Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. Gregory L. Jantz and Michael Gurian's upcoming book, Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal about What Your Son Needs to Thrive (WaterBrook Press, 2013).
Boys are often misunderstood and devalued in our culture. Their energy can be seen as disruptive, their competitiveness as presumptive, their tenacity as arrogance, their resilience as uncaring, and their inquisitiveness as disrespect for authority.
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But God has created boys according to His good design. As the parent of a son, your sacred duty is to help him grow up to manhood in ways that honor that divine design.
Here’s how to raise the son (or sons) that God has given you according to His design for how boys should grow into men:
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Recognize that male and female differences complement each other. Boys aren’t meant to act like girls, since God has designed the genders differently so that they will complement and mutually benefit each other. Rather than expecting your son to behave like the girls you know, give him the freedom he needs to be himself – the way God made him to be.
Examine your gender biases and ask God to help you change them. Reflect honestly on the stereotypes you may have about boys and how you may be biased against them. Do you assume that boys will be disruptive, messy, inattentive, insensitive, disrespectful, unable to follow directions, tough, or unfeeling? If certain boys don’t act in those ways, do you think that they’re weak since they don’t fit your image of macho behavior? Ask God to show you which attitudes you currently have about boys that are inaccurate, and then pray for the Holy Spirit to renew your mind and give you the right perspective on boys.
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Teach your son lessons he needs to learn from a mother or other caring people who can be maternal influences in his life. Give your son what he needs from maternal influences by assembling a team of people (including his mother, if she’s available) to invest in his upbringing by: bonding with him for long periods of time through shared activities, providing hands-on and needs-based attachment whenever possible, emphasizing multitasking in his development, helping him express his emotions in words, practicing and teaching direct empathy, providing an example of relinquishing personal independence to meet his needs, promoting his character development through communicating with words, and helping him feel his emotions and learn how to comfort him after he goes through stress.
Teach your son lessons he needs to learn from a father or other caring people who can be paternal influences in his life. Give your son what he needs from paternal influences by assembling a team of people (including his father, if he’s available) to invest in his upbringing by: bonding with him for short periods of time through shared activities, teaching him how to think in orderly and sequential ways, downplaying emotion and emphasizing performance, promoting risk taking and independence, teaching him how to fight against negative thinking from his peers, promoting respect for positive authority, encouraging him to build confidence through learning how to do things well, and helping him feel stronger – but not necessarily better – after he goes through stress.
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Encourage your son to develop the character of a hero. Boys and men are naturally drawn to the hero archetype, since God has placed the desire for greatness within every male. If you view the word “hero” as an acronym, you can list key character traits that heroes develop: honor (adhering to truth, values, and principles beyond self), enterprise (working at important things, whether they seem or large), responsibility (carrying important people and things throughout life), and originality (being a dreamer, a thinker, and explorer in the world). Another key character trait of a hero is self-discipline, which will help your son build confidence as he disciplines himself to work toward his goals.
Help your son process his emotions in ways that fit his male design. Study your son’s emotional life for at least a week, noting the feelings he expresses about interactions he has with other people and the circumstances he goes through in various situations. Then consider how you can help him process his emotions in ways that can work best for males, such as: releasing stress through physical movement like exercise, using an object or a story to help express the emotions he feels, withdrawing from people so he can think more clearly about his emotions, or searching for a solution to the problem that has elicited challenging emotions. Be sure to give your son the freedom he needs to cry, as well; crying is a sign of strength, not weakness, because it signals healthy emotional processing.
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Teach your son how to develop a healthy sexuality. Talk with your son openly about sex, answering all of his questions honestly and always presenting information from the perspective that his sexuality is a good part of the way God has made him (rather than something dirty that should make him feel ashamed). Explain the many benefits of saving sex until marriage – as well as the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of ignoring God’s design for sex – so your son will understand why it’s important to wait. Encourage your son to use physical exercise as a way of releasing pent-up sexual energy and don’t worry about masturbation, but try your best to keep him away from pornography, since porn can be very dangerous for him.
Help your son do his best in school. If you homeschool your son, make sure that his active mind is engaged and challenged. If he attends school elsewhere, serve as your son’s advocate with his teachers and school administrators to help him be engaged and challenged, and give him the support and encouragement he needs to do his homework well.
Encourage your son to use technology for good purposes. While you should limit your son’s daily screen time (in front of screens such as computers, television, and video games) since too much screen time will stunt his development, you should also encourage your son to use technology in ways that help him pursue his interests, learn new skills, and put his God-given talents into action.
Help your son measure his progress toward manhood. Talk with your son about what it means to become a man and what steps he can aim to take along the way to manhood. Celebrate his progress with some rites of passage, such as an event through your church or a special trip or outing that you take with him.
Lead your son to an active faith. Pray often for your son to enjoy a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that, for faith to be relevant to males, it should be part of a heroic and wholehearted adventure for Jesus in which they continually submit their own wills to God’s will. Join a church in which your son can actively participate as He grows, and aim to be the best role model you can be for him through your own relationship with Jesus.
Adapted from Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal about What Your Son Needs to Thrive, copyright 2013 by Dr. Gregory L. Jantz and Michael Gurian. Published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc., Colorado Springs, Co., www.waterbrookmultnomah.com.
Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D, is a nationally certified psychologist with a doctorate in counseling psychology. The author of more than 20 books, he regularly counsels parents and children of all ages to develop communication strategies, strengthen family bonds, and raise healthy kids.
Michael Gurian, a marriage and family counselor noted for his secular expertise in brain science and his bridge-building in faith communities, is a New York Times best-selling author of 25 books, including The Wonder of Boys.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the new Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.
Publication date: August 27, 2013