What boys need most – an observation

June 7, 2023

2 boys. 2 stories.

Several weeks ago, my four-year-old grandson Henry and I were watching the Disney movie The Good Dinosaur, one of his favorites. At the climax of the action in the movie, Henry jumped off the couch with a roar and began running around the room pretending to be Arlo (the good dino) by knocking down trees with his tail, grabbing them in his teeth and throwing them in the air to wipe out the evil pterodactyls and win the day. It was mildly alarming until I realized what he was doing…he was playacting a hero.

Second story. In April I was leading a Destiny Workshop on the campus of Virginia Tech for 45 young men, fraternity brothers in Alpha Tau Omega. (You can read about my work with ATO here.) I was explaining to the guys the importance of our life stories in shaping our calling. I asked them if anyone had already seen something in their life story that offered a clue as to their purpose. One man’s hand shot up as he claimed, “Absolutely! I grew up in a wonderful home with a loving family. Because of that, I decided to come to Virginia Tech to become a civil engineer, ultimately, to design unique houses that become homes that shape families.” This was not playacting, but his desire was every bit as powerful as Henry’s…to become a hero.

Boys need to be significant…to be recognized and respected. They need to be heroes.

In his book Cracking the Boy Code: How to Understand and Talk with Boys, author Adam J. Cox suggests, “There is in most boys a yearning to be something more than they are.”  Cox tells his story of trying unsuccessfully to understand and communicate with a group of nine-to twelve-year-old boys. Then, one day, as he was watching the movie Gladiator, he was captivated by the credo Maximus used to rally his troops to battle – “Strength and Honor!” Cox knew this rallying call was a magical Hollywood moment, and he knew it was exactly what he needed for his boys’ group. Employing it as their regular greeting to one another, he reports that  “…everything changed that day. ‘Strength and honor’ reinforces the way boys want to feel about themselves. With that greeting, we transformed ourselves from a group concerned with individual deficits and inadequacies, to a band of brothers committed to serving one another. We were ready to slay dragons if necessary.”

Here are a few more insights from Cox’s book:

“For most boys, the most important way to demonstrate your love is through respect. When treated with respect, a boy senses that he is being taken seriously. That seriousness confirms his positive status.”

“Taking them seriously is the single most important and significant privilege you grant a young man.”

And finally, this, which is revolutionizing how I relate to Henry and Jude, my ten-year-old grandson, and how I speak to the hundreds of young collegians all over the US. “There is, in most boys, a yearning to be something more than they are.”

Boys can be thickheaded. Boys can be ridiculous. Boys can do stupid things. Boys can be infuriating. Boys can hurt deeply and keep things buried deep inside. Boys can shut you out.

But boys can be rallied by strength and honor. Boys will jump at the chance to do something significant. Boys will throw themselves into a task that is epic. Boys can be and will be heroes if we call it out of them, believe in them and show them their road to adventure.


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