Focus on the Family Broadcast

Raising Tween Boys in Today’s Culture (Part 1 of 2)

Raising Tween Boys in Today’s Culture (Part 1 of 2)

Author Dannah Gresh explains how parents can encourage their tween and teen sons to pursue goodness in a culture that celebrates bad behavior in young people. (Part 1 of 2)
Original Air Date: October 30, 2012



Young Mom: My two boys are so little, they’re just starting grade school, but I’m even now starting to look ahead and think about those teen years and really wonder what my relationship is going to be like with them when that time comes. I just pray that God would just really give me wisdom and maturity to just know how to react to them.

End of Clip:

John Fuller: You can hear her heart. That’s a mom who wants to interact with her boys and guide them toward being good men and they grow up so fast, you might be felling the same way. What kind of man is my boy going to turn into? And we’ll address that on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Hey, John, you and I, we can relate to what that mom just said. We both have teen boys. I’ve got two of ’em; you’ve got one right now.

John: I’m down to one now, yep.

Jim: And they do grow up fast and as dads, I mean, we understand that transition from boyhood to manhood. It doesn’t typically happen easily. There’s gonna be bumps in the road and I like the fact that she is looking downstream to say, what kind of man will my boy be?

But for many moms, that transition can be challenging, because during the tween and the teen years, especially boys get louder, probably more physical. I know my boys are goin’ at it at times. You know, they wrestle and sometimes it gets pretty intense. They’re messier (Laughing) and as my wife would say, “pungent” at times. (Laughter) But you know, if you walk into your teen boy’s bedroom, there just is a different. You’re going, “What is that smell?”

John: You just want to open the window (Laughter) and–

Jim: Exactly.

John: –let it air out a little bit. (Laughter)

Jim: And you know, especially I think for wives and moms who grew up just with sister and … and didn’t have that experience.

John: Yeah, ’cause girls don’t sweat and they don’t smell.

Jim: They’re like, what is this? (Laughing) It’s a foreign concept.

John: Well, we’re returning to a conversation about this, that we recorded just a few years ago with Dannah Gresh. Now she normally speaks and writes about purity and modesty issues for young girls, but she’s got a son. And so, she has some great parenting insights for us on this topic.

Jim: And in fact, John, when this program aired for the first time, a listener contacted us through our phone app, which I’d encourage everybody to download–it’s a great way to listen to the program–and she said this, “Thank you for this wonderful broadcast. As a woman who grew up in a single-parent home around very strong-minded feminist role models, I had a hard time learning how to mother my son, no 12-years-old, who has a strong will, independent character. Our relationship has blossomed this past year and I plan to fight to keep it from regressing.”

And that is great. You know, so often in that relationship, mom and son, there can be some rifts that occur because you think differently and you treat each other differently. And we want to empower you as that mom and dad and uh … give you hope, really, that looking down line, what kind of 25-year-old do you want when you look into the eyes of that 13-year-old? And I think this program will deliver that hope for you.

John: And if you can’t stick around, we have it in its entirety on CD or as a download at or call us and we can tell you more, 800-A-FAMILY. And now let’s go ahead and hear that conversation with Dannah Gresh on today’s “Focus on the Family.”


Mrs. Dannah Gresh: I remember my sweet cuddly Robby, I’m still allowed to call him Robby. If you ever meet him, please call him Rob.

Jim: Are you the only one that’s allowed to–

Dannah: I–

Jim: –call him that? (Laughing)

Dannah: –think so, yes. But he turned into this body-slamming maniac. (Laughter) He would just run up to me and body slam me. And I went to my husband. I said, “Bob, there’s this problem I need to talk to you about. I’m concerned. Something really bad has happened to Robby, He’s body slamming me.” And he explained to me (Laughter) that these were really love slams (Laughter)

John: Not love pats; love–

Dannah: No.

John: –slams.

Jim: So, you were panicked though. You thought this was unusual behavior.

Dannah: Yeah, I thought he was gonna turn our really bad. (Laughter) But he’s a gentle giant and a very godly sweet guy. It is a stage. Moms, listening, your sons will survive and so will you.

Jim: Well, Dannah, you have done an outstanding job with the book that you’ve written called Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy. And obviously, this is motivated from your own personal research and I’m sure moms that you talked to. Why do moms have the kind of peculiar relationship with their sons?

Dannah: Well, it’s hard for us because we haven’t been a boy and we don’t understand. What many moms don’t understand, we see our girls go through hormonal changes and they’re very visible and there are very obvious changes and there’s action to take. And so, we understand why she’s crying at the foot of the bed. We get that.

John: You’ve been there.

Dannah: We’ve been there.

Jim: That’s the part us husbands don’t get (Laughter)

Dannah: Right.

John: And we’re scratching our heads.

Dannah: Exactly. But when our sons start bouncing the basketball off the china cabinet, we just think he’s bad. We don’t understand that this is his hormonal development. This is his hormonal mountain to climb and so, we don’t really know how to handle it. So, I really wrote the book so that moms could better understand what was happening inside their boys’ bodies and inside their minds.

Jim: Well, and I think every parent and certainly, every mom in the Christian community, they want to raise their children to be good kids, good boys. Hhow do you (Chuckling) discern as a mom if your boy is actually on the right trajectory? What is a good boy?

Dannah: Well, I think [we] define good. And when I went back to the Word of God and I should say, the reason I went to the Word of God, to explore the Lord’s goodness and good boys was because really in culture in the last five years we’ve seen all these questions, Amazon best-sellers, Where Have All the Good Men Gone? And you know, New York Times articles on “What’s So Good About Men?” And there’s this question in society that men have lost their goodness.

And so, I went to the Word of God and I just said, “God, what do You say about goodness?” And when you look at the word “good” in the Scriptures, it really is the word “useful” or “beneficial.” Even when we’re talking about God being good, it’s this word of usefulness.

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: And so, when He is good, it’s because He’s useful to us. He’s thinking outside of Himself and towards and for our best interest.

Jim: And that’s hard, especially your book is geared toward the tween years, so–

Dannah: Yeah.

Jim: –I would think the 9, 10, 11, 12 age range. Kids that age, particularly boys, they’re very self-focused.

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: Can we overreact as they’re developing naturally and some of the self-centeredness is just part of being human? And certainly from a Christian perspective, we want to teach them not to be that way, but can we overreact?

Dannah: Well, we can overreact, but we can’t not react–

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: –because the society is selling the bad-boy mentality. Society is saying, it’s okay to be self-focused. It’s okay for you to be happy; all you need in life is for you to succeed. And it’s losing that thinking outside of yourself and towards and for others mentality that used to be just a part of teaching a boy to be chivalrous, part of teaching a boy to be a gentleman. It was part of the natural development.

Now there’s actually a new term that’s been coined called “adultescent;” not adolescent, adultescent, which is just for those 22-year-old males who are still living in their parents’ basement playing Call of Duty on their PlayStation because they haven’t risen above their own desires to think for and towards others.

Jim: Okay, well, let’s roll that clock back from that 22-year-old that’s doing that; take him back to a 10- or 12-year-old. What can a mom do particularly to begin training him for a better outcome?

Dannah: Well, I’m glad you asked (Laughter), because I explored that very question and I came up with six ways to really keep that good in your boy and they really are counterintuitive to the female instinct.

Jim: Oh, this is good.

Dannah: For example (Laughing), one of them is, get ’em outside to play. You know, it’s not really good for us to keep our boys safe and clean and neat and close to home. It is good for them to go out and to scrape their knees. Why is that good? Moms need to know the answer to that question. I remember one time leaving and my husband was home alone when I got back and I said, “Where is Robby?” He was about 12. He said, “I sent him on his bike with some money–

Jim: Oh!

Dannah: –to get some milk at the local convenience store.” My mind went through the math of all the intersections he was gonna have to [cross], all the scary people he was gonna meet there.

John: Get mugged there.

Dannah: Oh, my goodness; he was most definitely not gonna survive this experience. And that’s a mom instinct–

Jim: Uh-hm.

Dannah: –to keep them close, to keep them safe. But the research really indicates that letting them risk at an appropriate age is one of the best things we can do for our sons and that’s why a mom needs to understand why.

Jim: How does a mom come to grips with that? If you were asking Jean, what is the appropriate age to allow risk, she would say 18. (Laughter) I mean, for a 12-year-old–

Dannah: Yeah.

Jim: –to go into the big city and get that milk four blocks away and have to go through three intersections–

Dannah: Yeah.

Jim: –she would panic, as well. How does a mom calm down and trust that the Lord will take charge of that situation?

Dannah: Well, in the book I write about something called “wolfing.” (Laughter) And …

Jim: And that’s not eating

Dannah: No, it’s not. “Wolfing” is not eating, not eating fast. It’s a study of really how wolves parent, that my husband and I came across in the early ’90s. And a wolf parents this way. The first six weeks of a baby cub’s life, that wolf never leaves the den and mama is right there with him or her the entire time. She is teaching skills like nurturing, cleaning, taking care of your body, all that kind of stuff. And moms, human moms do that really well. We want to keep our little cubs close and safe and nurtured.

But then at 6 weeks of age, that cub pack goes outside of the den where dad is waiting. And dad begins this game of relay. He takes a stick. And what he’s doing, he’s taking those baby cubs further and further away from the den. It’s his job to teach them risk.

Jim: Make them feel comfortable away from mom and the den.

Dannah: Yes and he does it using a game. And then, the other thing that dad does though, if there’s any danger, there is no doubt that daddy’s fangs are comin’ out and he’s gonna be growling. But you know who he’s growling at? He’s not growling at the danger. He’s growling at those little cubs, saying go back to the den. So, he’s teaching them the wisdom of how much risk to take and when to be wise.

And that’s really a lesson, a very good visual picture I think for moms, because we don’t want our kids to play that game of risk relay with dad. And so, what happens is, we become nags. You know that day that my … my son [sic] sent Robby to get the milk? I told him, “If Robby survives this, you will not.” (Laughter) You will not survive this. I was so upset.

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: And we take away the wildness of our husbands–

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: –that God meant to plant in our sons.

Program Note:

John: Dannah Gresh is our guest on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly and I really appreciate what she’s saying. It reminds me of how my wife was willing to let our sons climb up trees, even though there was always a chance they might fall down and hurt themselves.

Now the basis of this conversation is Dannah’s book, Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy. And we’ve got a copy of that and a CD of this program when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or you’ll find those and the download for our mobile app at

End of Program Note

Jim: What’s another one of those examples where moms need to be mindful of stunting a boy’s natural exploration, risk orientation and really dumbing down their pathway to manhood?

Dannah: Well, you just mentioned one. Your wife let your son climb trees and if he falls, so be it.

John: Uh-hm.

Dannah: That’s good parenting.

Jim: (Laughing) Now some (Laughter) moms right now, Dannah are saying, “That’s crazy.”

Dannah: I know.

Jim: If my husband did that, I–

Dannah: Right.

Jim: –would lecture him tonight.

Dannah: Exactly. But what the research indicates is, those boys that get outside to be wild, there’s a part of the brain that develops that enables him to have the greater self-control when he’s a teenager and a young adult male.

Jim: Explain that–

Dannah: Yeah.

Jim: –to the lay person. What does that mean, brain chemistry?

Dannah: Between the ages of like 9 and 12, the prefrontal cortex experiences prolific growth. Now the prefrontal cortex is where executive function or self-control is hard-wired into the human mind–

Jim: Judgment.

Dannah: –into the human soul, judgment.

John: Hm.

Dannah: So, when a child goes outside and he has the ability; it’s like a blank canvas to play on. And he has to grab his friends and start a game. And they have to make up the rules and decide what the rules are and decide how bloody they might get. They are making decisions at every moment and that’s firing up all the synapses that create growth in this self-control center of their brain.

For example, let’s say that they all decide they’re gonna climb to the top of this cliff and jump into the water. And there’s rocks between them and where the water is and you know, they have to decide, is this gonna kill me or just really, really hurt? And that’s a good decision for a boy to have to make. You know what? A lot of times when a boy’s confronted with that decision, he is gonna make the decision, “No, that’s gonna kill us. Let’s move down here to the other part of the cliff.” The prefrontal cortex is firing up.

Why does that matter? Because when he’s 16 or when he’s 18 and he’s confronted with the risk of pornography, or an aggressive girl or any other thing that a mom fears for her son, what he has learned at the top of that cliff will kick in.

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: And that matters.

Jim: Dannah, as you’ve said though, that seems so counterintuitive. A mom’s instinct is to protect all along the way. And that may be why we have 22-, 23-year-olds at home still, living in the basement, playing videogames, because we’ve overparented. But that counterintuitiveness that you talked about, how did you find that peace to be able to let Robby be a boy and be a teen boy?

Dannah: Well, I’m not sure I was always at peace about it, but I read enough great books to know that it was right. I remember distinctly a time watching my son at the base of a muddy drainage pipe with all the neighborhood boys. And I could tell they were making plans to crawl through that drainage pipe that led to God knows where. And I started putting on my shoes, ’cause I was gonna go out there and tell those boys how dumb and dangerous and “You can’t do this” and all that kind of stuff, when one of the other boys’ moms confronted me and said, “This is good for them.” So, I’m not sure–

Jim: Did she catch you in the driveway or where did she get ahold of you?

Dannah: –I don’t remember exactly how that unfolded, but in my fury and her son was the one leading the pack (Laughing).

Jim: So, you were gonna straighten him out (Laughter).

Dannah: I was ready to go tell her about her son. She’s a dear friend of mine. But I think that I say that only because, Jim, [as] moms, it’s counterintuitive for us–

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: –to watch our sons be like this.

Jim: Let me give you this story, because I think it paints the picture that you’re writing about in your book, Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy. Danny Oertli, who’s a musician was doing a chapel here and I’ve repeated this before, but it … it was profound for me. And he has an adopted son and he felt sorrow for this little life, the tough life that this little boy had led so far.

So, when he would pray for him at night, he would pray for God to keep him safe. And he prayed that prayer every night for a long time. And after a while, he felt the Holy Spirit say to his heart, “It’s not about being safe; it’s about following Me.”

Dannah: Hm.

Jim: In our overprotection mode as parents and in a dangerous culture–we recognize that; it’s different going to the park to play on your own today than it would’ve been 20, 30 years ago– are we communicating a message that works against even the Lord’s design of risk? That as a Christian and in the Christian life, that there’s risk.

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: You’ve gotta be bold enough to speak out for your faith. And if we shelter these kids, particularly boys, too much, they may not even find the courage to do that.

Dannah: That’s exactly right. And I don’t think the Lord ever asks us to be safe. He just promises us that He’ll walk with us through the risk. And when we send the message to our kids by tellin’ them, “You can’t go outside, ’cause you might scrape your knee,” we’re also telling them that when you’re 25 and God calls you to go into India to kick down the doors of brothels, you shouldn’t do that, because you might not be safe.

Jim: You might get a scratch.

Dannah: You might get a scratch. And the Lord does call good men to go into India and to kick down the doors of brothels and go into Washington, D.C. and kick down walls of untruth and go into places where there’s risk so that we can be a light to the world. And that’s what’s at stake here. It’s not that our son is gonna scrape his knee. He will survive that scrape. But will the church survive to have good men in leadership in 10, 20 and 30 years?

John: Well, Dannah, you’re speakin’ to the hearts of so many who are listening. There is a phenomena of a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old boy who says, “Sorry, Mom, I’m checkin’ out. I don’t like being a little boy anymore the way you’re treating me.”

Jim: And it may not even be a moment, but may be a progression of attitude.

John: Sure, it’s an attitude that kind of creeps in. How can she counteract that and still have influence in his life?

Dannah: Well, this is, I guess, gonna sound a little old-fashioned, but I think it’s biblical. And it goes back to the concept of “wolfing” that I mentioned a little earlier in the show. I think that’s when dad steps in. I really think that one of the things our culture has done is emasculated men to the point where men can’t be the vocal leader that comes in and draws the line in the sand and snarls at his kids when they step out of line.

And you know what? Sometimes they can’t do that because mom won’t let ’em. There have been times where I have been the one saying, “Oh, Honey, don’t discipline them like that, please.” Wrong call, mom.

John: So, it’s a matter of dad stepping up and kind of enforcing some respect.

Dannah: Enforcing respect. I remember a time and so does my son, Robby. Oh, does he remember it. In the book, he actually wrote a little piece about how he just dreaded this day. It was the last day of Christmas vacation. He was about 12-years-old. I had asked him to help me put the Christmas decorations away in the attic above the garage and he had been really mouthy and disrespectful and you know, he had his plans for that day and they didn’t include helping mom.

And my husband stepped in; the “wolf dad” stepped in and gave him a 300-page biography to read about a great male leader. And it was a great male leader, but it was a boring, long book. And he said, “You’ll read this book by the end of the day and then you’ll write a report to me about what a good man does in terms of respecting his leaders and his elders and his mother.

And my son remembers that. He said, “You know what? I never talked back to my mom again, not because I wanted to respect her. At the age of 13, I didn’t understand that. I just didn’t want to have to read another book like that.”

John: (Laughing)

Dannah: “But over the years I have learned respect, because my dad stepped in to draw a line in the sand.” I think that matters.

Jim: Dannah, we’ve talked a lot about the mom and the relationship with the son. What about the single mom–

Dannah: Hm.

Jim: –who may not have the husband to strengthen her and to reinforce the things that she’s doing? She’s gotta be both the one who allows and gives the leash for risk and then pulls it back for safety. That can be probably fatiguing–

Dannah: Yeah.

Jim: –emotionally.

Dannah: Very much so. In fact, as I was writing this book, I realized that I couldn’t write it without my husband and I couldn’t write it without the voice of a single mom. And so, I asked best-selling author, Angela Thomas to be that voice. She spent several years as a single mom; it’s not what she wanted. It’s certainly she tried everything not to be.

And she writes about those sad times, those lonely times, those times of fatigue when you have to be both. But she also says and this is from the heart of a single mom, not from my heart, it takes a man, a good man to raise a good son. And if you are a single mom, you need to have the wisdom to plant good men in your son’s life.

She was so radical about this and I’m not sure every mom has to be this radical. But she was so radical about it that she moved from a neighborhood where she didn’t have good men around her sons, to a neighborhood where there were other men from her church. And she went to those men in her church and she said, “I want you to know, you have permission to speak into my sons’ life. And t

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Six Ways to Keep the "Good" in Your Boy

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