Best-selling author Dr. Gregory Jantz offers parents insights on why boys think and act the way they do, how they develop differently from girls, what they need from their mom and dad, and how parents can come alongside their sons to support them emotionally and academically. (Part 1 of 2)
Dr. Gregory Jantz: So, if you want to have a conversation with your boy and it's an important one, get up; move around. Go for a walk. Play catch. Notice what changes. The boy brain's going to work differently, and if it's really an important conversation make sure that you're doing something other than just sitting there staring at each other.
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John Fuller: Dr. Gregory Jantz has some suggestions on connecting with your son and raising him to be a godly man. Welcome to "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today we're gonna take an insightful look into how we can raise sons that excel in all areas of their lives and that should grab you right there, right? You know, boys are really struggling in the culture and they're struggling on how to know their place in the world and where they fit in and I am confident you are really gonna benefit by listening to today's special guest on this issue of raising boys.
John: And we have a variety of resources and helps for you, including a CD of the conversation we're about to enjoy at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Dr. Jantz is a psychologist and he's written a number of books, dozens of books actually, including Raising Boys by Design, which is the subject of our conversation today.
Jim: Dr. Jantz, welcome to "Focus on the Family."
Gregory: Oh, so good to be with you and what a great topic.
Jim: Now why did you pick this topic as a psychologist? Of all the topics, why this one about boys?
Gregory: Well, you know, I've been doing counseling for over 30 years and some of the greatest challenges can come when we're dealing with our boys.
Gregory: And if you have boys, you know boys are different.
Jim: They're laughing with us right now.
Gregory: Yes and I also have two boys, so this is a topic I am passionate about.
Jim: Close to your heart.
Gregory: Very close to my heart.
Jim: Hey, now as a psychologist, one of the things I found fascinating is that you took a look at brain science—
Jim: --and the way that science is reinforcing what we know in Scripture, which I'm always a believer in. I know that the two should run parallel, but what, as a professional, what have you seen in that regard when it comes to brain science and how Scripture is telling us what to expect when it comes to boys?
Gregory: (Laughing) Well, there are a lot of great examples in Scripture about how boys are different and science is showing us, by the way, and this is an exciting time, that boys brains really are different. We have the science to show it. And boys are designed for a certain calling. Every boy has a calling on his life.
Jim: And what does it look like to have that special calling?
Gregory: Well, one of the things that we know is, and if you've got a boy, you've probably noticed, and it could be he's always tappin' on something. If you have him in the classroom, you know, he's tappin' on some kid's head in front of him.
Jim: Let's hope not.
Gregory: And their constant movement and they're constantly moving and we go, what? Just calm down, please! 'Cause boys can frustrate us, but when we understand the design of the brain and how God made 'em, one of the things that we can do is sit back and relax a little bit, relax knowing, you know, that's normal. That boy's tapping to keep his brain awake. It's called the alpha state of the brain.
And boys have to have a lot of movement. In fact, in schools, if we allow them to move and we put 'em on little bouncy balls instead of hard chairs, we actually can improve their performance on tests by movement. That's how the boy's brain works.
Jim: It keeps them awake like you said.
Gregory: It keeps them awake. The movement's important, but it's part of the cognition of how the brain works. God made 'em that way.
Jim: Now when you explained this to your wife, how did she take it.
Gregory: (Laughter) You know, I think we can sit back, and there can be a relief. Okay, boys are that way and a lot of times they may be labeled as, don't have good attention span and we get concerned about our boys, because right now and this is a time that we should be concerned and there's a lot of things that can pull a boy and that's not good. We've got technology these days and boys are visual and we know that the average age of exposure for a boy to pornography on the Internet is about age 10. And so, some of the things we're seeing, we need to talk about, how to protect our boy, how to protect that growing and developing brain.
Jim: You had some experiences as a boy—
Jim: --that helped shape some of what you now understand as a professional, as a psychologist. What happened in your life as a little boy that began to give you a perspective on being a boy?
Gregory: Well, I was the young man that probably didn't do that well in school. I wasn't really a delinquent, but I was always on the edge. I didn't do that well, but there was a turning point for me and it was a turning point when somebody really spoke into my life.
I was a senior in high school and it was a counselor, a camp counselor. And he said, "Greg, I believe in you." And he began to impart a positive belief in my future and spent time with me. And my senior year in high school was radically different. I was elected outstanding student of the year. I went from failure to having success because somebody believed in me and showed me that I had a special future.
Jim: Were you not getting that at home? Or what was happening where your parents weren't providing that?
Jim: Or were you not accepting it from your parents?
Gregory: --I think one of the things that we know is important for boys is mentors and having a mentor, and usually a non-family member, to speak into your life. I grew up in a family that was very supportive, but to have somebody outside of my family who began to see my qualities and my uniqueness, how God made me.
John: Now I think you had described in your book, Raising Boys By Design, that you were a disruptive child—
John: --up until that point. What did that look like? I mean, a lot of us have boys who are disruptive (Laughter), so speak to that and help us—
John: --understand what you were like prior to that man's intervention in your life.
Gregory: Well, for me, probably school was seen as optional. School was something that I didn't really understand the importance of it. And so, I was probably the dreamer. I had other things on my mind as many boys do. And so, school got in the way of other things I wanted to do. (Laughter) Can you relate to that? We see that a lot with boys. And in fact, we know that 90 percent of the D's and F's in schools go to boys. Now just that alone …
Jim: Ninety percent.
Gregory: Ninety percent. That percentage has gone up, not down, so just by looking at, well, how are boys doing academically generally speaking? They're not doing well.
Gregory: And so, that tells us okay, we need a different way of reaching our boys.
Jim: How do we go about addressing that, I guess starting with our own household?
Jim: All three of us have boys.
Gregory: Yes, we do.
Jim: And many of our listeners have boys. How do we go about acknowledging that and then helping them? Well, let's say we have a son that's struggling—
Jim: --with schoolwork, what are some things that we can do?
Gregory: Well, one of the things that we can do is understand that if you're frustrated with your boy and you tell him, "Sit down; look at me. We're gonna have a conversation," you know how we get frustrated. And you'll even say something like, "Look at me in the eyes while I talk to you." (Laughing)
Jim: Have you ever said that, John? (Laughter)
John: Not in the past 20 minutes. (Laughter)
Jim: I've actually got that written on a 3 x 5 card just to (Laughter) flash it so I don't have to say it anymore.
Gregory: And of course, we tell the boy, "Sit down, listen to me while I'm talking to me. Look at me."
Jim: Yeah. (Laughing)
Gregory: And the boy brain does this. It's just glazed over.
Gregory: And then we give our lecture, right? And then we say to our son, "Did you hear what I just said?" And he goes, "Uh-huh." And then you say, "Well, what did I just tell you?" And he goes, "I don't know."
John: I don't know. (Laughter)
Jim: It was a double jeopardy. (Laughter)
John: Were you hangin' out at our house this weekend? I mean, that's so common.
Gregory: And so, we need to understand, if you have something really important to talk to your boy about, first of all, put an object in his hand, whether it's a ball. Boys need a mediating object.
Gregory: if you want to have a conversation with your boy and it's an important one, get up; move around. Go for a walk. Play catch. Notice what changes. The boy brain's gonna work differently and if it's really an important conversation, make sure that you're doing something other than just setting there staring at each other.Make sure there's movement. And it's okay. Let him have something to fiddle with.
I have an eight-grade boy and one of his teachers said to me just the other day, he says, "You know, your son just draws in class." And I said, "Yeah, he needs something." "But he does really well on tests, okay." But the teacher was disturbed that he would just draw.
John: It feels like he's not paying attention.
Gregory: It feels like he's not paying attention, but as long as he has something in his hand, he is paying attention. In fact, it's helping him pay attention.
Gregory: So, we just need to understand, and we love our teachers. And teachers are faced with challenges with boys. Here we've got technology. Boys are on their devices and we've gotta talk about boundaries around technology. How do we do that with boys? So, there's some challenges out there.
Jim: Oh, there really are. Being that parent though, of the boy who is struggling in that way, you have a concept called "design-based parenting." And that might be a bit of what you're talking about, by putting something in the boy's hand. But what are you getting at when it comes to design-based parenting?
Gregory: Well, first of all, it's gonna be a great relief for many just to understand, okay, the boy's brain is different. My frustrations can go down if I relax a bit. And begin to praise that boy for how God has designed him. Boys have a more fragile, if you will, ego and self-esteem than we ever wanted to admit or realize.
Jim: They can put a hard shell around that, right?
Gregory: Yes, yes and our sons need a positive word spoken over them every day.
Gregory: They need to know that we believe in them and they need to know that there is a plan for their life and it is good.I took what was life-changing for me, somebody that told me that they believe in me and this is the part of the design-based parenting, 'cause the Bible will give us what we need. Science is supporting it. Now let's look at the strategies we can operate and implement to help our boys be successful.
My youngest son on a snowy day, and I oftentimes, I would tell them in the morning, "Have a great day. Dad believes in you." I was leaving early that day and my boy comes out in his pajamas and through the snow, barefoot. Taps on my car window and says, "Dad, I believe in you. Have a great day."
Gregory: And so, our sons, that this will take seed in them and they will pass it on.
Jim: You know, Dr. Jantz, it could be difficult to believe that when you're parenting, when you're in the middle of that parenting –
Jim: --role, because you're saying these things over and over again.
Jim: And the pillow talk, when you and your wife go to bed or—
Jim: --you and your husband and you go to bed, you go, "I told him these things 1,000 times."
Jim: "I don't think it's sticking." But you're saying, it does stick. Just let it mature. Let is gain root. Is that what I'm hearing you say?
Gregory: You know, and they will survive through junior high. (Laughter) Let's just say it. Yeah, remember a teenager and a son's job is to test boundaries. And they're gonna do that. They're gonna see how far they can push things and we're just gonna love them back with firm boundaries. But our teenagers, you know, there are two questions they have, our boys is, "Who am I? And where do I fit in?"
Jim: Yes. Let me push back on the mom interaction a bit, 'cause I'm just observing Jean with the boys.
Jim: There's a high value I think, for most women, most moms for having that dialogue. That's how they process frustration or—
Gregory: Oh, yes.
Jim: --disagreement. It's sit down and let's talk it through. If you're sitting counseling a mom who has that bent, that the way to get to the root of the problem is to sit and really look at each other and talk about it and find solution, counsel her right now. What do you say to her in terms of, it doesn't always have to go your direction (Laughter) or your way.
Gregory: Yeah, I'm gonna say, mom, what does your son really enjoy doing? Engage yourself a little bit into his world. One of the things we do is and this is where technology [comes in]. We have a digital dinner. One night a week, they can talk about it at the dinner table anything in the digital world. We're gonna enter their world briefly.
Jim: Okay, like I say.
John: And how freely do they share? (Laughter)
Gregory: Well, you know, it's like, hey, what's the apps? What are your friends doing? What's going on? So, we're gonna engage and enter their world. I'm gonna tell that mom, begin to show some interest in some areas that he is interested in. And begin to show that. Don't let that control you, but if you can get that connection with your son that says, "Oh, yeah, mom is interested in something I am."
Once we have that, we can really enter into a deeper relationship. They need to know that they're valued and need to know that you have an interest in them. Too often we're telling them what they can and can't do. There's a lot of, "Okay, no, didn't you hear me? I said don't do that." And there's a lot of instruction and we want to make sure they know how much they're valued.
John: Well, some great insights from our guest today on "Focus on the Family." It's Dr. Gregory Jantz and his book Raising Boys by Design has this kind of insight and practical advice for you. And we've got the book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Dr. Jantz, I want to again, dig into the brain science. We mentioned it a little while ago, but I want to come back to it, because in our culture, there's a dumbing down of difference.
Jim: Everybody wants uniformity, I would say.
Jim: And there are times where that is helpful, but when it comes to the genders, you see in science and you see in the Word of God that there is a distinction between male and female. Describe that distinction, both biblically and scientifically. What does is the—
Jim: --brain chemistry like in that regard?
Gregory: Sure, a boy's gonna learn differently. Their brain is going to be growing and developing till about age 25. A boy, see, well, we've got this prefrontal cortex. If you just touch your forehead, that's the part where we have our executive brain function. That's where we're supposed to make good decisions. It's supposed to.
Jim: That's not to smack yourself (Laughter) in the head?
Gregory: Right. And so, when you think about boys, now they may not be using that prefrontal cortex, that part of their brain (Laughter) that God has put … that comes a little later. And you'll ask a boy or girl, "What were you thinking?" And they go, "I don't know!" (Laughter)
Jim: Right, it's true.
Gregory: 'Cause they (Laughter) weren't thinking. And so, understand that brain science piece because they're going to learn differently, different subjects, different time of the day. Boys need to have a lot of movement when learning. Boys also need to have more brain breaks as they're doing things. And you may notice, boy, if I get 10, 12 minutes of their attention, that's good. And that's …
Jim: Twelve minutes is a—
Jim: --good run.
Gregory: That's a good run.
Jim: And it's a brain break, the time in between?
Gregory: So, then they need movement.
Gregory: And we know that the brain is designed that way. Boys are gonna do a whole lot better in small chunks.
Jim: You know, Dr. Jantz, some are wondering about these differences between girls and boys. Describe those differences for us. I mean, John, you've got some of both.
John: Three each.
Jim: I only have boys, so—
Jim: --I'm totally locked in here. But for that parent that maybe they don't have a son yet. Maybe they're still anticipating the birth of a son, talk about those differences very specifically—how girls behave and then how boys behave. You mentioned one example, fight or flight as a—
Jim: --boy-centric kind of behavior.
Gregory: So, a girl's gonna use more words, but we knew that already. (Laughter)
Jim: Not always. I mean, there is the 80-20 rule, right?
Gregory: Yes (Laughter).
Jim: I had somebody once say I had diarrhea of the mouth, (Laughter) I was a little boy then. I think it started early.
Gregory: Yeah, oh, you may notice that boys may and this is a general rule, they may use a lot less words. You ask them, "How're you doin'? How was your day?" "Fine, great." And you're wanting more.
Gregory: But they're gonna use fewer words. And I'm makin' some generalities, the girl, she may use a lot more words and verbally process and she's gonna be sharing a lot, maybe a lot more with you. She's gonna be more verbal in her problem-solving. A boy may tend to be more internal in their processing. Now we want to watch that. We want them to be able to articulate their feelings and what's goin' on. But a boy's gonna be slower to put feelings into words.
Gregory: So, have patience with 'em.
Jim: You mentioned in your book, Raising Boys by Design, a[n] interesting observation that when you're speaking to sons, you say, "How are you thinking about this?" Rather than what you might say to a daughter, "How are you—
Gregory: Right, right.
Jim: --feeling about this?" I asked my two boys this morning and they—
Jim: --nodded profusely at asking them how I'm thinking, rather than how I'm feeling. So, at least the subject matter of two, they—
Jim: --totally in line with that. I don't think I've ever said, "How are you thinking?" I've always said, "How … how does that make you feel?"
Gregory: Right and then they—
Jim: Why is that different?
Gregory: --and they may not know.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, when I say it, I think I'm saying both of those, but—
Jim: --what is the difference between how you feel and how you think?
Gregory: Well, they're gonna be able to anchor in. How am I thinking? And that's gonna help them as far as, okay, This is what I'm thinking. Feelings are gonna be much slower.
Jim: They have to really study that. What do you mean—
Jim: --my feelings?"
Gregory: Feeling, now what? I'm just fine; don't you know it? (Laughing) So …
Jim: You also talk about where boys brain chemistry, they rely more on the grey matter of the brain.
Jim: And women, girls rely more on the white matter of the brain. Not being a brain scientist, what's the distinction between the two and why are they found generally in the genders?
Gregory: Sure, well, you know, we have two brain hemispheres and there's pathways between the two. And a female generally speaking will have a lot more pathways and they're gonna process and a lot more things happening between those two hemispheres of the brain. Boys are gonna process at best, usually one thing at a time, okay.
Jim: Right and that's the grey matter.
Gregory: Yes, that's the grey matter. So, they're gonna be more sequential. I'm gonna do this and then I'll go on to this next, whatever is next on my list, versus having a lot goin' on and keepin' track of it. So, keep it simple. You have something you want your son to do, do it really simple. Write down three [things]. One, do this, one, two three. And don't make it longer than three things.
Jim: Yeah (Laughing) right, and that'll work far better.
Gregory: Well, it will.
Gregory: It will.
Jim: I like that.You also mentioned what a boy learns from his mom.
Jim: And I think that is really profound. I liked that portion of your—
Jim: --research and what you mention there. Describe those things for us. What does a boy learn specifically from his mother?
Gregory: A boy may learn more about empathy and how to be alert to the feelings of others, they may learn more of that through the mom. I'm reminded of a mom I saw. My youngest son was playing a football game and there was a boy that was down on the field who didn't get up immediately. You know, maybe he was hurt.
The mom comes running down out of the stands to the field, 'cause her boy wasn't getting up. The dad's actually standing on the sidelines just watching. Both of them are handling this differently. The mom is concerned and she says, "Is he okay? Is he okay?" 'Cause see, she's got high empathy. The dad's on the side of the field going, "He's fine. He's gonna get right up. He's gonna get up."
Jim: Hang on. Don't go out there.
Gregory: And he did. (Laughter) Yeah.
Jim: I've heard that story a different way where the son on the football field is looking at his mom, "Why are you out here?" (Laughter)
Gregory: Absolutely! And one of the things that we need to understand. The role of the mom is so important.
Gregory: Mom may show more frustration towards the son. But your role is important. You're gonna teach that boy a lot to do with relationships, how to relate, how to respect feelings. So, the mom is needed. The boy needs to learn these things.
John: I saw my wife kind of coaching our boys into what they were feeling. Earlier—
John: --you were talking about thinking and feeling. This is something I could not do and it was, I think, helpful for them. I didn't receive it so well when she would tell me what I was feeling after we got married. But there's a coaching element for moms with regard to what we would call emotional intelligence, right?
John: And what does that look like at different ages and stages?
Gregory: Well, at different ages a young man is going to be more aware of his feelings, uh … particularly when he gets older. And we're gonna also see that it's gonna require a lot of patience with that young man. You may have a boy that's [has] a lot of internal processing and you're trying to coach him on feelings. And that may come later.
John: Yeah, but what if he doesn't accept her coaching?
Gregory: (Laughing) And he may not, or it may appear that way. So, stay with them. Here's what we want to watch with our boys. Watch how they're processing anger and frustration. The two rules are, you don't injure yourself or others or property. But watch how they're processing their frustration. Is he breaking things? Is he hitting things? So, what you want to do with the boy is, help him understand anger and help him understand the proper processing of that anger.
Jim: And you're saying a mom plays a key role—
Gregory: Oh, a key role.
Jim: --in those things.
Jim: Talk about dad as we're wrapping up here. What are dad's contributions to the boy in his fathering?
Gregory: A dad is going to teach a boy about what it means to be a man and to be a godly man. In our culture, a boy doesn't know when he's a man. I asked my oldest son a while back. I said, "So, when do you become a man?" He said, "Well, I think it's when I get my driver's license."
So, the dad is going to be teaching what does it mean to be a man, which means integrity, honor, respect. You're gonna teach that boy, 'cause deep in the heart of every boy is, he wants to be a hero. Show him how to be the hero. Show him how to be the Christ-like hero.
Jim: That's a perfect place to end today, 'cause I want to come back and talk about the hero, the acronym, HERO and we'll start there next time. Let's do that. Greg, this has been a fascinating conversation and the time has flown by. That must mean we're the father of boys there, John. (Laughter)
John: Drinking it in, yeah.
Jim: Everything is so relevant and we can see our own selves—
Jim: --in that setting, as you described the homework problems and all the other things. That's being the parent of boys and I want to pick up where we have left off. Let's do that, okay?
Gregory: You got it.
John: And if you'd like to get a copy of Dr. Jantz's book, Raising Books by Design, just give us a call, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or you can find out more about that and the download or a CD of our conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Hey, Greg, before we go, I'm thinking of that mom or that dad or both of them that heard this and they've got that 15-year-old that has been a struggle.
Jim: How can they change that conversation tonight, the next time they are sitting around the dinner table? What's something they can do to change the trajectory of the relationship?
Gregory: Absolutely, so some physical activity with your boy. It means going for a walk. It means engaging him in something physical.
Jim: So, don't sit and watch the news—
Jim: --which I'm guilty of.
Jim: Get up and go do something with him.
Gregory: --keep dinner time positive. If you have something really important to talk about, dinner time, where there's potential of conflict, dinner time's probably not the time to do it. Keep dinner time positive. And if it's a short walk or change the setting. Go to a different room. Make sure you have something in his hands that he can fidget with, okay. (Laughter)
Jim: You believe in that. I mean, I've heard that strongly.
Gregory: (Laughing) Yes. And it's okay. Maybe it seems like a distraction, but always affirm. Let your son know this is really important and I love you." So, always, end the conversation and begin the conversation with affirmation for that boy.
Jim: And the key is, don't give up if the next day he stumbles. Come back and give that affirmation again and again.
Gregory: And he will stumble.
Gregory: And that's called growing up.
Jim: That's the truth of it. This has been terrific and I want to turn to you and ask the listener, if Focus on the Family has been there for you in helping you with resources and tools like the broadcast or books that we can provide, articles, all the times, John, that we're able to provide, I would like to ask you to help us here at the ministry. We are donation supported. And we need to hear from you.
It is a privilege to be in partnership with you to touch the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of parents to help them do a better job of parenting, not just their boys, but their boys and their girls and to impact the future generation who will again, be the leaders and be those who are impacting the world for the sake of Christ. So, help us today by providing a gift.
John: And you can make that generous donation when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you contribute to the ministry today, we'll send a copy of Dr. Jantz's book to you. It's our way of saying thank you for joining that support team and hopefully, you'll benefit greatly from the content in the book.
And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire Focus on the Family team, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back for more from Dr. Gregory Jantz about raising your son, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Dr. Gregory JantzView Bio
Dr. Gregory Jantz is a best-selling author of 35 books including 40 Answers to Teens' Top Questions, Five Keys to Raising Boys, Don't Call It Love and Hope & Healing From Emotional Abuse. He is an internationally renowned speaker and a go-to media source expert for a range of behavioral-based afflictions, as well as drug and alcohol addictions. Dr. Jantz has appeared on CNN, FOX, ABC and CBS, and has been interviewed for The New York Post, the Associated Press, Family Circle and Women’s Day. He is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and Psychology Today blogs.