“Boys will be boys” or so the saying goes. But I’m struggling with what that really means right now. My boys are “almost 15” and 17 and both seem to be asking the same questions, “Am I a man?” when I’m still looking at them as my boys.
My youngest just finished Middle School – thank God. And I’m torn between giving myself a medal for surviving it and more truthfully – giving him one. Middle School is rough – Lord of the Flies rough. And somehow kids survive. My oldest survived by internalizing his emotions and my youngest – gives voice to everything, every change, every annoyance, every joy. I’m grateful for his transparency and really want to treat his adolescence as more than something that needs to be endured until he “out grows it.” I’m not raising boys, I’m raising men and I have no clue how to do that – why should I? I’m a female. Their world is so much different than mine. But I am trying to learn.
We got called into school last week because my youngest had come in under their radar. They wanted to know if he was happy – he’s been moody this year – and if there was anything going on that they wanted to know. Where do I begin? He’s struggling with his grades and afraid he won’t be allowed back for high school (he’s been accepted and is happy now) Girls are becoming more of a romantic interest than a platonic one, and he wants freedom. He’s looking for a rite of passage.
For three years (6th grade twice, and 7th grade) he was the smallest and weakest – THIS year puberty hit and he’s grown 6 inches, gained 20 lbs of solid muscle – the girls in his class have gone from mothering him to trying to romance him and he’s just taking it all in. And he’s re-merging with the boys in his class who are rough and tumble and learning how to effectively stand his ground in their midst without being over aggressive and overly passive. Granted he’s doing it with the grace of an elephant in toe shoes – but he is doing it.
This rough and tumble age of aggression with the boys has me startled and amazed. They “play fight” – poke and jab, punch and pinch until someone gets mad and someone gets hurt. They have a code that even I can’t break – they won’t “tell” because some how that effects their peer approval and disputes are “handled” among themselves. No one is getting stuffed into lockers, but someone was “almost” given a swirly. They are brutal with each other in PE – “Racking” is the newest game that is totally unacceptable to me – but part of what they do? I don’t’ get it. Apparently pecking order is being determined among themselves. No one person is bullying anyone else – it’s not like that. I can’t even really describe it. This particular group of boys seems to be navigating this time of transition with their own rituals and discoveries. Despite the apparent violence – both verbal and at times physical – these boys have been together for the last three years – they trust each other in ways I don’t understand. They have each other’s back in more ways than one.
Even though our church offers a religious right of passage in 6th grade called confirmation, I firmly believe that our society has become overly civilized and as a result forces our boys to create their own rites. In my Indian heritage on my maternal mother’s side – young men were sent into the wilderness to survive for several days on their own and to hunt. When they returned with their prize – either a bear or a panther or whatever there was a ceremony and they were accepted “as a man.” We really don’t do that today.
I should be grateful – adolescent males can make other rites of passage – in looking to the “Am I a Man” question – they’ll start smoking, use drugs, drink alcohol, or become sexually active. These things aren’t happening in this group. They are more aware of their surroundings and each other. Their morals and beliefs are still firmly grounded in Christ – and I’m happy for that. They are aware of how their behavior effects others and they are understanding cause and effect and consequences.
This is an age where these boys need strong male influences. While I’m a good one to bounce things off of, and give comfort on the increasingly rare occasions that I’m asked – this really isn’t my world. I feel lost more often than not.
My oldest – chose not to fight his way through this stage of peer development – he was the new kid in 8th grade. He had enough to content with what with his school closing and being forced to leave his friends behind. He simply chose to passively accept his place as low man on the food chain. For him – he didn’t come into his own until later in high school – and only after we changed schools. He’s settling in now, but to be honest – I kinda feel like I failed in the navigation with him. I’m glad though that he is finding his way and learning not only where he stands, but how to stand.
We are looking for ways this summer to help our youngest find these answers in healthy ways with safe boundaries. And true to form – I’m going to be reading a lot.
Some things I’ve found so far:
http://www.soulawakening.org/rediscovering.html _Am I a Man?
Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa pointed out that all children, regardless of ethnic milieu, come to a watershed moment, during the teenage years, when they begin looking beyond themselves. In a very real sense, they awaken to the rest of society. This awakening is a time to celebrate their gifts, look for ways to fit into their community, and grapple with how to make the world a better place. But adolescence is a delicate time, far more tender, in some ways, than early childhood. The boy is not a child any longer, and he is not a man. Developmentally excluded from the community of childhood, ambivalent about adulthood, he faces two choices: to join the ranks of responsible adults (provided such exist!), or to band together with his peers in an alternate society, parallel and in many ways counter to the rest of the culture. Without guidance, too many of our boys choose the second option by default. While some traditional societies mentor the young through these “years of change,” in ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America this most important life passage is often treated like an extended period of sickness, to be endured with much complaining on all sides until it (hopefully) passes. (Scary thought – Deana)
ReadStart reading about rites of passage. It’s too easy for us to hear a concept, and rather than search it out, to start planning a meeting or an event. Resist doing anything until you start reading about ministry to teenage boys. Read before doing anything else, let it slowly simmer, then allow it to boil. Here are some of the top ten resources I’ve read this year (in no particular order) that might be of help to you.
Passed Thru the Fire by Rick Bundschuh (Tyndale, summer 2003), suggests that we get boys connected and integrated with godly men in the church. This is a fun, fast, and excellent book. He has created a outdoor event for males to be published by Standard Publishing called The Passed Thru Fire Experience.
Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis (Tyndale, 1997), has been an extremely popular book that focuses on the relationship between father and son. Lewis suggests a public ceremony for the teenage male before friends, family, and a community of men.
Professor Richard Ross pleas for a Christian Bar Mitzvah. He has created an experience for a parent and a youth that flows across 30 evenings as a prelude to a Christian bar mitzvah. Check out his Web site at www.josiahpress.com.
A Tribe Apart by Patricia Hersh (Ballantine, 1998) suggests that American teens today are “more isolated and more unsupervised than other generations,” and need mentors. A provocative and shocking book.
Richard Dunn’s Shaping the Spiritual Life of Students (Intervarsity, 2001) identifies teenagers’ alienation and disconnection with significant adults and calls for adults to “pace” and then help shape teens’ lives spiritually.
Wild at Heart (Nelson, 2001) is John Eldredge’s challenge to give up making young men “good boys” and recognize that boys were created with a “desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” Eldredge states that boys are meant to be “warriors.”
Michael Gurian’s A Fine Young Man (Putnam, 1998) is a compelling resource dealing with developmental issues of adolescent boys. Gurian has done extensive homework on each stage of adolescence and uses terminology like “journey” and “pilgrimage.” His view of ages 9-13, called “the age of transformation,” is particularly fascinating.
Young Lions: Christian Rites of Passage for African-American Young Men by Chris McNair (Abingdon, 2001) is an outstanding resource to enable African-American youth to “be the men that God created them to be.” This school-year mentoring program is extremely practical.
Spiritual Milestones by Jim and Janet Weidmann and J. Otis Ledbetter (Cook Com, 2002) deals with celebrating the various spiritual passages with your children and youth.
Crossroads: The Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage, edited by Louise Carus Mahdi, Nancy Christopher, and Michael Meade. (Open Court Publishing, 1996) is a detailed work of various rites with a wide range of sociological and theological world views.