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Focus on the Family Broadcast

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

Raising Tween Boys in Today’s Culture (Part 2 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 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: October 31, 2012



Mrs. Dannah Gresh: 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.

Jim Daly: You’ve been there.

Dannah: We’ve been there.

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

Dannah: Right.

John Fuller: Yeah, we’re scatchin’ our head (Laughter).

Dannah:: Exactly. But when our son starts bouncing the basketball off the china cabinet, we just think he’s bad.

End of Recap

John: Well, it may not be a bad boy, just an expressive boy. You’re gonna hear more about raising boys into good, godly men and our guest today on “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly is Dannah Gresh. She’s a mom who knows all too well how good or bad a boy can be and we’re lookin’ forward to hearing more from her today.

Jim: John, I’m still thinking about something Dannah observed in our last program, how good boys are typically not celebrated in our culture today. Instead, there’s this fixation on bad boys and men who are acting out in destructive ways. We see it in the media all the time and in movies and TV shows and sports.

John: Sports, yeah.

Jim: Some of the most popular male celebrities today flaunt their, what I would say is their dysfunctional behavior and give the wrong message about what it means to be a real man. And we’ve got to counteract those messages in our boys that they’re absorbing in the culture. And as dads, we’ve gotta be more intentional. I know Jean would appreciate this for me to be more intentional about modeling what healthy and godly masculinity looks like. And as parents, we need to give our boys good male role models to look up to. And that’s why I am so thrilled to bring back this great conversation with Dannah Gresh, where she looks at practical ways that you can challenge your tween and teen boys. Give them some rails to run on and help them grow up to be the men God created them to be.

If you didn’t hear our conversation last time, I often say this, get the CD or the download or get the smartphone app, so you can listen that way and contact us about Dannah’s book, Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy: Guiding Your Son from His Tweens to His Teens. And I don’t think the content will disappoint you.

John: Well, I’d agree, Jim and the app, the book, the CD all available and more at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . Call if you’d like. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And now here’s part two of our conversation with Dannah Gresh on today’s “Focus on the Family.”


Jim: Dannah, when you look at it, think of the 12-, 13-year-old, that the mom already sees as kind of off the good and true path, however that happened. Maybe he’s lying. Maybe he’s distorting the truth, not telling her the truth about homework and other things. What does a mom do with that kind of poor wild spirit? It’s wild in a rebellious way.

Dannah: Well, the same thing the Lord did, apply a lot of grace and lot of truth and both of them in generous measure. ‘Cause I think a lot of times what can happen, let me give an example of something that a mom hopes she will never face. She finds her son looking at pornography. Many moms listening have encountered this or will. The average age of the first inception of pornography today is about 11-years-old.

Jim: That breaks my heart.

Dannah: Terrifies me. It is so critical at that moment that a mom’s response is fueled first by grace.

Jim: Role play that for me. What–

Dannah: Well …

Jim: –would a mom say in that moment? I can only imagine for Jean it would be terrifying–

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: –that feeling of terror. I’ve lost my son.

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: That’s not the case.

Dannah: You know, it’s not the case. The majority of men that you know, mom, have seen pornography and that’s tragic and horrific and I hate it. But they have survived and many of them, probably most of them have gone on to be good men. It is a very sad tragic part of our contemporary society. You know, why didn’t our grandparents struggle with pornography? They didn’t have to drive by the Hooters billboard every day.

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: Our sons do and they notice it. And they start noticing about 9, 10, 11, 12, when testosterone starts to kick in. The last thing they need is to feel filthy and dirty and like they’re the only one who’s ever seen pornography.

Jim: So, how does that mom say that? Boom! She’s walked into the situation. He’s looking at something he shouldn’t look at on the Internet or a magazine. What should that mom do–

Dannah: You know–

Jim: –in that moment?

Dannah: –I think you say, “Oh, wow, Buddy. You know what? This is not a good path, but I want you to know you’re not alone. Other guys struggled with this. In fact, let’s go talk to your dad about this. Let’s go talk to your dad about how he’s faced this battle.” And you begin what really will be a lifelong dialogue for his tween, teen and early adult years.

Jim: Dannah, one of the big struggles that I think moms have and dads do, too today, especially Christians parents, we want our kids, we desire so deeply to raise our kids to be good boys and girls. And when they slip, which is so natural, I think we fail to think back when we were that age and we don’t understand, you know, we made it through. God’s grace is there. But there is so much pressure for perfection in the Christian home. How does a mom who feels in some ways that it reflects upon her when their little boy is acting out at the store or doing something that’s embarrassing? How do they manage that personally, not just the bad behavior of the child, but this reflects on me as a parent, as a mom.

Dannah: Well, here’s a good question for that mom. There once was this perfect Father, Who walked and talked with His children every day. And then Adam and Eve reached for an apple. Was there something wrong with that Father? Was it something He did?

I heard a woman speak about that years ago when my children were small and that changed forever the way I looked at my children’s sin. And certainly, we have to do everything we can to be great parents, because there are things that we can do to contribute to our children’s sin. But all in all, we have to realize that they’re just like us. They’re gonna sin. That perfect little face that eats dinner across from you every night is gonna have the same sexual thoughts that you had when you were their age, is gonna have the same tendency to lie that you did when you were their age.

And if all we do is respond with discipline and boundaries and lines and we forget the grace and the forgiveness, you know, God did come into Adam and Eve and He created some really tough boundaries for them. There were consequences that we still live with today. But then, He comforted them. Those pathetic fig leaves that they used to cover themselves, he created nice fur garments for them. I think Eve was the first “fashionista” after that. (Laughter) You know, she had this comfort. God said, you know, these are the boundaries, but here’s my love. And that’s what I think a lot of times as parents, we don’t do well when our children are tweens and teens.

Jim: Because they’re pushing that boundary–

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: –and testing our “comfortability with their path.

Dannah: They will drive you nuts.

Jim: Yeah, they will. You know, somebody said to me and I’ve done this with my boys and I’ve seen them light up when I’ve said this, when I tuck them into bed and we say our prayers and all those kinds of things, particularly in my younger one, who tends to be more socially oriented and outgoing and friendly. But I’ll whisper in his ear, “You’re good enough.” And you can see it in his face, just like what you just did.

Dannah: Uh-huh.

Jim: His expression is, “Oh!”

Dannah: Oh.

Jim: It’s a breath of acceptance. He knows that he’s in. And boy, do little boys need that. We talk about body image and all the things for little girls. Little boys need to know they’re good enough.

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: And that will light their flame to want to be even better.

Dannah: For this book, Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy, my son wrote the foreword. And one of the most encouraging things that he wrote was this. “My parents aren’t perfect and they wouldn’t want me to tell you that they are. They know the difference though between, ‘You’re doing it all wrong’ and ‘You can do better.’” And I think that’s what discipline needs to be. It doesn’t need to be, “Man, did you blow it!” It needs to be, “You can do better.”

Jim: How do we apply that? Because again, boys can be mischievous. Boys can get themselves into things that maybe little girls wouldn’t because in some ways they’re smarter (Chuckling)–

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: –at that point. Boys are pressing the boundaries. The hormones are pushing them to risk.

Dannah: Well, let me just explain why girls are smarter, ’cause you’re right; we are. (Laughter)

Jim: Well, I don’t know if our male listeners [agree], no, no. (Laughter) But I appreciate what you’re saying.

Dannah: This helped me so much as a mom, ’cause again, moms understand the hormonal stuff happening in their daughters. But the boy stuff? Between the ages of 11 and 12, a boy is literally overloaded with testosterone and dopamine.

Jim: What’s the impact on their little bodies at that point?

Dannah: Testosterone says to their little bodies, be aggressive. And dopamine says, be risky, okay. Now think of that in terms of 20 years down the road when God’s calling them to do something grand with their life. They have the courage to take the risk. They have the courage to be aggressive and assertive.

But here’s the problem. Their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls self-control isn’t fully developed till they’re about 20. So, at the age of 12, all I know is, risk and aggression, not smart thinking. Now for our boys, that means a lot of chaos.

Now girls, in those years they’re getting a lot of serotonin, which is a calming chemical, a chemical that says, slow down; think about this. Boys don’t have that. So, in some senses, girls in terms of taking risk and they are a little bit smarter during those years.

What that means is, that mom and dad have to be the “smart.” Mom and dad have to be very intentional about setting limits during those tween years that will carry them through to when their brain kicks in at the age of 20, 22, 23 and that self-control is fully formed.

So, what a parent really needs do is be proactive. We don’t need to worry so much about spending all our time disciplining after something bad has happened. We need to help them make decisions that set those boundaries before bad stuff happens.

Jim: Uh-hm.

Dannah: So, that’s what the book’s kind of about, is how do you set those limits? What are those limits?

Jim: You know, in our culture today, Dannah, I’m reminded that so much of that risk taking is done in the virtual environment, rather than go out and climb and play army like I used to do or Batman and run around the woods and make rifle noises and machine gun noises, kids sit in front of videogames and some may be appropriate. We try to monitor that very closely.

Dannah: Hm.

Jim: Other parents may be more lax at that 11-, 12-year-old stage where they might be doing military videos where they’re shooting and other things are happening. Are we assuming that they’re getting that sense of risk through a virtual environment while they sit on the coach eating potato chips, but not really doing the physical expression of that? And what’s the danger in that?

Dannah: Well, you’ve kind of mentioned what the danger is, because the research really indicates that when a boy is playing Call of Duty and he does something “heroic,” his body gets this jolt of chemical that says, “You just did something fantastic.” When in the real world, he did nothing at all.

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: And there can become an addiction to that purpose, so much so that some of the leading thinkers on male development and boyhood and fatherhood are saying that they can become so addicted to the purpose in the PlayStation, that they have no appetite for purpose in real life and I can’t think of anything scarier for my son.

Jim: And so, they disconnect to the real world and they don’t engage the real world socially or in any other way. That is a real problem. What does a mom do in that case? And dads, obviously, but what can they do to help mitigate that kind of risk?

Dannah: Well, I wrote a chapter entitled “Give Him a Book to Read.” Because one of the things that we can really trace in terms of this whole gaming phenomenon is, that there is incredible academic decline in boys that can be traced right back to the advent of the first at-home gaming system.

Jim: Oh.

Dannah: And it’s really scary that we can do that, but within just a few short years of you might remember Pong and Asteroid.

Jim: Right.

Dannah: Blip.

John: I’m old enough to remember those.

Dannah: You know (Laughter), you waited. Do you remember how slow Pong was?

John: Yes.

Dannah: Oh, my goodness. Well, within about five to 10 years of that, we began to see boys’ math scores plummeting. Now you might remember that in the ’80s, girls might’ve been queen of the English world, but boys were king of the math department. Not so anymore on any standardized test.

And when you get to the college level, though we have more boys college-level age, we have more girls going to college because they’re getting the grades and they’re getting the scores to get into college. And so, we can see that too much gaming has impacted them academically, which disables them to be the effective leaders that we need them to be in God’s kingdom.

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: Because they need that thinking, that critical thinking. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody’s gonna be the president of Focus on the Family and want Jim Daly’s job. (Laughter) But … but they might be farmers with the great ability to lead in the agricultural field. But I think one of our great Presidents said it best. “Leaders are readers.”

Jim: Hm.

Dannah: When a young man can read, he can think. When he can think, he can lead.

Jim: Now an important practical way to do that is to make sure that you as mom and dad are engaged even every night in encouraging your kids to read. We’ve done that with Trent and Troy and I’m really pleased that they’re very strong readers and do well in that area. You also have to remember that boys like adventure.

Dannah: Uh-hm.

Jim: And so, you need to show them books that give them that sense of adventure, but that’s what you want to see in your kids. And also limiting that gaming time. Jean and she deserves the credit for that. They only get so much time a week. And really, Monday through Friday, they don’t get to do it, only on the weekends for an hour or so and they live with that.

Dannah: And that’s a big deal. The average boy today gets 35 hours a week in front of a screen.

Jim: I read that. I could not believe that.

Dannah: That’s all screens. That’s computer screen, gaming screen, TV screen.

Jim: Now Dannah, you know, for us, we’re very intentional about that. And I can only imagine that uh … the mom who is working perhaps outside the home and in the home and she gets home and she’s got dinner to make and she’s got laundry to do, it’s pretty easy to say, yeah, just go on–

Dannah: Go babysit yourself–

Jim: –on down. Yeah.

Dannah: –in front of the PlayStation, yeah.

Jim: Or they just gravitate toward it without even asking permission.

Dannah: Yeah.

Jim: There’s guilt with that. How can a mom that’s that tapped out get a grip on that and do something different tonight?

Dannah: Well, I think there again, that’s when you’re proactive. In the book, I have kind of a list of all the things that are probably more important than playing Call of Duty. And asking your son in those tween years, have you had God time? Have you had time with dad today? Have you had time with mom today? Have you had time with your siblings? Have you done your homework?

Have you taken care of your body? That is the question that we have to ask our tween boys, because unlike the girls who suddenly begin to like the idea of deodorant, our boys don’t. (Laughter) And that has to be very intentional. Have you taken care of your things, your room? Is your bed made? You know, that’s not the kind of thing that you think, well, is it really a big deal? But you’re teaching him discipline when you’re telling him these things come first. And then the PlayStation or the gaming system becomes a reward. You get 30 minutes a day after you’ve checked all your other priorities off.

Program Note:

John: Well, I’m John Fuller and you’re listening to “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly and our guest is Dannah Gresh, talking about her book, Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy. And you can get a copy of that, along with a CD or download of our two-day conversation with her at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call for details, 800-A-FAMILY.

Let’s go ahead and return to our program. Dannah is describing three states of a child’s moral development and value formation and the role that you, as a parent, play at each stage.

End of Program Note

Dannah: When our children are really small, I call that the copycat phase. They just want to be like dad. Our sons just want to be like dad. Why do they want a tool kit? Because dad has one. Why do they want a toy cell phone? Because dad has one. Why do they steal dad’s keys and lose ’em in the toilet, because dad has keys, that I hope dad has never lost in the toilet, (Laughter)

Jim: I was thinking back quickly. Did I ever do that? No.

Dannah: But then the next phase is the counseling phase, between the ages of 6 and 11. So, the early tween years would be included in this. They go through what I call “the counseling phase.” They’re considering what they believe. And so, they’re gonna ask why about everything. Why does this family have two dads? Why do I have to eat my peas before I have dessert? Why, why, why, why, why?

And those questions matter no matter how pitifully small they might seem to you, because it’s helping them to understand their value system. And even if it’s just about the peas, answer it so that they understand that they can ask the harder questions.

Jim: And avoid saying the “I told you so”–

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: –because I told you so, that’s why you need–

Dannah: Absolutely–

Jim: –to eat your peas first.

Dannah: –bad answer; don’t even–

Jim: Yeah.

Dannah: –use it. And so, during that phase, you are doing a lot of setting up the boundaries with them and telling them why. You know what? You’re gonna have 30 minutes of PlayStation a day after school, after you’ve done this, this and this, because these are priorities and you’re gonna feel better and you’re gonna enjoy the PlayStation time more because you’ve deserved it. Maybe that’s the answer you give them.

But then right about the age of 11 or 12, you start to go into the coaching years. And these are years that you need to let a kid go play on the playing field of life, probably make a few mistakes and learn the consequences on the hard pavement of life. And then they come back to us and we say, “Well, yeah, you didn’t get your homework done and you’re stressed out and you feel bad about yourself, because you played PlayStation for two hours after school. And I let you do it because I just wanted to see you go through the consequences of real life.”

So, there is that necessity at about the age of 11 or 12 to let them just fall on their face a few times and by the age of 13, 14, 15, a little bit more, but the time they’re in college, they’re gonna fall a lot and hopefully, they’re gonna call home for advice.

Jim: Dannah, that is good advice, but tough to do. I mean, it’s hard to be a parent of a 12-year-old and stand on the sidelines. That’s what you’re saying.

Dannah: Yeah.

Jim: You gotta stand on the sideline like a coach would. He can’t run the play. He can only call the play and you gotta watch that quarterback turn around and maybe fumble the ball and when he comes to the sideline, you gotta be able to pat him on the back and say, “That’s okay; we’ll get him next time.”

Moms instinctively struggle with that. I see that with Jean and me. It’s harder for her to relax about failure than it is for me. How does a husband and wife during pillow talk time, after the kids are in bed and they get together, how can they work out a plan of action there? How does a husband even approach this with his wife to say, “Honey, you gotta let go a little.” ‘Cause them can be fightin’ words.

Dannah: (Laughing) They were in my house. (Laughing) You know, it was hard for me to let go. Bob was really more courageous about letting our kids experience failure.

Jim: Now did you see that as irresponsible parenting at first?

Dannah: Oh, yes. I thought he was just horrible. (Laughter)

Jim: I would think Jean would agree with you.

Dannah: And I go back with a lot of sadness and regret that I nagged him to death at times. And … because now I can see the wisdom, that he was right, that they needed to fall and they needed to fail, because now that they’re out of the house, they’re gonna fall and fail and they need to have what it takes to recover. And if we don’t let them fall in our homes where we can help with the recovery, they don’t learn that skill.

Jim: How can a mom who has perhaps been overly protective and dad has withdrawn from that role of wolf-cub expert, like you described last time, how does a mom that now hears this and sees perhaps she was wrong, how does she encourage her husband to re-engage?

Dannah: There was a time early in my marriage when I realized that I was such a submission martyr, because if my husband wanted to move 18 hours across the country and ruin my life, I would do it with such a calm quiet spirit. (Laughing) But God help him should he try to pick the parking space in church on Sunday morning (Laughter)–

John: You wanted to exert that control and direction.

Dannah: –or if he should decide how our children should be parented. And so, the Lord really showed me how I was crushing his spirit. And he was becoming withdrawn. And we were in Australia on vacation and we argued over a parking spot And finally the scales were taken from my eyes. And I woke up at 3 in the morning, wrestled it out with the Lord and then I did something really weird, I guess. But I felt like I needed to put some action and some motions and some momentum to my repentance. And I woke my husband up and I asked him to forgive me and I washed his feet.

Jim: That’s amazing.

Dannah: And things were different after that. There was a spiritual rebirth in our home, in our marriage. One of the cool things for me was, he started opening the doors for me again. He started carrying my suitcases and my bags and his spirit was freed again to be the protector and the leader. And I have to tell you that even to this day, there [are] times when he has to just, you know, the other day, two or three days ago, my daughter said she wanted Coke and I said, “I don’t buy Coke. I don’t like soda in the house. It’s bad.” And he said, “Buy the girl a Coke.” And he had to kind of step up and say, “You’re not lettin’ me lead here, Dannah.” And there are times when I have to put my spirit in check. But moms, we need to put our spirit in check and see if we’re letting dad lead.


John: Well, we’ve been talking about Dannah Gresh’s book, Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy and obviously, we’ve covered so much more and addressing that crucial husband-wife interaction there, particularly with kids in the house. And what a great “Focus on the Family” program and what a way to end our conversation with that story of her honoring her husband in such a powerful way and enabling him to be the leader in their home.

Jim: You know, it is a great example for our children when we’re able to model that kind of humility and self-sacrifice in our own marriages. And what I liked there about Dannah is, it goes both ways. It goes every direction, not just one direction. Sometimes I think we forget about the need to serve one another like that and you know, we’re busy. We get that. And maybe you’re busy doing good things, providing for your family. You’re serving in some kind of ministry at church. Those are always good things.

But are you neglecting the No. 1 thing, taking care of each other right there in the family. It’s all too easy to put your marriage and family on the back burner and forget about their needs. And maybe you’re expecting the Lord to take care of things for you back home. You can’t do that, especially in today’s culture where people are watching how we live out our faith in our marriages and families. Are you being a godly example for your friends and family and in your neighborhood? Do people recognize a difference in your home life because you claim to follow Jesus Christ and live by the principles found in God’s Word?

I know this sounds tough, but this is what I’m thinkin’ about almost every day. Am I living it, Lord in such a way that it honors you? And I just want to put that same challenge to you and I think Dannah Gresh in the way she has shared over the last couple of days is puttin’ that challenge to all of us. If we can help you work through any concerns in your marriage or family, I hope you’ll contact us here at Focus on the Family. This is why we’re here, to equip and encourage you and help you grow in your faith. And we have so many great resources and tools to do that. Give us a call. Don’t feel any kind of shame or embarrassment. We have heard it all over the 40 years we’ve been doing ministry and we invite the conversation, so do it.

John: And the phone number here to initiate that conversation is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 and online we have resources for you at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Jim: Can I also say, to accomplish this, to put these tools in the hands of people that need them that may not be able to afford them, we need you. We need you to stand with us for those that are, you know, maybe doin’ it well. You guys are in a good place. Support the ministry of Focus on the Family. Help us. Be a partner. Stand in that gap with us and deliver the resources that will deliver eternal value to people–keep a marriage together, keep a family together. You want to help culture? I would say this is one of the best investments you can make.

John: And you can do so when you call 800- A -FAMILY. Again, that number 800-232-6459 or donate online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio and for your gift of any amount today, we’ll send a complimentary copy of Dannah’s book.

And by the way, we’re looking forward to having Dannah back with us next week, talking about how to give your daughter more confidence about body image.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Six Ways to Keep the "Good" in Your Boy

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