the last twenty years, my wife, Gail, has said, “If I were a parent of a boy, I would really be worried.”  She is referring to her fear for the social, economic, emotional, and spiritual lives of America’s boys.
As we raised our daughters, we asked our girls what they thought of the gender landscape around them.  Gabrielle (then 16) came home from school in 2006 and said, “We had a discussion in social studies about boys and girls—everyone was talking like girls had it hard but boys had it easy.  They were in denial.” 
Davita (then 19), came home from college for the holidays last year and reported a discussion with her college friends.  “I’m really glad I’m a girl, not a boy.  The boys aren’t sure what to do, but the girls are doing everything.”
These discussions were anecdotal, of course. Both girls and boys, and women and men, can experience suffering in our world.  Girls don’t have it easy.  Women don’t have it easy.
But it is also true that boys and men are in substantial trouble today.  They increasingly fill our principal’s offices, ADD/ADHD assessment clinics, and rolls of the homeless and unemployed.  Boys and men are more likely to be victims of violence than girls and women, commit suicide at four times the rate of females, and suffer emotional disturbance, behavioral and other brain related disorders in higher numbers. They are suspended or expelled from school in much higher numbers than girls, receive two thirds of the Ds and Fs in schools, and lag behind girls in standardized test scores in all fifty states.  They abuse substances and alcohol at higher rates than girls and are incarcerated at exponentially higher rates (for more data in all these areas, please see www.whitehouseboysmen.org).  
Especially telling, the majority of government and philanthropic funding for gender friendly-programming goes to programs and innovations to help girls and women. The existence of this funding is to be celebrated, but the disconnect between the reality males face and the social justice attention males get needs to be examined by each of us. 
We are in denial about our males.
I believe this denial will continue (and we will ultimately rue and mourn the dangerous, socially debilitating consequences) unless we change our academic, media, government, and philanthropic programming to include a new ideological truth:  just as the traditionalist paradigm regarding girls and women needed to be deconstructed and replaced by the feminist paradigm in the last century, the feminist paradigm, especially as it regards boys and men, needs to be deconstructed and, at least in part, replaced now if we are to meet the needs of both genders
Why does it need to change?  Because it posits that females are victims of a masculine society that oppresses them systematically, and this isn’t true in the developed world anymore.  While individual girls and women can be dominated and demeaned by individual boys and men (and vice versa), we do not live in a culture that systematically teaches girls and women that they are second class citizens and boys and men that they are superior.
While some areas of life are still male dominant (mechanical engineering, senior leadership at some corporations and some areas of government), other areas of life and work are female dominant (management, medicine, education, mental health professions).  The original feminist paradigm posited systemic male dominance in our culture, but male dominance is only systemic in small pockets of the culture and female dominance also exists in others.
Can our culture open its mind to our new reality?  To answer yes, we will need to make a distinction between gender issues in the developed world and the developing world.  In many countries in the developing world, systemic and brutal patriarchy does prevail and the feminist model of male dominance/female victimization is essential for encouraging social justice.  My own parents, while they served in the State Department, helped build schools for girls in Afghanistan against impossible odds.  In that world, systemic degradation of females was and is prevalent.
But in the developed world, we can’t keep operating out of a gender lens that blinds us to reality.  If we do continue to remain blind, we will continue to avoid fulfilling our most human of imperatives:  to take care of our children.  If we do not fix what ails our sons–if we do not love them in the ways they need to be loved–we will create an increasingly dangerous society for girls and women, too.  No parent of either gender wants that.

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013
, , , , , , ,

Boundaries Teach Boys Self-Discipline

This past season, several high-profile college head football and basketball coaches have been vilified and lost their jobs due to the perception that they harshly enforced disciplinary methods upon a player or players in their program. I’m not defending these coaches’ methods as I do not know the situation, but here’s what I do know. Many young men today, especially talented athletes, have been raised without a father or any other form of accountability or boundaries in their life. They have gotten whatever they want their entire lives. They do not understand the value of true leadership or the concept of respect. These young men rebel against any kind of discipline and despise authority figures. Even though they may in truth crave discipline, they have steered their own ship for too long. They have learned to do what they want, when they want, and so any kind of restrictions—whether it is healthy for them or not—are very uncomfortable. They instinctively resist accountability and become self-focused and self-absorbed. Without willingly acceding to the mentorship and authority of other men, young males with this attitude will struggle their entire lives, creating problems in the lives of those who love and depend upon them.

Teaching boys’ self-discipline is difficult and requires effort on your part. Like most things worthwhile in life, it is hard. Boys learn best by what is modeled for them, not spoken to them. Teaching them self-discipline requires that you be disciplined. Constantly indulging your son in his every desire isn’t good for him. It doesn’t mean you have to be harsh, but you do have to say no sometimes–even frequently. For some parents today, pushing their sons to teach them self-discipline almost feels like child abuse. But the truth is that the more you can teach them to have a strong sense of self-discipline, the happier and healthier they will be throughout their entire lives.

Boundaries are a must during the teenage years. Boundaries help instill self-discipline. Without boundaries boys do not know what the rules are and what is expected of them. They may rebel, but remember no matter what they say, the very fact that you thoughtfully and consistently enforce rules of behavior makes them feel loved and valued. They might complain to their friends that you are mean and tough, but they will say it with a sense of pride too. I’ve known many at-risk young men who have told me that they wished their parents had loved them enough to make them follow a set of guidelines designed to keep them safe.

Recognize though that boundaries need to be flexible to grow and change as your son does. Just like your son is constantly growing and changing so too his boundaries should be dynamic. To hold a seventeen-year-old young man to the same boundaries he had as a thirteen-year-old boy would certainly cause rebellion at best and psychological damage at worst. As he shows more maturity and responsibility, his boundaries should be loosened to help him continue to grow in his decision-making and critical thinking skills process. Our goal is to help him become a healthy, functioning adult by the time he is out from under our umbrella. By not allowing him to grow, we are doing him a disservice by ensuring his failure in the world.

That said, all children (even teens) need clear-cut rules, structure, and guidelines in order to develop self-discipline. They thrive under firm supervision and guidance—they need strong boundaries and discipline from adults. They don’t need you to be their friend. They have plenty of friends. They need you to teach them the things they will need to be successful in life. And sometimes that requires courage on our part. Teens (especially strong-willed ones) know how to push buttons—they are developing their critical thinking skills so they like to argue. They are masters at manipulation. They wear you down—it’s part of their battle strategy. That’s one reason it is important for a husband and wife to be on the same team. They must work together to ensure that a child is raised with consistency and with the same agenda. The bane of many divorced families is that Mom and Dad have a differing value system in their respective homes. Kids are confused from week to week as to what is expected of them.

Discipline comes in two forms—internal and external. Internal discipline or self-discipline is what we strive to teach our kids by applying external discipline. External discipline is applied in a variety of forms—allowing them to suffer the consequences of their actions, teaching them the pleasures of delayed gratification, understanding the relationship between hard work and success, and through personal accountability. Kids, who are not subjected to healthy discipline while growing up, tend to live unhappy lives and create chaos in the lives of those around them. When we discipline our kids, we are actually preparing them for much more fulfilling lives.

Think of it this way. Self-discipline is a gift you give your son that will benefit him his entire life. It will benefit your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren as well. Like all things that are important in life, though, learning self-discipline is difficult and requires hard work. One of the most effective ways to teach boys self-discipline is by holding them accountable for their actions and choices. The sooner they learn that every decision they make (or don’t make) has consequences associated with it, the sooner they start making disciplined and healthy choices. This will be extremely important when he becomes a man and his choices have magnified consequences to both him and his family. Want to see this in action? The next time your son wants an item from the store, tell him, “Sure, you can have it if you buy it with your own money.” You’ll quickly see what he places value on when he has to be responsible for purchasing it himself.

Excerpted from Rick’s book, That’s My Teenage Son” by Revell Publishing. To find out more visit www.betterdads.net.

, , , , , , , ,

Expectations Make the Man

Oftentimes the expectations we have for our children have a tendency to come to fruition. With that in mind it is important we have high expectations for our boys. We should strive to have them aspire to greatness. Why not exhort them to aspire to greatness? The rule of thumb in the business world is that employees are only capable at best of living up to about 75% of the expectations that an employer has for them. Why should we strive to produce mediocre men by having low expectations of our boys?

Unfortunately, our culture not only has low expectations for males, it seems to revel in trying to destroy masculinity. We expect boys to act more like girls. In Unleashing Courageous Faith, Paul Coughlin comments on what our culture does to boys, “Boys are being gunned down by manliness gone bad and by those who do not accept or appreciate it. Our culture tells young boys that traditional masculinity is bad, that men are stupid and deserve to be the object of disdain, contempt, and ridicule. Then we expect them to grow up and exemplify honor, integrity, and valor.” Just watch nearly any television sitcom or commercial if you doubt that statement.

True manhood accepts responsibility for others’ lives by protecting, providing, nurturing, and leading those under its sphere of influence. But how do we teach boys the lessons they need in order to accept that responsibility and develop the mindset necessary to fulfill those roles.

In many cultures throughout history manhood was something that was earned through overcoming difficult challenges or dangerous initiations. It involved initiations, rituals, and ceremonies generally supervised by older males. Frequently the instructions passed along during these rites of passage contained life lessons that taught boys what it meant to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of manhood.

Teaching young men to have empathy and compassion for others is very important in the development of a healthy man. It has been my experience from raising two teenagers and working with many others that they are often idealistic about the world and troubled by the injustices that abound within it. Young men should be indignant and disturbed by things like poverty, victimization, and exploitation of those who cannot defend themselves. That righteous outrage means he has heart. It is much better than the passive, apathetic, and self-focused attitude many young (and older) men posses today. Instead our culture tells them that self-gratification and self-indulgence are the only goals worthy to strive for.

So how do boys learn to have passion, courage, and empathy? By watching the examples of their fathers and other older males in their lives.

Question: What expectations do you have for your son that will teach him to be a man of integrity?

, , , , , , , ,

Passing the Mantle of Manhood

Young men growing up without mentors are just boys seeking their identity. Since our culture does not have intentional rites of passage to teach and help guide a young man from boyhood into manhood, they are often left to rely upon themselves to try and figure out how to become a man. Some boys consider getting drunk for the first time the sign of crossing the threshold into manhood. Others think losing their virginity is surely a sign of being a man. At its extreme gangs often require initiation ceremonies of new members that include assault and battery, theft, rape, or even murder.

In his book, Wild at Heart, John Eldredge calls boys who have never been initiated and mentored into manhood “partial” men. They are boys walking around in men’s bodies, sometimes even fulfilling their roles with jobs and families. For these men the passing on of masculinity was never completed (if started at all). These boys were never taken through the process of masculine initiation. It’s why many men today are what Eldredge calls Unfinished Men.

In his classic book, Raising a Modern-Day Knight, Robert Lewis uses the model of initiating boys into manhood through the medieval custom of knighthood. In those times boys were trained and equipped with a masculine vision, a code of conduct, and an objective to live life. First as a page, then a squire, and finally a knight they passed through stages that trained them and helped instill a chivalric code of honor. At each of these stages they were given ceremonies that celebrated their achievement and marked their progress toward manhood. By the time they were ready to become knights they had a clear definition of a man’s duties and responsibilities and a code of conduct to live his life by. In other words they knew what a man was because they had been trained and tutored by honorable men for many years.

Ceremonies or rites of passage are important for all children but especially for boys. Our children develop their faith not only from us but from others as well. Remember, someone is going to influence your children—it had better be you or at least those who have the same value system as you do.

While my son was growing up I held several personal ceremonies with my son at various stages such as at age 12 when I took him to dinner, challenged him to purity, and talked about the challenges he was undertaking as he entered adolescence.

But when my son graduated from high school I was determined to have a ceremony he would remember to launch him into the world. Several months beforehand, I contacted six godly men and asked them to pray about what God would have them share with a young man just starting out life. Shortly after his graduation I rented a room in the back of a restaurant and hosted a dinner with my son and the six men. Each man took turns in front of the others telling my son the mistakes they had made, their regrets, and the things they wish they could do over. They shared from their heart the joys and sorrows of being a man, a father, and a husband. The men were powerfully vulnerable as they shared from the depths of their souls. I then got up and spoke to my son of the dreams I had for his life and shared advice about life. I gave him my blessing as a father to a son and launched him into the world.

I videotaped the dinner for my son so he can watch it over and over. At the time, the event may have impacted the other men more than my son, but as he gets older this advice will be invaluable. I intend to have a similar ceremony before he gets married—gather a group of men who have been successfully married a long time to pass along their special insights on what it takes to be a husband and love a woman.

Our boys are blessed for a lifetime when we design and prepare ceremonies to mark their journey into manhood. These ceremonies tell them they are progressing along a road with the destination of manhood. They are mileposts that boys can track their progress and understand what is expected of them on the next portion of their journey. It eliminates confusion and the need to “prove” he’s a man—to himself and to others.

This post is part of the Rite of Passage Blog Tour. You can read more entries by other authors at http://riteofpassageblogtour.weebly.com/. Additionally, for more ideas on how to hold a ceremony for your son, check out Jim McBride’s new book, Rite of Passage: a Father’s Blessing, by Moody Publishers, on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rite-Passage-Blessing-Jim-McBride/dp/0802458807/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316022959&sr=8-1.

Gleaned from Rick’s book, That’s My Teenage Son, by Revell Publishing, 2011. To find out more about Rick’s books or his speaking schedule please go to www.betterdads.net.

, , , , , ,

How to Love a Woman

Fathers are instrumental in modeling to their sons how a man is supposed to love a woman. This is not something that comes naturally to most males. Merely watch the difference in how a young man who grew up with no healthy male role models treats his wife (or more often live-in lover) versus one who grew up with a father that loved his mother. To give oneself sacrificially for the sake of another is not a natural male trait. In fact, the opposite might even generally be true. I know women look hard to find and hang on to admirable traits in all their men, especially their sons, but to be loving, kind, gentle, and compassionate in non-feminized males is unusual.

Loving a woman is a modeled behavior for a male. Learning to lead his family in a healthy manner is another modeled behavior that boys seldom learn from any other source as well. The respect that a father gives a boy’s mother is the level of respect that he will think all women deserve. Appreciating the value that a woman brings to a relationship and the family is another gift that a father gives to his son. Learning to cherish and love a woman in the ways that she needs and not the ways that he feels more comfortable with is a lesson that boys cannot get from any other venue than from watching his father every day. Recognizing her more tender heart and the devastation that his words can have on a woman are taught to a boy by his father. And perhaps the greatest lesson he passes along is the ability to admit he is wrong, apologize, and ask for forgiveness.

Without the modeled behavior from a father boys are left to try and navigate through life and all of the difficult circumstances that he will be faced with. Boys without fathers are at a big disadvantage in every area of life, especially relationships. He’ll never learn how to love and treat a woman without your guidance. Remember, he’s watching you every moment of the day to see how a man thinks, acts, and faces life’s problems.

, , , , ,

Teaching Boys Criticial Thinking Skills

Perhaps one of the most important things a person can develop is the ability to think through an issue and discern the important aspects of that issue while not be distracted by the parts that are of no consequence. Your son needs to learn to distinguish between fact and opinion. He needs to understand how to compare and contrast information. Too often important issues are clouded by emotions or hyperbole. In addition, with today’s technology it is easy to establish something on the internet that quickly becomes assumed as fact. As an example, books, magazines, or newspapers printing “facts” that are not backed up by well rounded research and cited are really just printing their opinion. Television news programs are notorious for this today.

If you want your son to be someone who is not easily swayed by political agendas, misinformation, or opinions, he needs to develop good critical thinking skills.
How do you help a boy develop critical thinking skills which are crucial for him to learn in order to develop into a good problem solver? First, as difficult as it may be, allow your son to argue or debate issues that do not relate to emergency circumstances. He is developing the process to understand how to look at an issue critically from different sides. You’ll notice that sometimes he may even switch his opinion in the middle of an argument if you agree with him and argue the other side. Also, while it may be annoying, allow him to ask a lot of questions. That shows he has an active mind and is searching for information and knowledge (or else he’s just being a pain).

Encourage him to think logically. Use concrete examples whenever possible that lead to logical conclusions. For instance someone may be able to effectively argue against the validity of gravity but they will still fall on their head if they jump off a building. Logic takes the emotion out of an argument. Also, allow him to think through an issue or problem—do not rush in and give him the answer right away. It takes the male brain longer to process information than it does the female brain.

Think out loud in front of him—that way he can see and hear how you puzzle through the process of solving a problem. Finally, challenge him to always look at both sides of an issue. Encourage him to research an issue from a variety of reputable sources—both pro and con. If you only get one opinion of a subject you cannot truly understand it. One of the great lessons I have learned in life is that you cannot understand another’s pain if you have not walked in their shoes. This will serve him well later in life when he has a wife and children and issues are seldom simply black and white but are complicated shades of gray.

Article gleaned from That’s My Teeange Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Good Men, by Rick Johnson, Revell Publishing, 2011

, , , , , , ,

The Psychology of Male Anger

One emotion that most males are familiar with is anger. Anger produces a physiological arousal in males. It creates a state of readiness and heightened awareness. It creates energy that can be directed outward in the form of protection or even as a weapon. Anger causes a fight or flight response designed to protect us. Anger is frequently a powerful tool for boys and men to use to cover our inadequacies. Oftentimes anger in males is a secondary emotion used to cover underlying emotions such as fear, hurt, or frustration. You’ll notice that nearly all males will react with anger when they become overly frustrated or are hurt emotionally.

The surge of adrenaline and associated arousal can be addicting to some males. Young males need to be taught how to deal with and control their anger. In order to do that, they must learn to own their anger and identify the source of that anger. Then they can learn to determine how to choose to respond to their anger.

Males are not very adept at understanding their emotions nor very comfortable dealing with them. Emotions are powerful and often uncontrollable. That’s why many males keep such a tight lid on their emotions–once released they are difficult to predict or control and often result in a situation ending in vulnerability. The one emotion however that they are relatively comfortable with is that of anger. Anger for many men is an old friend; one they call upon in a variety of circumstances. Like all powerful emotions it can be used destructively or for good. For instance anger can be terribly destructive in relationships. After all anger is only one letter away from being danger. All we need do is look at the devastation caused to women and children through a man’s uncontrolled wrath and anger. Anger can lead to emotional, psychological, and even physical abuse.

On the other hand anger can be channeled into productive pathways. Anger can be used to motivate a man to achieve more than he might otherwise be able to accomplish. It can be used as a mechanism to encourage perseverance under duress or in grueling circumstances. Many a boy accomplished some difficult task all because he got angry when someone told him he couldn’t succeed. When teased, many boys use that anger to motivate themselves to “prove” their offenders wrong. One method in coaching is to get young men angry in order to motivate them to perform beyond their self-imposed limitations. In fact, many men propel themselves with anger and grit to succeed in life because a father-figure constantly told them they wouldn’t amount to anything. Warriors often used anger towards their enemies as motivation to succeed in battle or even a school yard fight.

Regardless of how it is used anger is the emotion most familiar to males. Anger is often a secondary emotion used by males to cover or mask other emotions. For instance, certain emotions such as fear, anxiety, vulnerability, or distress often produce a feeling of humiliation in males. Humiliation is considered a weakness by males. Remember, for most males to show weakness is to be vulnerable and open to criticism. To be vulnerable is an invitation to be attacked. But anger is a defense against attack and may even be a weapon to attack others. Very angry men and boys are seldom messed with, even by bullies.

Rather than feel humiliated by these “unmanly” emotions, many males instinctively and automatically use anger to cover those feelings. Even pain (physical or psychological) can be covered by anger. Notice how most males react when they hit their thumb with a hammer. They’d rather get mad than cry. Most men also get angry rather than depressed or hysterical when faced with an emotional crisis in a relationship. Again, this is a protective mechanism for their fragile egos; egos that are covering secretly ingrained feelings of inadequacy and incompetence.

Sometimes anger is even used consciously. I was raised in an alcoholic and abusive home. I can distinctly remember at about the age of 12 when I first discovered that if I just got angry I didn’t have to feel that humiliating emotion of being afraid. In typical naive boyhood fashion I told myself, “This is great. I’ll never be scared again for the rest of my life!” However, this was foolish as I spent a significant portion of my adult life being angry. Angry because I was really afraid because I had never had a positive male role model show me how a man lives his life and faces his problems in a healthy manner.

Young men who are not taught how a man acts, what his roles in life are and how to fulfill them adequately and competently are very often angry. They are angry at life and at the world. They are afraid. They take this anger out on others, hoping to hurt them before they themselves are hurt; even if that hurt is just humiliation from their ineptness.

Excerpted from, Rick Johnson, That’s My Teenage Son: How Moms Can Influence Boys to Become Good Men, by Revell, 2011

, , , , , , , , ,

Angry Young Men

Ever notice we have a lot of angry young men running around today? One of the reasons is that our boys today have a certain amount of repressed anger. It results in more bullying in school, but also in a more escalated level of violence. This is caused by not allowing young males to solve their social issues as they have for thousands of years—on their own. In the past when two young males disagreed about something, they went on the playground and tussled around until one or the other acceded—generally they both just got too tired to continue and quit. They then shook hands and forgot about it. In fact many boys I fought with we went on to be good friends. Today however, with adult (feminine) interference, boys are not allowed to solve their own problems. They are taught that any kind of aggression or (gasp) violence is bad. So they are forced to repress those feelings which eventually cause them to fester into frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness–far more powerful feelings than they were originally faced with. Eventually those powerful repressed emotions spill over and explode into greater levels of violence evidenced by the shootings and stabbings we see of young men across the country.

I’m not promoting that we should teach young males that violence is the way to solve problems. But in the “old days” when a gym teacher had two boys who had problems with each other he put boxing gloves on them both and told them to settle their differences. Afterwards they were made to shake hands and forget about it. Even in the most adversarial unsupervised playground scuffle seldom was anyone injured beyond a bloody nose. Males always respect their opponent after doing battle with one another and frequently become good friends because of the respect they earn for one another. We did not see the problems then that we face today with high levels of violence and killing of our young men.

Our more feminized world of total tolerance does not allow a young man to seek justice which causes him to be resentful and angry. Males are taught it is bad to fight or even be aggressive over any insult no matter how egregious the offense.
Again, I’m not promoting violence, bullying, or unchecked aggression, but this kind of feminization of young males not only results in a more intensified level of aggression, but also produces passive men who often internalize this anger and frustration which then manifests itself in destructive passive-aggressive behavior.

Why do you think young men are angry today?