I thought I had learned a thing or two about child rearing after bringing up two daughters for several years. Then my wife and I had a son.
It was obvious within months that he was a unique creature. His sisters were fairly quiet and conservative in their play. He was a wrecking ball with lungs.
His sisters liked to dress things, decorate things, set things up, stack things on top of other things. He saw a stack of things as an invitation for demolition. He wanted to kick and punch. He enjoyed collisions. Somehow even his dinner plate looked to him like an artillery range. “Ah-h-h-h—boosh!” he would say while dropping his carrot into his potato.
We didn’t teach him these things. We tried to teach him civilized table manners and respect for other people’s things and for the structural vulnerability of the walls in our home. But the urge to dominate, to subdue, to conquer, he had in spades.
Some delusional academics think there are no inborn psychological differences between boys and girls—only what society teaches them. Poppycock. Without prodding, from early on my daughters would pick up a doll and begin cradling it and cooing to it. My son would pull the head off to see what was inside.
God made boys and girls different for a reason. Society’s willing ignorance of this truth is creating a mess of problems with the way we rear our boys. Perhaps in their early years they yearn to do battle in the arena; they are keen to exercise their strength—often in undisciplined and damaging ways. But society fears this. We are deeply ambivalent about masculine energy. Our female-dominated early education seeks to squash it. We embrace the convenience of indulging our sons’ natural enthrallment with inert entertainment; after all, if the boy is absorbed in a video game, he’s not whacking his brother with a bat. Without considering the consequences, we reward passivity; it is less alarming than ferocity.
Then we watch—as if helpless—while our sons grow self-indulgent, lazy, soft. Bit by bit, the stuff that made them different from their sisters becomes muted, stifled, or swallowed whole.
That we do this is understandable. But it’s a tragic mistake.
There is something valuable in our sons’ assertive boyishness. It needs to be shaped and guided; it needs to be refined and balanced. But woe be to us—and to them—if it gets crushed.
Why? Because they, like you and me, are destined to be leaders.
Where Did That Boyishness Come From?
To prepare our sons to fulfill the role for which God created them, we need a clear concept of that role, as discussed in this book. Keep in mind the vision of godly masculinity so you can measure your son’s behavior against that—to know what needs to change and what needs to stay, what needs to be shaped and developed. Raising a man requires knowing what the boy is to become.
That is not to say we should force our sons to grow up too soon. Tomorrow’s men should begin their lives as happy, carefree boys; let them play and laugh and think as children. Don’t create any sense of a battle between boys and girls or act like there’s some mystery about girls they’ll never understand. They should play happily together with other boys and girls in active sports and games. When society artificially foists on them false concepts about the opposite sex, they can feel uncomfortable and self-conscious; those relationships can seem complicated. Protect their simplicity and innocence: Let children be children.
As they grow, however, our sons must gain a sense of their role, not in a way that makes them awkward around girls and women, but that gradually teaches them their God-given responsibilities toward them. While the basic principles of child rearing are the same for boys and girls, each must be taught the different jobs they will fulfill in a future family. Boys require a different mindset and a different set of skills.
We must equip our sons to resist feminization and to become successful men. We must take special effort to bring them up to be strong, effective, successful, ambitious leaders.
Look at your own son. What sort of man are you making?
Do Things With Him
Meditate on the God-given role of a man: leader, provider, protector. Study the biblical qualities of manhood—self-discipline, righteousness, responsibility, industry, resolve, ambition, courage, sacrifice. You won’t find many of these in the world around you. You have to struggle to learn them and to do them.
Exemplify these virtues; give your son a model of manliness. A son needs to see, and have a right pride in, the strength and accomplishments of his dad. Dad ought to be a boy’s hero. Your manly example is your best tool in teaching your son to be a man.
Next, create opportunities to instill these traits in your son.
Build his physical body. Sports can be a great opportunity to exhibit your own strengths and to teach them to your son. Be it a backyard game of soccer or basketball, playing catch or hitting a baseball in the park, take time to teach basic skills and a sportsmanlike approach to the game. Besides building lasting bonds of companionship, these are moments a son will never forget.
Develop in your son a love of the outdoors, of outdoor activities in the fresh air and sunshine. Help him learn to thrive outdoors, camping, hunting, fishing. This is not only healthy; a boy exposed to such situations often from his youth will gain real joy from such exposure that will help counter the confusion and self-centeredness brought by technology and social media.
Boys have a natural tendency to want to conquer—to storm the backyard and erect a barricade. Encourage that. We want our boys to be adventurous, courageous, visionary. After all, they were created to exercise dominion over the Earth and to subdue it (Genesis 1:28). We need to show them how to exert their strength in a godly, constructive way.
Teach the boy to do things. Don’t let him stand awkwardly by, sitting on the sidelines while his friends or the family engage in an activity. Get him a dog and show him how to train it. Teach him to use things, to make things, to plant things, to manipulate his environment productively. If you can, show him how to change a tire, how to fix the car, how to do home repairs.
Most importantly, spend time with him. The father who teaches his son how to change the oil teaches a skill—but the more valuable thing is that he is with the boy.
God began the creation of human beings with the man, and immediately gave him work to do (Genesis 2:7, 15). God gave man physical things to teach him good stewardship—taking care of the blessings we receive. Further, after Adam sinned, God actually made his workload harder (Genesis 3:17-19), knowing that physical labor is crucial to building character. God knows that when everything is handed to us, we just don’t do well; He wants man to earn his bread through the sweat of his brow. And He wants men to work to provide for their families.
Teach your boy how to work. Work together and show him how to enjoy work. The lessons Adam learned by having to “dress” and “keep” the Garden are lessons all boys need: to appreciate the value in hard work—to be patient and wait for fruits to show—to have realistic expectations of success—to enjoy labor. A boy needs to experience getting worn out and having to push himself when he feels like quitting.
Give him chores. Boys tend to be lazy; it’s our duty to help them overcome that. Eventually, your son will need to get and hold a job outside the home. To become self-sufficient, to support a family and ultimately to create more value than he and his family consume, he needs a steady progression of jobs and opportunities that teach responsibility, self-motivation and hard work.
Proverbs 21:5-6 show that laziness leads to lying. This is something we especially want to guard our boys from. A young man who begins to lie and deceive rather than earning his pay through honest hard work is in trouble (Proverbs 20:17). Help him avoid this trap by disciplining dishonesty.
When your son values hard work, he will know the value of an honest day’s pay. That provides another invaluable opportunity: teaching him how to save, how to pay his own way, how to spend wisely, how to be generous to others, how to give back to God. These are crucial skills for a man. Teach them when he is a boy.
Set your expectations high. Then encourage him enthusiastically for every inch he rises in reaching for that bar.
Spend real time with him, so he can watch and emulate you. Time together creates occasions to teach.
A Leader of Women and Children
As we work with our sons, we must keep another end goal in mind based on what else is revealed in the Genesis account: the fact that a man needs a companion, a helper, and that God placed him in a leadership role within marriage (Genesis 2:18-24).
Your son was created to become a leader of women and children.
Teaching that role begins with the relationship between you and your wife. Give your son a strong example of a godly marriage and proper masculine, loving leadership in action. A boy will be drawn to emulate his father’s strong, manly example.
Be the man you want your son to become. He is watching you. Your life is his most powerful model of masculinity.
You must ensure your son treats his mother with respect. God commands a son to honor and obey Mom (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1). This becomes increasingly crucial as he gets bigger. If at any time she does not have his respect and obedience, she should get you involved immediately, and you should put a stop to it. (You should also ensure that your wife is never fighting your son, getting angry, ugly and shrill with him; this too is unhealthy.) A son who despises his mother is a fool (Proverbs 15:20). If he develops a confrontational relationship with her, he will be more competitive and combative around women.
A boy who honors his mom will grow up to honor his wife (1 Peter 3:7). When a boy learns this early, he begins to appreciate that men must always have a sense of duty toward women. This makes it more natural to later step into the responsibility of leading, protecting and providing for a family of his own.
Teach your son gentlemanly habits that reinforce his duties toward females in general: opening doors for women, standing when a woman enters the room, being attentive to a drink or jacket or something else she might need, walking on the sidewalk between a woman and traffic, not treating her roughly or joking at her expense the way he might with another boy.
In preparing your son to fulfill his role, pay attention to how you discipline him. Do not browbeat him or put him down. Don’t instill cowering submission in him. Teach him to have godly confidence—and godly humility. How? With encouragement. Encourage his strengths. Praise his successes and achievements.
Without sacrificing her authority, your wife should also lovingly support your son. She should have sensitivity to his God-given role. As he grows, she should show him respect, without demeaning and emasculating him—or pampering him. She should not do his work for him, even when he struggles.
One of the Best Things You Can Do
An area to give special consideration to is media. One of the great challenges to today’s fathers is to resist the pervasive, overwhelming tendency to become fixated on a video or computer screen for great portions of the day. Technology is a strong drug. It grabs young minds and dominates them. Boys in particular tend to love the stuff—especially video games.
The worst example you can set for your son is to be a couch potato, mesmerized by television and other devices. Image says a lot to a youth, especially a teen. A dad who is a blob of inertia will probably raise a son in the same image. A dad who is fit, athletic and muscle-toned is likely to produce a son in the same image—if he spends the time to help his son develop such a manly frame.
The Kaiser Family Foundation says children ages 8 to 18 spend about six hours a day with media: television, radio, computers (not including schoolwork), music players and so on. That is over 45 hours a week—longer than the average workweek. That is also more time than they spend with their parents (less than 16 hours), in physical activity (10 hours), or doing homework (just over 5 hours). It’s not difficult to see a correlation between increased media use and family breakdown, childhood obesity and declining academic performance.
Beyond the mere time issue, though, is the content of that media. Studies prove it is hurting our boys. It is our duty as parents to intervene. “As a pediatrician I can tell you that disconnecting, or strictly limiting and strictly supervising your son’s access to electronic media, is one of the best things you can do for his emotional, mental and physical health,” writes Meg Meeker in Boys Should Be Boys. Vigilance here can help prevent a multitude of problems from taking root in our sons’ lives.
Boys tend to be drawn to media violence far more than girls, and there is plenty out there to inflame that appetite. This violence hurts our children; studies have found that boys who watch violent tv turn more aggressive—even with brief exposure, but much more with larger doses. Playing violent video games correlates to even worse antisocial aggression.
Video games are increasingly graphic and realistic, and in many of them the object is to kill people. The games strongly parallel military techniques used to prepare men for violent combat. Violent video games desensitize our boys to human suffering and actually condition them to kill.
Media violence tends to be both glamorous and immoral. When a boy is bombarded by these images, he “can easily shift from believing that a man is supposed to be trustworthy and self-controlled (as you, his father, might have taught him) to believing that real men are cruel and aggressive,” Meeker says.
Where media depictions of masculinity are brutal and destructive on the one hand, they are childish and stupid on the other. The almost universally portrayed stereotype is one of a strong, competent female having to deal with a goofy, idiotic male. Roles between the sexes as God intended are flipped upside-down and twisted in knots—then steeped in vulgar, adolescent humor that mostly appeals to childish males.
The greater our sons’ exposure to that nonsense, the more ingrained in their thinking it will become.
Ensuring that our sons’ model of responsible manly behavior remains strong requires limiting those false images and providing a good example and solid instruction in what is true and right.
Safeguard His Purity
One particularly lethal stealth missile from the media aimed at our boys is sex. The Internet makes terrible filth incredibly accessible. Today, the average age of a boy’s first exposure to pornography is 11. Almost half of boys in grades 3 through 8 have visited “adult” websites. We must be defenders of our sons’ purity in a world where sexual impurity is everywhere.
“Porn and smut pose an awesome threat to your boys,” writes James Dobson in Bringing Up Boys. “A single exposure to it by some 13-to-15-year-olds is all that is required to create an addiction that will hold them in bondage for a lifetime. It is more addictive than cocaine or heroin.” Early exposure to pornography can distort normal channels of sexual stimulation—which are designed by God and wholesome when used properly—into all manner of perversion. “Many men who have succumbed to these perverse sexual appetites have traced them to the dawn of their adolescence,” Dobson explains.
Pornography is horribly degrading, especially to women. Again, God intends your son to grow up to be a protector of and provider for women. If he gets ensnared by lust, it handicaps his ability to successfully fulfill that calling.
Talk to your son. “[F]athers must assume that a difficult sexual struggle is occurring in their sons’ lives,” writes Douglas Wilson in Future Men. “[A] father must talk to his son and teach him. The teaching must consist of more than, ‘Yeah, I had this problem when I was your age, too.’ The teaching must be grounded in the Word of God—what does the Bible teach about masturbation, lust, fantasy and so forth?
“A father should check with his son and not wait for his son to ask. Further, he should check periodically and regularly. Every son needs guidance and accountability from his father in this area.” Consider how many warnings to young men Solomon put in the book of Proverbs against this sin (Proverbs 2:16-19; 5:3-14, 20-23; 6:24-35; 7:5-27; 9:13-18). He knew of his own father’s struggles and his own; he had seen other men fall. So he was up front about it. Make these subjects easy to discuss with your son. Show the genius of God’s design. Point to the positive, and show why it is worth protecting. Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The Missing Dimension in Sex (available at no charge upon request) is an invaluable tool; read it together with him when he is in his early teens.
If we do our part, we can go a long way in giving our sons one of the most priceless gifts he can possess: a clean conscience.
Our sons need a strong moral compass in order to navigate this crucial aspect of life and to make it to manhood as unscathed as possible. We want to facilitate any use of technology and media that is genuinely good for our boys—that builds right knowledge, cognitive development and character—while drawing firm lines on what will hurt them. Knowing where to do this—both in quantity of use and in content—requires educating ourselves and asking God for wisdom and discernment.
Teach him right from wrong. Show him that a real man, like King David, says, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes …” (Psalm 101:3). Provide an excellent example yourself, and supplement it with plenty of instruction.
Prepare Him for His Destiny
As your son grows, teach him to accept responsibility for himself. Teach him to own up to his actions and not make excuses. Don’t let him protect his selfish masculine pride. Don’t let him shift responsibility or blame and flee the burdens of leadership. Being a leader requires making difficult, unpopular decisions. We all tend to be people-pleasers. Your son needs people skills, but also the courage to stand alone. Teach him to obey God’s definition of right and wrong, and to stand against the crowd when he has to. This takes courage, and you must teach it to him.
Help him overcome self-centeredness. Encourage him to seize opportunities to do things that benefit others at the cost of benefiting himself. Teach him the intelligence, the sensitivity and the magnanimity to identify the needs of others. Teach him to see the big picture. Teach him to see things from God’s perspective.
This world needs strong, masculine boys who will become strong, masculine men. The main way we parents can fill that need is by training our sons to embrace their destiny as leaders. This means giving them a good example, instruction, discipline, rising levels of responsibility—and plenty of encouragement.
The job is difficult—but you don’t have to do it alone. Just give God opportunities to use you to shape your future man.
Of his own father, his model of manhood, Theodore Roosevelt said this: “The thought of him now and always has been a sense of comfort. I could breathe, I could sleep, when he had me in his arms. My father—he got me breath, he got me lungs, strength—life.”
What an incomparable blessing such a strong, reassuring, manly presence is to a boy. Be that presence in the life of your son. Build the relationship that will guide him to godly manhood—and godly fatherhood.