1. Cultivate Relationships
Boys need men willing to carve time out of their busy lives to intentionally cultivate healthy relationships. Men who remember the joy of racing matchbox cars through grass jungles in the backyard and waging nerf battles from furniture forts. Men who build rail worlds for Thomas the Train, share hot dogs and cracker jacks at a baseball game, throw a football in the front yard, bait a hook on the bank of a lake, and pause to roast one last s’more before crawling into a tent and camping under the stars. Boys need men who understand the language of boyhood. Only when men dare to enter a boy’s world, enjoy them, communicate affection, and speak encouragement do they earn the right to speak truth and meaning into their lives.
Boys need men who remember the joy of racing matchbox cars through grass jungles in the backyard and waging nerf battles from furniture forts.
2. Build Self-discipline
However, growing character requires more of a man than connecting on a boy’s level. To grow in character and resilience, a boy also needs a caring adult who can convey wisdom, provide a solid sense of boundaries, and impart a vision of who he can be. “Boys take great comfort in firm, fair, and consistent guidelines, and anticipated reward” (Hancock, 2017). Within this structure, a boy is able to build muscles of self-discipline he cannot develop on his own. In testing limits and discovering boundaries, boys are provided a secure foundation for healthy relationships. Engaged relationships provide the necessary support for parents to raise expectations. As boys grow in self-discipline, they become prepared for greater independence and responsibility.
“Boys take great comfort in firm, fair, and consistent guidelines, and anticipated reward”
3. Grow Independence and Responsibility
A boy’s longing for independence and responsibility is a necessary God-given desire to enable him to develop into a mature man of character. From a young age, boys begin to naturally emulate their fathers. They need to enter a world of manhood and to know and be known by healthy men. While they are young, they need men to involve them in household projects, trips to the store, and together take on responsibility for daily chores. As boys grow in maturity and responsibility they need men to offer greater challenge and expectation as maturity and ability grow.
Boys thrive when provided with proper challenge, adventure, accomplishment, accolade, and advancement. Intentionally increasing responsibility and independence as sons mature is essential. If challenge and encouragement are not sufficient and developmentally appropriate, instead of becoming confident, resilient leaders of character, boys fall into one of the twin pitfalls of adolescence: anger or apathy.
The structure built into the Trail Life USA program is designed with these truths in mind. Boys are intentionally engaged by men in adventurous uniquely masculine challenge – accomplishments are recognized before their peers, parents, and community – then boys strategically advance to greater challenge and responsibility producing growing, self-confident, godly masculine leaders.
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