Raising Boys in A Culture that is Often Alarmed By Them

I read an article over a year ago in First Things by Sally Thomas entitled: The Killer Instinct. The article ponders the modern aversion to the male psyche. Young boys are full of zealous energy, full of spit and vinegar, and have a a proclivity to rough and even violent play. Many modern parents and educators seem troubled by this and often attempt to soften boys, make them behave more like girls. Sadly there is even an attempt by some to diagnosis typically rough-house and energetic boys as having ADHD and they are put on medicines to suppress what is in the end a normal male energy. I do not deny that there can be a true ADHD diagnosis in some cases, but it may also be a symptom of an increasingly feminized culture that finds normal male behavior to be violent and a diagnosable “disorder.” What I have said here may here may be “controversial” but in the finest male tradition, remember, we can always “spar” in the comments section!

I’d like to present excerpts of the article here and then add some of m own comments in red. You can read the whole article by clicking on the title above.

The default mode of many parents is to be as alarmed by [the] proclivity in their sons [to shoot and stab at things and be aggressive]…..An obvious fascination with shooting things might seem like one of those warning signals we all read about…It used to be that parents waited for Johnny to start torturing the cat before they worried. My generation of parents seems to worry that owning a rubber-band shooter will make Johnny want to torture the cat. A friend of mine told me that he and his wife had decided not to give their boys guns for toys. What they discovered was that without the toy everything became a gun: sticks, brooms, scissors, their fingers. In the end, they “made peace” with the fact that boys love guns and swords and stopped worrying about latent tendencies to violence. Somehow it was in a boy’s nature and they couldn’t “nurture” it away.

As a toddler, one of my sons liked to stand behind his baby sister’s chair and pull her head back as far as it would go, to watch it spring up again like a punching bag on its stem….and then she screamed….From my son’s point of view, it was altogether a gratifying exercise. My intervention was always swift and decisive…I implored my son, “Don’t be rough. Be gentle.” …I am struck, now, by the strangeness of what I said to him. We don’t tell someone struggling with lust simply not to want sex; we don’t tell a glutton that his problem will be solved if he stops being hungry. Yet, I might as well have said, “Stop being a boy.”…. What I think I have come to understand about boys is that a desire to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil. It’s a mistake for parents to presume that a fascination with the idea of blowing something away is, in itself, a disgusting habit, like nose-picking, that can and should be eradicated. The problem is not that the boy’s hand itches for a sword. The problem lies in not telling him what [the sword and itch] are for, that they are for something. If I had told my aggressive little son not, “Be gentle,” but, rather, “Protect your sister,” I might, I think, have had the right end of the stick.(This is a very brilliant insight. It is essential that we not try to destroy the innate gifts that God gives us in order to “control” them. We must learn to harness them and sublimate them so that they achieve the end to which they are intended).

Anne Roche Muggeridge, who reared four boys in the 1970s and 1980s, observes that

prevailing society now thoroughly regards young men as social invalids. . . . The fashion in education for the past three decades has been to try to make boys more like girls: to forbid them their toy guns and rough play, to engage them in exercises of “cooperation and sharing,” …to denounce any boyish roughness as “aggressive” and “sexist.”

Muggeridge writes of a visit to a doctor who urged on her a prescription for Ritalin, saying that a child as constantly active as her two-year-old son must be disturbed. “He’s not disturbed,” she responded. “He’s disturbing.” It is to realize, as Anne Roche Muggeridge did while watching her sons take turns throwing each other into a brick wall, that what you have in your house is not a human like you but a human unlike you. In short, as Muggeridge puts it, you are bringing up an “alien.” Yes, it has been very frustrating to be a man in the modern age let alone have to grow up under the tutelage of social scientists and education bureaucrats who scorn and suspect your very nature. Boys are aggressive. That is natural and good. They must be taught to master it and focus the energy of their aggression on the right object, but they should not be scorned for who and what they are. Such scorning has become for too many a sense that they are socially “enlightened.” It is time to see this attitude as a the type of bigotry and sexism that it too often is. To many women (and some feminized men) a boy in his raw state may in fact seem like an alien, but even aliens deserve respect 🙂

[There is an] initiation rite, devised and performed by our parish’s young priest twice a year in the church. This rite involves a series of solemn vows to be “a man of the Church,” “a man of prayer,” and so forth. It includes induction into the Order of the Brown Scapular, the bestowing of a decidedly manly red-and-black knot rosary, and the awarding of a red sash. What the boys look forward to, though, with much teasing of soon-to-be inductees about sharpened blades and close shaves…is the moment when a new boy kneels before Father and is whacked smartly on each shoulder with a large, impressive, and thoroughly real sword. Great idea. I’m going to work in my parish about initiating something like this.

These Holy Crusaders are, after all, ordinary boys—sweaty and goofy and physical. For them to take the Cross seriously requires something like a sword. For them to take the sword, knowing what it’s for, requires the Cross. …A boy’s natural drive to stab and shoot and smash can be shaped, in his imagination, to the image of sacrifice, of laying down his life for his friends. In the meantime, this is the key to what brings these boys to church. It’s not their mothers’ church or their sisters’ church; it is theirs, to serve and defend. Yes, yes! Amen. Greater love hath no man that to lay down his life for his friends. Christian manhood needs to be rediscovered in some segments of the Church. Too many men stay away from Church because it seems feminine to them. Sermons about duty, courage and fighting the good fight have given way to a steady diet of compassion, kindness, being nice, getting along, self actualizing and, did I mention being nice? These are not wrong virtues but they must be balanced by virtues that call us to stand up and speak out with courage, accepting our duties and fighting the good fight of faith, if necessary unto death. Men respond to the call when it is given in a way that respects their manhood. Balance is needed in the preaching and teaching of the Church and it seems that in recent decades we may have lost this in many settings, IMHO. If you think I’m crazy, remember this is a conversation. Hit the comment button and have it.

Sally Thomas, a contributing writer for FIRST THINGS, is a poet and homeschooling mother in North Carolina.

Here’s a video summoning boys unto manhood:

91 Replies to “Raising Boys in A Culture that is Often Alarmed By Them”

  1. I have 2 boys 22 months apart (10 and 8 now). I am an only child, so I have attributed a lot of their rowdy behavior to sibling rivalry, not realizing that it was natural for boys. I like the protection idea. I don’t know how many times, I’ve told one of my boys to leave their sister alone. Maybe protect will work better.

  2. Something that has amazed me about the saints (and Jesus) is their ability to combine seemingly contradictory virtues: righetous zeal with gentleness, humility with confidence, and a steely seriousness with tenderness. I think this demonstrates that the Saints alone are most fully human, and respond to any situation as is most appropriate. Hence, this demasculinization of our culture can be seen as another way that we, as a people, are moving further from the fullness of life offered by God.

  3. I’m not a Catholic. I hardly ever agree with you. This is one of those times. I think you are exactly right. Boys will be boys, and being a boy isn’t a bad thing.

  4. As with so many things, we need the effort it takes to gain perspective in order to achieve success when rearing our sons. I have seen devout parents dismiss brutal behavior on the part of their sons with a “boys will be boys” shrug. That, to my mind, is every bit as damaging as trying to force a boy to wholly deny and suppress his natural tendencies. To borrow from the story of Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Let’s teach our boys to understand their gift of strength and display it in such a way that people will honor rather than fear it.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!!!!

    I have been seeing this phenomenon play out for years. I have seen it in my work as a counselor in high school, with my own son and nine grandsons and in my friend’s children.

    Just a couple of thoughts and anecdotes.

    In the school where I worked (Catholic), the jocks were going around punching everyone. You know nudging we call it with boys. Only 200 pound football players who nudge are a problem. The girls and the smaller guys complained and frankly it was verging on bullying. Because even then I shared a fear that we just did not
    handle boys appropriately I did something akin to some of your writers above.

    I called the guys in and we talked at length about the reasons that God and nature gave guys an edge on muscle strength and the aggressive types of behaviors we see. We talked about the reasons for that and what they could use them for in a positive way. The behavior change was almost smarmy. They began to help people lift things, they began to hold doors open for people, they volunteered to help and on and on.

    With the “ADD” boys, I used to tell them that although teachers had a little difficulty with that behavior in class and they they should curb it, that rather than buying in to people’s characterization of the them as “easily distracted”, they should think of themselves as “acutely aware of their enviornment” and that there is a place in the world for all types. With the onus of being defective lifted from them, the kids seemed much more able to control themselves in class.

    I am not trying to say that there are not lots of real ADD kids who need more than just a paradigm shift, but shifting can help in my experience..

  6. There is a theory that early childhood learning (pre-school/daycare/aftercare) is in some ways harmful to boys. Boys learn verbal skills later than girls generally. Thus seeing themselves outpaced by girls in the school setting, boys can tend to become discouraged and disaffected with learning, and then carry these learning deficits forward. Behavior problems can result. Boys may seek refuge in video games, etc.
    Perhaps this partially explains why girls are outpacing boys througout the educational system. Maybe boys have a greater need to be close to their mother during those early childhood years.
    Boys will be boys. Virtus virescit! But when did boys stop flourishing in schools?

    1. I have 4 boys and 1 daughter. What you say about education is very true! When my firstborn was still a baby I read about the the education system being a system that works for the female brain etc. We decided to homeschool, and as it stands today I am so grateful that we did. My boys are flourishing. Two are mostly a grade level ahead, and the only reason I mention that is because I KNOW that in the school system they would be eaten alive. One would be put on some type of medication for his day-dreaming type nature, and the other for his constant movement. Homeschooling allows them to do their work standing on their heads if need be. They stop mid-test to tell a quick joke or re-charge with an apple. (not to say there is no structure, there is much, and much is expected, but the self-discipline and structure works itself out in a different way than being chained to a desk for 6 hours.) They beat each other up and love on each other in equal measure, do household chores, drive me nearly insane, get a classical education, and have time for swordfights and classic stories of boyish adventure, saintly virtue and courage as well.
      Great article all around!

  7. Watching my brother (he’s a boy; he’ll be fine) and my sister-in-law (don’t play those violent games! no guns!) raise my nephew is an exercise in the comedy of all this. After a while, my sis-in-law gave up and realized that yes, boys will be boys.

    And the kid is turning out just fine.

  8. But wait – “homeschooling?” No, ma’am, you’re not homeschooling, you’re teaching.

  9. I am the mother of two girls but expect to one day have sons. I do pay particular attention to the boys my daughters are friends with and think about what I hope my own sons to be like. The best boys, it seems, are always the kind that can be rough and tumble with their brothers yet still sit nicely enough in church– they are full of a crazy energy but also know how to be reverent, polite, and even gentle (like with babies) when needed. Just my two cents. Thank you for writing on this, Monsignor, and for drawing on the wisdom of Sally Thomas who, as usual, cuts right to the heart of the matter.

  10. The Church is full of pacifist movements (Pax Christi, et al.) that continually tell us violence is wrong and seemingly sinful in itself. This is the problem. As you note, violence is not itself wrong it needs to be directed properly.
    Matthew

  11. As a father of two boys (both under the age of 4) I am left wishing our parish had something like this initiation rite. I imagine few would be the boys that stopped CCD before confirmation then. Wonderful.

  12. One of the reasons why so many parents (including myself) are worried about violence, in boys or girls, is that we have become aware that one of the many cycles that perpetuate violence is embedded in raising children. Numerous studies have shown that when children experience violence, especially violence coming from those who are meant to care for them, there is a greater tendency for them to be violent towards others. This cycle can be embodied in various social rituals, such as hazing or child abuse, that allow adults to transfer to their children the anger and violence that was shown to them.

    The truth is that we are mimetic creatures: we tend to mimic and repeat those behaviors which are demonstrated and acted upon us. Children are the most vulnerable members of society, and in fact young boys have been shown to react far more negatively to abuse, violence, or neglect than girls do: boys need far more loving, tender, and compassionate treatment to become healthy individuals. Because of this psychological vulnerability, it is important to minimize violence. Of course, it is impossible to eliminate it: but it is my view that children, whatever their gender, will have plenty of exposure to violent situations as a matter of course.

    As for emergent violent behavior in my children (I have a boy and a girl), I stop or redirect them whenever I see them emerging, just as I attempt to do for myself when I become angry. This does not mean that I do not allow them to express their anger or frustration: I simply do not allow them to channel these feelings into aggressive acts that would only serve to perpetuate mimetic violence. Nor do I attempt to fashion either of them into gender stereotypical behavior. My daughter loves trains and trucks. My son sometimes plays with his sister’s pink toys. If he grows up to be sensitive, compassionate, and peaceful, I will think him no less masculine for it.

    1. Not sure if you are arguing that boys are merely mimetic or not. I think some of the behaviors are hard-wired based on a number of factors to include genetics, and the sex of the child. I also think you may be reacting more the subject than to the article itself. For example she makes some very good distinctions when she notes her son pulling on his sister’s hair and what is a good (better) solution, which channels the aggression to protection.

      1. I didn’t mean my statement to be a rebuttal to the article, but rather simply a note on why many parents have become wary of the (to use the expression) “boys will be boys” permissive attitude that can sometimes accompany these sorts of discussions. Statistically, of course, males are more violent than women, but then this simply raises the question: to what degree is this due to a natural tendency, and to what degree is this due to cultural and environmental factors? I do think that there are biological reasons why men may tend to be more aggressive (admitting, of course, exceptions), but I am cautious in attempting to categorize “male” and “female” traits because of the immense variety of human behavior.

        I do think that it is important to redirect these impulses in general, regardless of gender, rather than attempt to squash them outright (which the author makes a very good point about)

        1. Could it be that “mimetic” behaviour is more about adopting someone else’s actions to try it out, assess it, learn from it and make one’s own decision on whether or how to adapt it to one’s personal values. More than say, one computer downloading from another or “monkey see monkey do” without our natural human ability to learn?

          1. Mimetic behavior is more an imitation of desire. That is to say, in human society a thing is more desirable the more people desire it. You can see this most clearly among children at play. Without outside interference, it is often the case that the children will gravitate toward one toy or set of toys, resulting in conflict and often igniting violent behavior. I have seen this in my own children: one will abandon whatever toy he or she was happily playing with when he or she notices that the other child has a different toy (even if it is a toy that he or she doesn’t like for its own merit!). Violence typically magnifies this mimetic effect: if someone is willing to push or shove to maintain control of something, it speaks to a higher value for that object and can spark a mirror image of violence. This cycle of violence is seen in the lives of individuals and nations, and each act of violence usually begets its mirror.

            I would suggest Rene Girard’s book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning for an excellent discussion of mimetic desire.

    2. Oh, Scotty! You made me laugh!! I was in an abusive relationship, and my son is now fine. Mimetic of whom???? That is the point. Are they going to mimic the person who is happy and healthy or the jerk that beats mom up?? And you can redirect your children til the cows come home, but I can guarantee they are going to do it behind your back. I have 2 boys – 15 & 7, and 2 girls – 11 & 13. If the boys play with the pink toys, fine. But usually only because the girls want them to. And there is nothing wrong with stereotypical gender behavior. Women are not going to want some emasculated boy when they grow up. We don’t want to mother our husbands. Remember there is a time for true anger, kind of like the Cleansing of the Temple. (My favorite Bible Story….funny it isn’t told anymore, huh??)

      1. I appreciate your anecdote, but the sad fact is that for many children abuse leads to the imitation of abusive behavior. Of course, being abused does not mean that you will necessarily grow up to be abusive; however, it does increase the likelihood that one will be abusive, or will exhibit other psychological harm.

        My point is not that my children will never act violently – of course I can’t possibly prevent such behavior. I just do what I can to show them that violence is an inferior way of dealing with anger and frustration. It is also important to note that women have a variety of romantic tastes, and not all will be eager to date a man who was beaten by his father, whose father beat his mother, and who grew up with an explosive temper. Some women do enjoy more compassionate men who avoid conflict, control their anger, and seek compromise rather than domination.

        I do like the story of the cleansing of the temple, although I like the story of Jesus telling Peter to put away the sword even better.

        1. How did all this talk of violence enter the picture? The article isn’t talking about violence. Just normal boyhood aggression and rough housing. Even an occasional fight is a usual part of the picture that can help boys learn the limits. But I think calling things violence too easily is neither just nor helpful. There is healthy aggression and anger and these creative energies can be sublimated.

        2. Scotty, I felt like yours was a very Christ-like response. I don’t say that to disparage other comments, but that was how yours struck me, and I felt compelled to let you know. Thanks for your contribution.

  13. I’m thrilled to see an article like this finally show up. At this point, the Internet ought to be inundated with them. They come far too seldom for a country and a civilization that desperately needs them. Instead the deluge comes in the form of articles lambasting men for yet another failure, invariably succeeded by a chorus of damn near hateful women who howl and dance like hyenas over fresh prey.

    Equally tiring is the phrase ‘be a man’. The next person who says this to me, male or female, is going to the hospital with a broken nose. No one who belongs to a society that has been destroying the male heart for sixty years has any business whatsoever complaining its men aren’t good enough. This society does not deserve great men. Rather it should be focused on making restitution to the male sex. People do not understand just how much harm has been done. Women in particular need to start thinking about the way they speak to us and about us — they have become positively atrocious, almost bestial in their hatred for our sex. I believe that anger and resentment are growing in the men in this country, particularly in the younger generations, and that if things continue on their present course there is sooner or later going to be hell in the United States.

    It is time enough for this society to pay attention to and to work at understanding, affirming, and assisting its men, not, first of all, because men serve a utilitarian value to society, but because justice requires it, because men are also human beings who have a place in this society. Personally, speaking as a young man, I can assure anyone reading this that my primary concern is not the protection of women or children. I could not care less about either of these groups of people right now. My primary concern, rather, is protecting myself from you, from this society, from women and the pitiful, cowardly men who will commit any kind of violence against their own sex in order to win even a morsel of approval from women.

    Finally, while I’m glad to see this article show up at all, I’m disturbed that it’s the work of two women. What is wrong with men? What is wrong with us that we won’t stand up for ourselves? What is wrong that we don’t defend each other from the constant attacks against us? Where is our nerve? Why are we so afraid to contradict women? Why are we so afraid to tell the cowardly, slavering, supplicating dogs who do whatever women tell them, to take a hike? I would really like to see men start writing these articles, but as well-written as these two particular articles are, it’s men who ought to be letting us know who they are… not women.

    1. Dustin, You are too young to be so bitter. Try to see Christ in others, even those whom you deem “supplicating dogs”. We are all on this big ball together, and we all are trying to see our ways through life. It is not easy for anyone – no matter how easy some lives appear.

      How we are should not depend on what others do and say. As long as you have your proper code of conduct toward others, you will see that many do appreciate you more than you may immediately realize. Give people a chance, and if you see someone in need, lend a bit of yourself to help them. You will see people in a more positive light – and yourself, also.

      1. Great. So let’s flip this situation. Let’s suppose we could rewind to the days of women’s suffrage. You are one of the suffragettes, and let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you are also an angry and bitter suffragette because you feel deeply the injustice of the circumstances you are protesting. While you’re protesting with other women, and facing the laughter and pity of passers by who do not sympathize with your cause, I pass you as I make my way down the street. You stop me and give me an earful about your complaints. I say to you, in good Christian piety, “You are too young to be so bitter. Try to see Christ in others, even those whom you deem ‘patriarchal oppressors’. We’re all in this together. It’s not easy for anyone, even those who are keeping you down.”

        How would you react to my remark?

        1. I’m guessing it’s difficult for you to understand this, but the difference between a woman gently correcting you and you hypothetically correcting a suffragette is that men come from a position of constant, unbroken power in society. Women have fought for things that are worthwhile: the right to vote, the right to equal pay for equal work, etc., while in this article, it just seems that men are fighting for the right to be violent.
          Many readers may have heard the “boys will be boys” mentality applied to a very different but contemporary case: the Steubenville rape trial. This mindset is incredibly dangerous, and while I am in no way suggesting that the authors or anyone commenting on this article would defend their children with this “logic” if they committed a crime, the greater idea of “boys will be boys” in society is damaging.

          1. Kels, I am greatly disappointed with your comments. I think that Msgr. Pope’s earlier comment that someone was commenting on the subject of the story rather than the context could be applied to at least two of your responses.

            As you said, no one here is suggesting that the true meaning of the “boys will be boys” mindset includes violence, in any shape or form, so, why do you feel it is necessary to bring up? I find it impossible to believe that anyone who is of sound mind, average to below average intelligence, and/or more or less aware of morals, would argue that the Steubenville rape case is “boys being boys”. Just as Dustin’s analogy of a suffragette falls short, yours is no more productive to this conversation.

            Msgr. Pope is describing a boy’s tendency or proclivity to rough housing, to be drawn to weapons, to move at a different speed than girls, not to rape or murder or kill. It is clearly illustrated that the author of the article discouraged hair pulling, but wishes that she would have done so in a way more fitting of the situation. The author recognizes that not all people or genders are exactly the same and that she could have turned that situation into a learning lesson.

            There seems to be an underlying issue that is being illustrated in your comments. My son is 4 and is very drawn to guns and fighting and wrestling, but still loves and protects his 2 year old sister fiercely. He even plays dolls with her and has demonstrated a nurturing side to him that any parent would be proud to see in their children, regardless of sex. I wrestle with my son, we beat each other up in jest and for fun, but my son has not so much as raised a hand to his sister. As his parents, my wife and I understand that a desire for physical activity such as wrestling or fighting does not prelude a tendency to violence.

            No child is perfect and there is not a mold for all children.

  14. A MUST READ ! ! ! I’ve been saying this for years? Raising young men with no hair on their chest. STOP the feminization of men, and start re-feminizing young women instead of masculinizing them. We are still all equals, men and women, we just have different roles and purposes in this life. AMEN ! ! !

  15. No doubt there are divergent behavior patterns between some girls and boys. The problem with an oversimplification like this is it tends to go from “boys ARE like that” to “boys SHOULD be like that”. Contrary to the stereotype, not all boys are violent or muscular, and when they are not they become open to harsh judgment as “fags” or “sissies”– which this line of thinking could well justify–as if they are not acting in accord with the way God made all boys to be. Likewise, the stereotype that all girls are by nature soft and deferential does not correspond to reality (if you’ve ever seen the social dynamic at a girls school or ever been to a girls high school soccer game), but also suggests that girls SHOULD be quiet and passive in their behavior, which quickly can lead to victimization by men. I’m certainly not saying these claims are made directly in the post, but we have to be careful not to impose an artificial standard in the name of simplifying the complexities of sexual identity.

    1. Well, of course, you might what to avoid oversimplifying yourself. IOW I think your attestation that the article says “boys ARE like that” etc is itself an oversimplification of the article. At some level, other things can be held equal. I think a fair minded assessment of the article would be that it is addressing the condition of most boys as rough-housers and warriors, there is no line, to my mind that says every boy is this way; more that it is a general trait.

  16. What an excellent article! Msgr. Pope, I especially enjoyed your focus on the need for boys/men to master their aggressiveness so as to serve the Church with passion, courage, and tenacity. It is quite true that the Church needs to recapture the emphasis on duty, mission, self-sacrifice, and defending the faith. Such topics definitely appeal to men and can provide us with a solid foundation as we discover our personal vocation and the ways in which we are called to find ourselves through a gift of self. I also appreciated the comment about protecting one’s sister. Men certainly have a special role as guardians, especially as it concerns chastity, which reminds me of a few emphases from Blessed Pope John Paul II. The first is when the late pope writes in Theology of the Body 33:2, “the man ought to have been ‘from the beginning’ the guardian of the reciprocity of the gift and of its true balance,” for “although maintaining the balance of the gift seems to be something entrusted to both, the man has a special responsibility, as if it depended more on him whether the balance is kept or violated or even – if it has already been violated – reestablished.” The second is the discussion of emotional and physical shamelessness found in Love and Responsibility. Men need to learn the importance of reverence and healthy shame, especially as the topics concern protecting women from being treated as objects. I think one can also help men learn to be protectors from looking at Familiaris Consortio, especially the line in paragraph 17 where the late pope writes that the “family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.”

  17. I also want to add that certain Catholic universities, such as DeSales University and my alma mater The Catholic University of America, have a strong focus on Catholic brotherhood and virtuous living. CUA and DeSales both have an awesome men’s group known as Esto Vir, which focuses on prayer, chastity, brotherhood, fortitude, and self-sacrifice. Even though I graduated about four years ago, I still consider myself an Esto Vir knight 🙂 And as it relates to the article, the ceremony to join Esto Vir at Catholic University includes being knighted with a sword.

  18. Great article. I wonder if any of this has to do with our past wars. You remove hundreds of thousands of courageous men from the gene pool due to death and injuries both physical and mental and who is left to raise and propagate the next generation? Mainstream media heralds nerds and wimpy men. A sad state of affairs in America today. Again, great article.

  19. Thank you for this post. We are trying hard to teach our son that his strength is to be used for the good and protection of the weak. He’s a big kid (takes after my husband) and will use his size and strength at times to intimidate his younger sister. Not cool, dude. A while back, I told him to “man up” and he said, “but I’m just a boy.”

  20. Having had four boys go through an eduction system ( catholic schooling) that tended to reward the behaviour of girls and punish the natural boistrousness of boys I can assure newparents that nature prevails and my boys are normal males. Likewise observing the rowdy behaviour of my two grandsons I will desist my feeble attempts of repeating what I have put down to the Catholic education sytem. Great article

  21. Your’e not saying that every single male must fit into an ultra-rugged mold, are you? You’re not saying that anyone who doesn’t fit is “feminized”, are you? Furthermore, haven’t a few commenters here raised serious concerns about “your very nature” going haywire? I am reluctant to dismiss those concerns as “scorning.”

      1. “Your’e not saying that every single male must fit into an ultra-rugged mold, are you? You’re not saying that anyone who doesn’t fit is “feminized”, are you?”

        Actually, the article and Msgr.’s comments are addressing the situation, the prevalent one in society for decades now, where the boys in the ultra-rugged mold are being told there is something inherently wrong with them and they have to be changed.

        1. I was taking some words quoted directly from your article and some of the comments. I did not mean to come off as hostile. I appreciate English’s response.

  22. What is so feminine about teaching our sons to be gentlemen? This means respecting the bodies of others as well as others’ feelings and traditions, etc.

    At the core of each man and woman is a PERSON. Teaching virtues opens the path to seeing Christ in others. Rewarding a boy for being rough or for “being a boy” teaches them that their behavior is acceptable. It is not. When they grow and find that their behavior leaves them socially isolated, suddenly they are everybody’s problem!

    1. I think you could use a little more balance in your approach. Rough-housing and such things are normal for most boys and harmless if channeled and sublimated as the author does in the hair pulling incident.

  23. And yet, in miniature, that is exactly the program the Latin Christianity embarked upon, over the course of several centuries, to transform the inculturated violence of the Germanic tribes into the code of chivalry, which obliged knights to use their strength and training to protect women and the powerless. It wasn’t – isn’t – perfect, but is a vast improvement over what we started with.

    A few observations:

    1) It really seems to me, in the West at least.education was for boys, and if parents wanted their girls educated, they either gave their girls what the boys got, or set up a separate system oriented to girls. This works ok because girls, generally, can function well in male social structures, but boys do not, generally, function well in female social structures. You can either see this a defect in boys, or recognize this as a unchangeable feature of the cosmos and set up your social structure accordingly. If education become a ‘chick thing’, most males will opt out of it.
    2) Isn’t that why our educational system was set up with grades and scoring? Because boys respond to competition and an appeal to be the better than the others.

  24. Is there any discussion in society about men for their own sake, rather than men as female-serving appliances? Why is it that any discussion about men immediately becomes a discussion about women? Is it possible to leave women off the table for just five minutes – really, just five minutes, can they handle that? – so that we men can talk about our own needs and concerns?

  25. I have two boys (and then a mess of girls). I have a husband, five brothers, a dad, lots of uncles. There is plenty of manliness going around. But when I read this article the first time I groaned. My experience is that those who are quick to say, “boys will be boys” are the ones who’s boys are too rough, too gross, and not being trained to be gentlemen. I’ve seen mothers laugh and smile with pride as their manly little boys smack others around and break things. My boys have plenty of physical engagement, but they’ve been required to be gentlemen from day one.

    I have also heard, “boys will be boys” to excuse looking at porn and lewd jokes – from practicing orthodox catholics! My husband and I are raising our boys to be men – they play sports, get tons of outdoors time and plenty of hard-labor chores. We build them up to be manly. But we don’t let them be jerks and cads and meatheads, which I’m sure the author isn’t arguing for, but many catholic families around here seem to think is “boys being boys.”

    1. boys [who] are too rough, too gross . . . jerks and cads and meatheads
      _____________________

      Of course, the above describes the antithesis of manliness. A real man is none of these things. And that is what we should be raising boys to be — real men. To take that natural male energy and mold it and direct it in the right direction, rather than stiffling it, either out of some erroneous belief that such natural energy is inherently wrongful violence or because of some misguided idea of androgyny.

      I don’t know if this really fits in this discussion here, but let me tell you about the priests at my parish. Our pastor is a retired Marine who saw combat in the Vietnam War. A strong and manly man to be sure, and he is the most gentle bear you could meet. One associate priest served a couple years in the Army. The other associate priest worked for several years in the Pentagon. Our former transitional deacon was an officer in the Air Force. Each of them with military backgrounds. Each with a background in organizations that exist to engage in war, to kill people and break things. And each, like our pastor, is a good, peaceful, peace-loving, gentle man.

      That energy and boldness and competitiveness and pugnacity which is natural to the male of the species is not a flaw or a vice or an intrinsic evil. It is part of what males are and men should be, if they are directed toward their proper end, which is the virtues of fortitude and courage and dedication and a willingness to fight, yes to fight, for what is good and against what is evil. Here on earth, we are the Church Militant. We need men, men who fight. Being a warrior does not necessarily have to mean being a bloodthirsty thug and bully. Those who are are not true warriors, they are simply thugs and bullys. A true warrior, like a real man, treasures peace and works toward peace so that war is not necessary, but he is ready to fight and defend the good if conflict should come. That is who we need to raise our boys to be.

      1. Exactly. I think the comments above like those by Scotty and Rosemary are confusing some concepts. Men are generally bigger, stronger and more agressive than women. Those are facts, not gender stereotyping.

        The challenge for society is to channel that strength and aggression into the protection of society. If you do not train young men to be protectors of society, they will become predators on society. To directly address one of Scotty’s points, no one here is saying that a man who beats his wife and children is behaving in a manly fashion. He is a coward who is a threat to the weak, not a protector. The man Sally Thomas’ article is talking about producing is the police officer who, at risk to his own life, shows up to stop the coward who is beating his wife and children.

        By the way, a good book on this topic is Boys Should be Boys, by Dr. Meg Meeker.

        1. My comments are only focusing on one issue: why have some parents become wary of things like roughhousing and similar acts of youthful aggressiveness (regardless of whether these things arise amongst boys or girls). I am not denying, and in fact I did confirm that males are typically more violent, at least as far as can be determined from crime statistics.

          Nor am I denying that anger is an important human passion. It is a source of energy that can be turned to good or ill purposes. But I am saying that reigning in the violent impulses that arise from anger is important, even for police officers who must only act with force when absolutely necessary, and then only with the least force needed to accomplish their goal safely.

          Finally, I have never denied that there are positive benefits of healthy rough-housing. I was a boy once, too, and I remember my fair share of wrestling and so forth that I would never deny my own boy. But the thing that made these events so positive is that they were superfluous outpourings of energy, not driven by anger or desire but simply from boyish energy, and I also remember plenty of occasions when my aggressiveness was sparked from envy, desire, or unjust anger – and children have a very difficult time distinguishing between all these differences in their impulses. I am warning against the violence that arises from mimetic desire, that can lead to negative, malicious violence (and which, at least around where I live, is often excused with the “boys will be boys” attitude).

  26. I think normal physical aggression in boys has been channelled exclusively into sports. I would be interested to hear what other people think.

    Sports is the one place in polite society where it’s okay for boys to fight other boys, and no girls allowed.

    Whereas in schools and in churches, women completely dominate. The concerns of girls are paramount. Principals, teachers, parents, parishioners, ministers, priests… everyone is always on high alert, to make sure that no girl anywhere ever feels disrespected. Men who are good at working that system are rewarded. The rest drift away into… sports, I guess.

    Onward Christian… Soldiers? With swords??? Not in my backyard! We live here in Oregon… the local Jesuit High School Crusader mascot, Charlie Crusader, has had the sword removed from his upraised hand. Now it just looks like he’s going to punch you, after he hits you with his shield, http://www.runnerspace.com/members/images/4/14021_full.jpg

    Regarding sports, I fear that the current climate of zero tolerance for being male, in our schools and in our parishes, contributes to the elevation of sports as a source and summit, as the last acceptable religion or reason for being, for boys. Who made me? Coach made me.

    1. I think normal physical aggression in boys has been channelled exclusively into sports.

      In some cases, even in sports some seek to emasculate boys, removing any possibility of competitiveness and grit and fight.

      But sports is a good arena to mold that natural energy into appropriate areas. With respect to physical aggression specifically, a good lesson to teach boys and girls is that there is a time and place for everything.

      In sports, it is proper to get physical — not with everyone, not with your teammates, but directing it toward the opponent, and not by playing dirty, but by playing within the rules. It is proper to utter crush your opponent — on the field during the game — and then when the game is over, you go and shake the hand of the guy you moments ago smashed into the mud and say, “good game.” And then you go and be friends. There is a time and place for everything. When it is “game on,” well then, OK, game on. And when the game is over, it is over.

      Sports is a good place to teach this, but it is not the only place.

      As for the predomination of women in some places, it should be noted that girls and women are not above undue aggressiveness. Sometimes, the wrongful aggression exhibited by them is far worse than any exhibited by a male. But it often takes the guise of passive-aggressiveness. Or it stems from the fraudulent idea promoted by some that a woman cannot be truly a free and full woman unless she is like a man, and not just any man, but unless she is like the worst caricature of men.

      Just as boys need to be taught to be real men, so too do girls need to be taught to be real women, which does not mean weak or powerless, but strong in the virtuous woman’s own feminine way.

  27. As the mother of three boys under 10, I’m continually taken aback by the ways in which people attempt to de-nature them. We were just recently at a lazer-tag birthday party where the rule imposed on the kids was ‘no running’. After about 10 minutes of being shouted at, the boys just gave up, saying ‘what’s the point?’. Two weeks ago, I received a very dramatically upset email from a neighbor over the boys climbing our trees, predicting all sorts of horrors. Lastly, in this past semester our homeschool co-op has imploded over a stipulation added to the bylaws that ‘the more charismatic boys be required to forego leadership roles in play to avoid intimidating other children’. The group is split down the middle by prevailing gender of our children.
    These encounters are just so depressing. It often does feel like one is trying to swim upstream when faced with these nutty, clearly anti-male rules and regulations. I hear myself repeating the phrase ‘I’m raising men, not children” far to often to some well-meaning safety nut.
    Thanks for the article. Quite encouraging.

    1. “Lastly, in this past semester our homeschool co-op has imploded over a stipulation added to the bylaws that ‘the more charismatic boys be required to forego leadership roles in play to avoid intimidating other children’.”

      Good grief. I suppose they also didn’t want to keep score so that there wouldn’t be a winning or losing team?

  28. Loved the article! I have 2 boys (age 4 and 15 months). My 4 y/o is soon to be 5 and is a tough, strong, energetic kid. His mother and I have found that a great way to control it (harness) is to put him to work! We often give him”jobs” to do to focus his energy. Jumping in place to beat a “record” number of jumps or a pushup contest with ole dad works great to.

    Here’s the way I look at it. Anyone who has ever owned a new born puppy knows that that dog, for the first year of his life, is a borderline psychopath. They bite, scratch, chew things up, pee on floors and everyone knows and expects that behavior. Your job as an owner is to correct bad or destructive behavior consistently knowing they will get older, calm down and your training will “stick”. And since one dog year = about 7 people years (or so I’m told), a 4 y/o boy is still a puppy! You should expect puppy behavior and work to train him all the while waiting till he gets to about 6-7 when he matures and your training really starts to stick and become his conscience. There’s a reason the Catholic Church calls 7 the age of reason.

    What I’ve never heard of (doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen) is someone getting a puppy and saying, “this puppy behavior is a disorder, so my puppy needs Ritalin to act like and adult dog”! But that’s exactly what’s done to so many bright, energetic boys who’s very natures we find inconvinient.

  29. Great article. As the mother of boys, I found a real difference in my attitude and those moms who had only girls. a mom would say ” do you see your son walking on that wall”? I would reply “yes” “Aren’t you afraid they will fall? “Only once” I would say. Mom of girls would be aghast and I would yell ‘ you have great balance’. Both sons now are manly men and relatively undamaged by their childhood. In addition to Esto Vir let me also recommend the group Fraternus for middle school and high school boys. Wonderful organization promoting the life of virtue, chastity and honor. With these groups our boys grow into strong physical and spiritual Fathers.

  30. “Too many men stay away from Church because it seems feminine to them. Sermons about duty, courage and fighting the good fight have given way to a steady diet of compassion, kindness, being nice, getting along, self actualizing and, did I mention being nice?”

    Yup! They oughta’ have some manliness courses in the seminary! I’ve already “been in touch with my feelings” for years. Got that down, ice cold! ho-hum

  31. Want vocations to the priesthood?? Read over what “Bender” said [above]:

    “That energy and boldness and competitiveness and pugnacity which is natural to the male of the species is not a flaw or a vice or an intrinsic evil. It is part of what males are and men should be, if they are directed toward their proper end, which is the virtues of fortitude and courage and dedication and a willingness to fight, yes to fight, for what is good and against what is evil. Here on earth, we are the Church Militant. We need men, men who fight. Being a warrior does not necessarily have to mean being a bloodthirsty thug and bully. Those who are are not true warriors, they are simply thugs and bullys. A true warrior, like a real man, treasures peace and works toward peace so that war is not necessary, but he is ready to fight and defend the good if conflict should come. That is who we need to raise our boys to be.”

    Build that insight into vocation calls for men (young and old).

  32. Msgr. Pope,
    Your article has it exactly right. Thanks for printing it.
    The entire Oprah Winfrey (not to pick on Oprah, but she is one of the more prominent proponents) cultural thing of “getting in touch with our feelings” is exactly wrong for boys. Boys need to discipline and channel their feelings from anarchical aggression to constructive outlets. Sports is a no-brainer. As are intellectually challenging pastimes such as chess, construction projects, working on cars, etc. But it starts with parents who understand boys HAVE to be boys, not girls.

  33. THANK YOU! (…and it is unfortunate that some of the extremists had to start overlaying their own agendas so quickly. I read nothing uncouraging violence and unchecked sexuality in this article.)

    Mother of two boys, grandmother to two boys…..and a woman raised in an almost all-female home of origin. My normal, healthy little boys were constantly berated by the teachers and principal of a Catholic school, in fact, it was suggested that the younger one needed inpatient psychiatric help. When evaluated, my husband and I found that the poor little guy had major depression from being told how unacceptable he was day after day at school. A transfer to the gifted program at the public school his dad taught at “cured” him within six months.

    And yes, as a young mother, watching the two of them roll around like puppies (they are a year apart) and break things, I asked my darling spouse, one of three boys, “Why do they DO stuff like that?” His reply? “They’re boys.”

    Both are now gentle and well adjusted men, one already a father, the other to be married this summer (despite the abuse he got in his early school years, he is a Faith Warrior of the highest order and extrememly devout—and bench presses 400 lbs!)

    Boys need men to show them how to be men, and the single mothers in today’s world cannot teach this. Thanks yet again for showing that being a normal, rough and tumble, bug chasing, tree climbing, muddy., loud little boy is NORMAL!!

  34. “Onward Christian… Soldiers? With swords??? Not in my backyard! We live here in Oregon… the local Jesuit High School Crusader mascot, Charlie Crusader, has had the sword removed from his upraised hand.”

    Pacifism is one element of the “Spirit of Vatican II” that, unfortuantely, does not appear to be fading away like most of the others.

  35. As a Catholic father of a 10 month old daughter I am pleading with parents of boys to raise them as boys! Let them rough house and protect like St Joseph did Mary and Jesus. Teach them to sacrifice themselves for their values like so many Saints have done! Let them be boys when they are young so they will be men when ther are older.

  36. This isn’t an article that says we should raise our boys to be jerks and meatheads for Christ. You can be loving and kind AND rough and tumble. There’s no excuse for bad behavior or lazy parenting in the name of gender. This is a great article about embracing the inherent warrior that is our sons and with that doing our best to work with – not against it – to teach them to be good men. (And, yes, maybe not all are natural warriors. And that’s okay, too.)

  37. As a criminal court baliff of 15 years experience,and an oldest son in family of six sons, I SURE don’t see what this article is talking about. My experience in a low level felony drug court this past 5 years has shown me quite the opposite and I am NOT merely refering to minority young ment, either. I see a lot of white middle class, young men as well. MOSTLY, what I see are lazy, unmotivated young men who really don’t care about much at all. AND I see a lot more than you would expect of this at the number of private and Catholic high school I am involved with, not to mention the suburban school in my area that I am familiar with.
    For a more interesting look at this, I suggest reading the Atlantic Monthly article from July 2010 entitled “The End of Men”. It seems that men are causing their own problems and women are rising above their’s.

    1. I think you are more than likely affirming the point of the article rather than disagreeing with it. If we force (many) boys to deny their very nature, medicate some when they are only really behaving like boys, etc., what can you expect but an apathetic confused young man? How is a boy who’s not been taught to channel the drive he naturally has — but instead suppress it — suddenly supposed to emerge from his youth a competent, self-suffient grown-up? Again, that doesn’t mean surrender to the boys-will-be-boys cop-out, but instead embrace the boys-should-be-allowed-to-be-boys proactive approach with the ultimate goal of RAISING men. It only makes sense that more turn to self-medication and can’t seem to find their way. And guess what? You can’t really blame them. Some can’t really be expected to pull themselves up by their boot straps when they don’t even have the boots. And that applies to all socio-economic groups. Which you confirm. And I realize there are great parents whose kids end up appathetic. They are great men who emerged strong despite their upbringing. It’s never one-size-fits-all. But, if we could at least be aware that we can help our boys become warriors for what is good (and that doesn’t mean fighting), shouldn’t we arm ourselves with knowledge to do that?

      1. Uh, NO I’M NOT. I don’t see boys being forced to deny their nature. I see a LOT of “I’m a guy and I”m special. I can do what I want and you better get out of my way.” Take a look at the bullying in schools and tell me that boys are being denied their natures. I hear lots about “wussies” and the bullies who love to mess with them. etc from my nephews in their high schools. Like the “War on Christmas”, this “War on Boys” is a myth.When I worked in other courts, I saw the battery cases by the drunken jocks who thought they were tough up until the judge I worked for, gave them a weekend in jail(he uusally didn’t, but really didn’t like thier attitude). Ask ANY boy in high school, who is a little different what life is like for them EVEN in Catholic High Schools. Yeah, I see the self medicated minority young men, who don’t believe they have a future and have given up, but I also the bullied who couldn’t take it anymore and gave up. I also see the hustlers, who believe in the quick buck and the low level dealers who deal because it’s the only way they can make any money.

        1. Yes, some of those bullies even go on to jobs where they can do their bullying legally, like law enforcement officers or jail/prison guards or even judges and bailiffs. Not most, not even many, but some, at least based on MY 15+ years experience in the criminal justice system.

  38. At first I’d like to say that I appreciate Daniel’s post (14 January 3:27PM) in which I see a warning to avoid rebounding too far in the opposite direction into rigid stereotyping that negates such things as the sensitivity of a rugged primitive who is the first to detect a stalking predator that threatens both him and his comrades. I thank God that we’ve moved on from such a narrow viewpoint. And, after two years of fencing quite a while ago, I find myself thrilled with the thought of receiving a scapular along with a whack on the shoulder with a real broadsword instead of a poke with a blunted foil that I could hardly feel. But, moving on…
    Boys are people who are growing toward being men and: “as the twig is bent, so the tree shall grow” There is a natural tendency among males to be more aggressive and, in more ways than in the use of violence, whether negative and destructive violence or minimal and defensive violence. There may be an aggressiveness to using and improving the use of initiative, understanding, the gaining of knowledge and many other things which society either wants or needs from them.
    But, to deal with matters in an appropriate sequence, I’ll stick to violence at first. Rough housing seems like an early, or preparatory, version of the sort of sparring done by boxers, martial artists, police officers, bouncers, etc. Sparring which is done because it is necessary, not just for the development of the type of close up skills in conflict that is occasionally necessary for protecting society as a whole or, a smaller part such as the family of the adult male who most boys will become. And, another thing about rough housing, sparring or the like. It must be rough and involve a degree of pain. Not necessarily the pain felt by a full force punch of a blow from a well trained fighter but, never the less, enough to bring about the body’s release of adrenaline, endorphines, dope amine and perhaps other God given aids.
    The aforementioned substances are mood altering, even though the person (I willingly include women here) experiencing the alteration, and changes the ability to judge. A person who finds themselves in a conflict while being affected by an unusually high level of these substances is actually stoned on a natural and beneficial drug; usually without knowing it. Perhaps that’s why many fine police officers and military people who can deal well with conflict (at this later stage of their career) but, sometimes, tell horror stories of confused behaviour during their first genuine up close engagement.
    Back in the early primitive stages of the human race groups were small so, when disaster (whether invaders or massively destructive phenomenah) threatened the group the men and older boys stood between the women and children. If the group survived, but lost a large percentage of the men, the next generation had a good chance of restoring the numbers. God knew this and gave the males in general a greater desire and ability for risk while the women tended to be more nurturing so that they could and would protect the children even when it became tough to do so. If the women died dealing with the emergency then the next generation might be too small to perpetuate the tribe which might then fade away.
    But do we need a large number of men experienced in functioning courageously in spite of fear and the body chemistry of conflict? The United States was heavily dependant on men who were well used to violent, and sometimes fatal, conflict to provide a militia during the formative years of the Republic. However, now there’s a large standing army in the US, and elsewhere in our modern world, who continue to prove usefulness in protecting society against hate filled barbaric destruction.
    We also have fine police who have been much criticized lately. But, in my lifetime I seen them struggle with a huge shift in priorities as they’re pushed to accept that a perpetrator is often a sick person as a result of emotional violence. Once, from a taxi stand, I saw two police officers stroll around a known drug zone while assuring the people there that they (the police) were seeking to become enemies of the disease rather than the addicts, even to the point of asking for advice on how to do so. After the police left, some of the habitues came to my cab and vented a bit about how impatient they’d been for the cops to leave but, looking somewhat pensive. At any rate the police do seem to try to do their best to rise to a very difficult challenge. How much better a chance they’d have if they’d been encouraged, when young, to direct their develop their aggressiveness into worthy positive directions.
    There are fine female police officers as well. From a distance it seems that some try to add their perspective to create a better whole – while others seem bent on obliterating male-ness in order to replace it with alternate things that indicate a lack of net gain. However, I admit that my experience is far too limited fro anything which I could regard as more than speculation.
    So now we have a large standing and well trained army, a fine police force who are adapting to a more tolerant attitude, secure availability to a system of providing goods and services who no longer need to hire armed and capable guards to escort caravans and convoys through bandit riddled areas so why, one may ask, would we need to allow lads to develop this know how for positive aggression before the system selects them and trains them to it?
    Well, many empires – including the Roman Empire, had all this along with technology that, although it wasn’t as advanced as ours, it was pretty good for its time and place. The citizens grew content, the young men who din’t join the military grew up soft and, in a relatively short time, it was swept away with a huge part of the populace lacking survival skills or the initiative to develop them.
    So, in the case of the fall of the Roman Empire, Western Europe had several hundred years called the Dark Ages during which the robust attitudes of the males and co-operative military defense skills had to be redeveloped over several hundred years in order to halt barbaric invasions after the Legions were gone. Then, a few hundred more of enduring oppression of a warrior elite before citizen soldiery was once again established.
    For the last forty years I’ve watched the progression of behavioural psychology as it evolved into redirecting superficial self into a mask around real problems and I am left wondering if there’s any good in it. No doubt therapists grew frustrated with the slow progression of the analytical that went to the core and did real healing from the inside out. Quite a process but, it takes time to do a job right. Jeremiah 6:14 & 8:11. There’s a lot of excellent REAL psychology throughtout scripture.
    But, behavioural psychology seems like, change the surface, leave the insides messed and wait till it emerges in other negative ways and deal with that. Sure reminds me of my years of excessive drinking followed by heroin smoke from chasing the dragon. Made my problems seem gone but later ….. they were worse. I thank God for the Twelve Steps which He gave to free us from such. However, it took a lot to get me to accept it. My relatives conspired to have me out on the street, lightly clad, in February. Not a “nice” sugary syrupy sweet non aggressive thing – but it worked. A few years later I told them that it was the kindest thing they’d ever done for me and I thanked them and now I wonder if it would have happened if our generation had of been medicated into plush toy pseudo people.
    Someday the aggression stifling and medicating people may be real glad that there’s good ole boys coming out of the back woods with their hunting rifles to beef up an army. Good ole boys who rough housed as kids and don’t cave in when a bullet zings by the ear.

  39. I read your article with interest coming from two different perspectives. The first is from a mother’s as I have four young adult children- two of whom are young men. Having raised my kids in a protestant-Christian home (our family are recent converts to Catholicism on Easter of 2011), I experienced lots of rough-and-tumble play from the boys while also being able to teach them to be gentlemen. This has helped them to become the young men they are today~ both discerning the priesthood/religious life while they are in college successfully studying for their future. They are strong, faithful and amazing young men who love the Lord, His Blessed Mother & the Church!
    The second perspective is from being a fencing teacher. I have been teaching and coaching fencing for six years, and I always enjoy asking my students why they have chosen to learn fencing. Many times it’s because of swordplay in movies they have seen, or to learn a new sport/hobby, but most of the time it is because of fascination with swords and their history. I have taught 8-72 year olds (both male and female) how to fence, and it is always a great experience.
    I love the opportunity I have to pray for my sons as they continue to grow into the men God calls them to be.Thank you for reminding us that it is okay for boys to be active (I am used to that both as a mom and as a teacher)!

    1. Hooray! Nanci, I wrote a comment about this article on January 14th that I think you will find interesting. I also want to add that I am a young adult fencer. I have been fencing foil on-and-off since 1999. I completely agree that fencing is an amazing way to help people learn and grow in so many ways, especially to help boys/young men grow in self-discipline and focus as they channel their energy & aggressiveness into the creativity/speed/accuracy needed for fencing. I would highly recommend the book On Fencing by Aldo Nadi for any boy or young man who wants to learn both proper fencing technique and the many virtues one learns through fencing. I also agree that the fascination with swords and their history leads many people to pursue fencing, and I think that young men are attracted to the symbolism of the sword as a barrier to all things evil (such as the flaming sword at the Garden of Eden threshold), a defender against injustice, a means to fight every threat, and a sign of strength & identity (think Aragorn in Return of the King). I really enjoy Nadi’s statement that “man is how he behaves sword in hand” and his idea that the fencing strip “portrays the character of the individual.”

  40. I enjoyed the clarity in this article as well as the discussion that follows it. I am a Catholic homeschooling mother of three boys, four girls. I remember worrying about how to raise men, and all the bad advice that was thrown at me. I was warned that by insisting that my boys obey me, that they would grow up sissies. I was cautioned that I shouldn’t expect my boys to behave in public as they were boys, not girls. I remember vividly listening to another mother remark that a in a house with young boys, all the doorframes, walls were damaged and a lot of the furniture was broken by the time the boys left home for college. I angrily responded that if that mother had strong young men in her home her house should have been repaired and furniture replaced. Men are great at building, protecting and providing. Her sons should have left her with everything improved and continue to work with their father in caring for the family resources.
    I also helped split our large homeschooling group into boys clubs and girls clubs as well as a general club for mothers and toddlers. The boys needed to play rough and the girls craved crafts and other more time consuming activities. We were trying to give the boys a place where they could enjoy running around and working with real tools.
    I loved Ann Marie’s story about explaining to the lads the purpose of their strength. I have seen that miracle play itself out with young men I have worked with as well as my sons.

  41. A great article which I agree entirely with. Our society has become effeminate. The most peculiar aspect is that while we decry the energy and violence of boys and men we are a hyperviolent nation. The violence is carried out by the military and the police. We tell boys and men that violence is not the solution to a problem. How can that be true? We are solving many problems internationally with violence. And if a woman calls the police on her husband the police will not use gentle persuasion but violence, even deadly violence, to settle the situation to their and her satisfaction.

    This will be controversial but the idea that women are not violent is exposed as false by the fact that since women were given the vote the US has been constantly at war and the police have gained more and more violent power while the male populace has been defanged. There seems to be something in woman’s nature that demands or at least allows men to solve problems for them with violence. There is a fundamental dishonesty as we drug young boys in schools only to send them off to blow up and kill foreigners when they hit 18.

  42. Great article! I was well on my way to raising two “nice boys” until a friend recommended I read “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge. It was a window into the heart of a man, and helped me celebrate my boys AND their rough ‘n’ tumble ways! We need strong men who are willing to stand and fight for a cause, nice boys don’t do that.

    1. Uh, yes they do, just not in the way YOU might like. As a criminal court baliff, I see WAAYY too much violence done in the name of “justice”. THIS only encourages this.

  43. Just to stir the pot. The argument for violent/aggressive boys seems to stem from some sort of “natural law” or from the fact that it is supposedly self-evident that boys are this way. Is that the extent of the argument? If so, then, I for one am more persuaded by ones who look to the Scriptures and the examples of Jesus or the saints for teaching about nonaggression and peace. Not to be an antagonist, but as a dad of 5 boys, I need more proof for this combative mindset than just “that’s the way things are.” A lot of things “just are” not the way they ought to be. Why is it unthinkable that rather than operating on the assumption of aggression that we can assume peace and gentleness (i.e. being a gentleman)? Rhetoric like “feminizing” is not helpful when left unexplained. There are lots and lots of ways to teach a boy to be “masculine” that don’t include pantomimes of murder.

      1. Msgr.,
        Violence may be distinct (vs. “different”) from aggressive play or competition, but it’s a fuzzier line than you let on. In an earlier comment you asked “How did all this talk of violence enter the picture? The article isn’t talking about violence”, but it IS about violence quite explicitly insofar as it is are promoting the ideas of an article called “The Killer Instinct” in which the author says “What I think I have come to understand about boys is that a desire to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil.” As you note in today’s entry, “thought chains” are powerful, and one needs to be extremely careful lest one end up in a ditch…

        1. You certainly are selective in your comments. Where were you when the angry multitudes of those more orthodox than the Pope were attacking my post on the Bishops. WHere were you when I posted against Capitol punishment or spoke of Jesus not being a republican or democrat. You seem only to write in order to criticise. Perhaps your proclviity to negative commentary stems from latent agresssion in you since, you did not play with enough guns and kill enough imaginary people when you were young and get it out of your system 🙂 More seriously, you are surely free to comment all you want but after a while your negativity comes to seem (to me) as rather a broken record and often pedantic .

      2. Thanks for clearing up my misunderstanding. Phrases like “Killer Instinct,” “proclivity … [to shoot and stab at things and be aggressive,” “obvious fascination with shooting things,” “latent tendencies to violence,” and “desire to commit violence” (and the absence of the word “competition”) got me off track. I just wonder whether the modern boy’s expression of the “natur[al] and common rough-housing” (i.e. pretending to kill people) is more an expression of the surrounding non-Christian culture than the “natural” inclination of a person with both an X and a Y chromosome. I yearn for the day when war will be no more and when swords, spears, and other weapons will be unnecessary (Isaiah 2:4).

  44. This is such a timely article for me. Today at Mass the well intentioned priest preached his homily to the school children who were present and lest anyone think he was “promoting violence.” He took the valiant and heroic story of David and Goliath and basically said because they didn’t know Jesus in that time they didn’t know it was wrong to fight and that we should never hurt someone physically. While I appreciate his attempt to help 3rd graders understand the “Spritual slingshot and stones” of love, obedience etc we can use all I could think was that he totally missed the opportunity to talk about being a hero for God and how any type of “David and Goliath” story speaks to our human desire for triumph of good over evil etc. What a missed opportunity to capture the valiant spirit of each little boy in that Mass and ignite it with the desire to serve God in a heroic manner even when all you have is a “slingshot.”

  45. Searching the net for more on this led to finding the term, “Bubble Wrap Generation” which appears to address the issue as it is directed toward both genders of children, which seems appropriate, at least from my imperfect perception.
    The Australians seem to be more diligent than most in looking into this, since branches of the government is getting more of a concerned involvement than one might see elsewhere. Here’s a link that one could check out. http://uws.academia.edu/KarenMalone/Papers/367970/The_Bubble-Wrap_Generation_Children_Growing_Up_In_Walled_Gardens complete with a photo of an actual bubble wrapped child.

  46. Great post. Sadly, the preponderance of effeminates in chasuables (at least in the USA) makes improvements in this area very difficult indeed.

  47. Being the mother of four sons, but having been raised with four sisters, I slowly came to realize that boys had a perspective and energy all to their own. Instead of trying to control them and feminize them I read all I could about boys and came to understand their amazing masculinity! So I gave them plenty of opportunity for destroying things or building things just so they could destroy it. Its been really fun to see them explore and attack and push through the pain. I love boys and I love the men they turn in to! Thanks for this great article!

  48. I would suggest an idea spearheaded, I believe, by Immanuel Kant. He proclaimed that the way human beings most truly live out their freedom is not merely by existing and following their instincts, but by their ability to obey and follow laws, including laws that are not the so-called “natural law.”
    I posit that this idea, a very rational one I think we can all agree, could extend to cover the bringing-up of male children. There is no societal shadow cast over being male, rugged, or masculine; one only needs to look at the sadness or “otherness” of boys who do not enjoy stereotypical male activities such as sports or other aggressive activities (including one brother of mine, who, just entering high school this past year, has been mercilessly treated by other schoolchildren who do not believe he is “man” enough). The true men, and the truly free boys, are the ones who subdue their more animal passions in favor of the kind of life encouraged by Christ: one of peace and love for God and neighbor. While there is certainly nothing wrong with active play for boys, encouraging the kind of incident described in the article (i.e. pulling the child’s hair) is frankly disturbing. Instead, perhaps encourage your sons, as I believe one of the commenters already suggested, to channel their God-given energy into more productive arenas, such as sports, physical exercise, or physical tasks.
    As I have said above, the “boys will be boys” mentality, when carried to its natural conclusion, is an astonishingly lax and, ultimately, disturbing and problematic, particularly as it is a mindset held by much of society.

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