Dirt is good for boys. Pain is good for boys. Work is good for boys. Danger is good for boys. Fighting is good for boys. Bumps, bruises, cuts, sore muscles, hurt feelings and sunlight are all exceedingly good for boys. Send your boys out to play or out to work; just send them out. What’s that? You live in an urban-hell-hole-nanny-state and you can’t send them outside because <excuses>? Find a way to make it happen.
Boys are going to do dangerous things and they’re going to get hurt; you can expect it. You should welcome it. If you’ve been coddling your boys up to this point, you need to change direction and make them get outside and go play.
Every boy wants to be Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer; even if you’ve already tried to put out that fire. If you have, you should be ashamed; boys crave adventure.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Mark Twain
If your boys are already lazy turds that lounge about the house afraid to go outside, it’s not too late. It’s not going to be easy for you or for them, but you’ve all had enough ease already; it’s time for something else. Sell the video games, restrict the computer to homework only and make them go do something. Make them dig a hole, fill it with water, then play in the mud. Make them play a sport, build something, wreck something, start a fire, and put a fire out. So what do you do on day two? Make them use their imagination. They’re going to have to do things that are age appropriate. But if you’ve got boys as I already described, you probably aren’t a good judge of what is and is not age appropriate for adventurous boys. You’re not going let a 5 year old handle a chainsaw, but what about a rifle? You should. Teach him about it. Let him feel the weight in his hands. Make sure he understands that it’s a great and terrible thing and never to misuse it. Take him to the range and let him see and hear it in action. Impress upon him the sound and the smell and the destructive power. It teaches respect and safety. If you can’t do it yourself, find a local gun club and learn. Because your kid should learn it from you.
Sometimes, you just have to throw them in the water and make them swim, literally and figuratively. Boys will learn to cope, but you have to give them opportunities. Give a boy a pile of wood, a saw, a hammer and some nails and tell him to make a plan and build something. He’s going to screw it up the first time but that’s ok. There are a ton of variations on this, but I think you get the idea. Get them outside and get them to do stuff.
There’s another element that needs addressing and it’s just as important as everything else I wrote above, and that’s discipline. Boys need boundaries; wide boundaries but boundaries nonetheless. When they exceed those boundaries, they need to hear about and get disciplined for it. Weak discipline breeds disrespect. Boys need discipline from a man. That going to be tough for you single mothers, but maybe you need to get them closer to an uncle, maybe your father or some other strong man that is a model of what I described above. In another column I’ll address discipline in more detail.