When I pause and watch the teenage age boys in our community, and when I reflect on my own adolescent experience, I begin to understand the struggle that every boy confronts in his efforts to navigate adolescence.  He is faced with a complex set of internal demands: sexual drives, longing to give and receive love, the drive to prove his masculinity – and through it all he doesn’t want to get hurt or rejected.  This is a daunting emotional challenge, because each of these internal demands involves difficult obstacles and consequences if handled wrong.

Boys yearn for emotional connections, but they are allowed very little practice at it.  Most have spent a majority of their free time engaged in competitive games, trying to “man up” and prove themselves superior.  I still see constant teasing and “bashing” during their regular interactions.  As they get older, often the consumption of alcohol allows them a psuedo-sense of emotional connection.

Boys also long for an intimate connection between themselves and girls but developmentally lack the emotional language to connect in a meaningful way.  They often lack the ability to pick up on emotional cue and other non-verbal communications such as facial expressions or body-language.  This impedes their ability to empathetically connect with members of the opposite sex and since modern culture doesn’t encourage boys to cultivate empathy, they misread social and sexual cues from the girls.  This is obviously reiterated in the statement I hear regularly from these boys, “I just don’t understand girls”.  The natural follow statement to that is, “Screw it, let’s just go shoot hoops”, and they remain aloof, never learning to untangle the emotional ball of string they are presented with.

Whether boys become kind, devoted lovers and sexual partners, or heartless and exploitative, depends on the boy, his early experiences with gender roles, his social environment, the kind of “script” that is written for him by his family, peers, and the culture in which he lives.  From his earliest gender experiences, and the adolescent stirrings of lust and curiosity, a boy develops his own sense of what relationships and sexuality are all about.

Reference: Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon Ph.D & Michael Thompson Ph.D

We all play a role in shaping our young men and women.  If you don’t like what you see today we must first accept partial, if not total, responsibility for systematically abandoning them.  We have, in many cases, left them to figure out the adolescent journey by themselves. 

Here are some questions to wrestle with your teams/families.  How you answer them has potential consequences for the youth in your care.

  • Are there older men and women in your church that seek out young people, outside of  “programs”?
  • Are the youth in your community left to fend for themselves the other six days of the week?
  • Do you mainly use other young adults, often not much older than the youth themselves, to provide a majority of spiritual and life guidance?  What are the pro’s and con’s of doing this?
  • Has your pastor lifted up the value of the older generations pouring themselves into the younger generations?  Why or why not?
  • How does your church culture reinforce positive/negative gender stereotypes?
  • Is sexuality openly discussed in your current faith context?  Why or why not?
  • Does how you handle “sex and sexuality” in your church impact young people’s sexual behaviors?  How?