Growing up with 4 brothers, wedded to a man, having raised 1 son, welcoming a son-in-law, now with two grandsons….boys are fascinating, terrifying, and created in the image of a great God. When Baby Girl (who just turned a beautiful 30!) said, “Mom! You’ve got to read this!”, Amazon Prime delivered an amazing book filled with clinical research, case studies, and challenges facing American boys today. My filter? How we can best ‘share life and the gospel’ with boys today. (Books also read in this endeavor included Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas, Raising A Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis, and Knights In Training: Ten Principles for Raising Honorable, Courageous, Compassionate Boys by Heather Haupt)

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men written by Dr. Leonard Sax, a practicing family physician, psychologist, and author draws on more than twenty years of clinical experience to explain why boys and young men are ‘underperforming in school and disengaged at home….how social, cultural, and biological factors have created an environment toxic to boys…and presents practical solutions, sharing strategies that points us toward a brighter future for America’s sons.”

Why does this matter in the local church? Because I want every kid to want to come back to hear about Jesus again and again and again. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Little boys and big boys need Jesus, just like little girls and big girls. Though I have experience with boys, I am a girl. My job? Give ’em Jesus so that Jesus is irresistible to little people in an environment that meets both a girl’s and a boy’s developmentally appropriate needs.

This blog post will focus on one of Dr. Sax’s five factors affecting American boys: accelerated early childhood education

What happens in kindergarten today is what happened not long ago in 1st and 2nd grade. “Male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.” (pg 21) This doesn’t mean that girls are smarter than boys, only that girls are trying harder because they are somewhat motivated to please the teacher. Boys, not so much. Boys are motivated by competition and physical activity. Boys are more inclined to go on a walk and say, “Race ya!” and take off. Girls are more inclined to hold hands and talk your ear off telling you about their day. When boys find they can’t please the teacher (can’t sit still, etc.) they find the environment ‘not for me’, boredom ensues, and motivation to do better is tossed out that little boy’s heart-window.

“Boys endure a greater struggle with ‘nature-deficit disorder’ which is when most of life is spent indoors rather than touching, smelling, seeing, hearing the real world which is required for a child’s brain and mind to develop properly. We have replaced nature with computer screens and fancy indoor toys.” (pg 35). All children need a balance of Wissenschaft (knowledge from books/screens) and Kenntnis (knowledge from real experience.) “For boys, in particular, emphasizing Wissenschaft while ignoring Kenntnis may seriously impair development – not cognitive development, but the development of a lively and passionate curiosity.” (pg 36) Hence the lack of interest and motivation for a natural curiosity.

What does this mean for the local church setting? We can’t just tell them about Jesus without giving them a chance to experience the saving power of Jesus. When we teach of sin (missing the mark) let’s use spit balls on a target and bring out the archery tools. Go outside! Go to camp. Engage in lessons outside. Get hands dirty. Run! A dear colleague teaches about baptism with a squirt bottle, a toothbrush, and a dowsing of a cooler filled with water. What I do indoors, what can I move outdoors?

“The regions of the brain associated with negative emotion in teenage girls are closely associated with the language areas of the brain. In boys of the same age, by contrast, brain activity associated with negative emotion is localized primarily in the amygdala, a nucleus with comparatively scant connections to the language areas of the brain.” (pg 51) If the question is to share how you FEEL if you were a particular character in a story, girls will do well. A better question for boys would be, “What would you DO if…”

What does this mean for the local church setting? Instead of asking “How did this make you feel?”, we might ask, “What would you do if…?” For instance: Joseph tossed into a pit by his brothers because they were jealous. Instead of asking, “How do you think that would make you feel if you were thrown into a pit?” we should ask, “If you were thrown into that pit, what would you have done?”

“Team competition socializes boys. It teaches boys to value something above themselves.” (pg 60). “Most girls value friendship above team affiliation.” (pg 61) “We now know that self-esteem has a value for girls that it simply doesn’t have for many boys, while competition – particularly team competition – has a value for many boys that it doesn’t have for many girls.” (pg 65). “Most girls, even athletically talented girls, need encouragement…girls are more likely to decide they’re not good enough, fast enough, strong enough, so they give up…Many boys – especially athletically talented boys – have a tendency to overestimate their skills and their ability.” Girls need encouragement, but if you take away the competitive edge for boys (everyone gets a trophy), they tend to disengage and will seek their natural ‘will to power’ and ‘hero status’ elsewhere: video games, anyone? We’ll go there next week.

What were other suggestions? Inspire boys to learn by providing a ‘boy-friendly’ environment. For my preschool peeps: restore kindergarten as kindergarten, preschool as preschool. Ask them to learn about frogs after they’ve chased some frogs and not just images on a screen or in a book. If our focus is on reading only, stop it. Make sitting optional. I personally prefer spaces without tables, or at least without chairs. Rather than talk about their feelings, give them images to use to communicate and something in their hands. When their hands are busy, their minds are calm. What else?

“God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.” Genesis 21:20