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Raising Boys By Design: Initiating Conversations On Character [BOOK EXCERPT]

In God’s image, boys are born with a desire to be good and great, and they are generally willing — especially with proper love, attention, and encouragement from us — to make the necessary sacrifices to become a hero. But they need careful direction in how to get there.

If they receive that encouragement and direction, our sons are inclined to endure hazing and competition with integrity as they become men of strong character. They may not use the word character unless they are in a program like Boy Scouts or the term has come up in church or school, but they are drawn to the ideal of personal integrity and strength. They may not use the word self-discipline to describe their strength and bravery unless they are in intense athletics or sports programs or perhaps the military, but they will identify with those traits in the heroes they admire and emulate. They know, even if unconsciously, that character does not come easy.

Character is forged on the anvil of self-discipline.

Character is gained experience by experience, decision by decision, lesson by lesson.

Character isn’t something that can be talked out, memorized, and recited.

Character has to be lived out courageously.

Focus on Manhood as a Basis of Character

Boys are deep thinkers when it comes to things like heroism and character, even if they rarely talk to you about their profound thoughts. They innately, if silently, ask themselves major questions of manhood just about every day of their adolescence. They see the world through the lens of manhood. That’s why you need to engage with your son in these questions even more than you do now:

  • Will I become a man who is strong or weak?
  • Will I demonstrate strength of character and self-discipline in my life as a man?
  • Will I gain or lack motivation and the tools for success as a man?
  • Will I become a man who lives for good?
  • Will I do my best to follow a code of conduct as a man?
  • Will I be the man who succombs to evil thoughts and deeds?
  • Will I have the self-discipline and strength to be a loving, patient husband and father?

With discussion about questions like these, you can immediately help your son in this journey. Ask him these sorts of questions; engage in conversations with him at opportune times with these questions as primers. Think “manhood” as much as “character” and “self-discipline.” For many boys, character and self-discipline sound very “parentish” or “churchish” or “psycho-babblish,” but every single boy in the world is thinking about manhood.

And of course, you can change the point of view of the questions, asking “Son, do you think of yourself as strong or weak in such-and-such a situation” Once he answers, you can continue with “What makes you feel strong? What makes you feel weak?” You can get to “manhood” a little bit later in the dialogue.

You know your son and how you might need to change the language at times to fit where he is in his development, but your boy can handle this kind of conversation with mom, dad, and others. In fact, he wants it.

If you think about the Dialogues of Plato on which so much of our civilization is based, you can feel how much boys love this stuff. The Dialogues are basically conversations between wise adults and younger men and boys about deep issues. Boys may not want to talk about sex and other private things at any give moment, but every day provides opportunities to engage them in deep conversation about some big things.

The above is excerpted from Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs To Thrive by Dr. Gregory Jantz and Michael Gurian.

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