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 2 of 2)
John Fuller: Well your son's brain is complex and it may seem impossible but you can understand it. This is "Focus on the Family" and we're very pleased to have Dr. Gregory Jantz back with us today to discuss how you can raise your son to be a man of character, who loves God. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us; I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Last time we started a fascinating discussion about the brains of our boys and how they think, feel and process. And certainly some of this is applicable to you parents who have girls. These are common things, but boys, as we talk about them specifically today, seem to have these assets in abundance, like the asset of not being able to concentrate without moving--
Dr. Gregory Jantz: (Laughing) Right.
Jim: --which we covered the last time. And today we're gonna come back and talk more about how you can be the best parent for your boys, because you know how God has wired them.
John: And Jim, I would be remiss if I didn't note that our producer, a woman, said this applies to women who are married to men that think differently. So, it helps … it helps a wife (Laughter) understand how her guy is thinkin'.
Jim: It's so true.
John: And we have resources for you in this entire journey as a parent or as a wife. You can find those at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio and Dr. Gregory Jantz is a psychologist and the author of dozens of books and the one that really is kind of foundational for today's conversation is called Raising Boys by Design. The subtitle is What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal about What Your Son Needs to Thrive.
Jim: Dr. Jantz, welcome back to Focus.
Gregory: Oh, I love this topic!
Jim: I do and I'm with you, because being a dad of two boys, I was—
Jim: --laughing last time, thinking yep, that's one. No, that's him and that's me and that's my wife, Jean in that conversation.
Jim: So, it really related. I know it related to many, many of those listening last time. We want to pick it up again today, 'cause there's so much more to cover from your book, Raising Boys by Design. Let me start with Genesis though. Let's go right to the beginning, Genesis 1:27. The Scripture says, "So, God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created him, male and female He created them." What do you think Scripture's telling you as a psychologist, trained in brain science and brain chemistry? How does that line up with what you see in the natural world?
Gregory: Well, we see natural differences and we want to honor those. Too often in our culture there's a dishonoring of how God made us. So, we are male and female. That means we are wired differently. And you'll notice this. Anybody who has a boy and a girl, you go, "Oh, yeah, no kidding." And you start to see the differences really early on. Let's celebrate those differences, but let's also do what we can to protect and to raise our boy to be a godly man.
Jim: You say something that could be a bit controversial.
Jim: And it's along this line. You believe that God's placed within every boy a desire for greatness. Now I'm sure you're not saying girls don't have a desire to be great, because they do, too.
Jim: But what distinction do you have there? Why do boys have seemingly an innate drive to be better than the guy next to them?
Gregory: Okay, we're gonna usually see a lot more competition start out. You'll probably see this early on. A boy will take a stick or take something and they will make a weapon or they'll make a gun. And you go, "Oh! We don't have any guns in our home. Why did he do that?" (Laughter) Where did this come from? It's across all cultures by the way with boys that they will make a weapon out of something. And so, we see early on this desire to compete, early on a desire to conquer. It's the boys that are gonna spend hours and hours with the Legos or with the figures.
Jim: Oh, isn't that the truth.
Gregory: And they're gonna have have battles (Laughter), okay? That's a part of how they are wired.
Jim: Yes, it's so true. I mean, they can build those Legos, spend hours doing it and destroy it with a tennis ball (Laughter) from across the room. I used to think of that. This Death Star went down in our house, kabam!
Jim: They blew it up.
Gregory: --yeah and you could take a boy and he looks at a doll and a truck. And the boy early on is gonna probably take that truck and run over that doll. (Laughing)
Jim: Now Dr. Jantz—
Gregory: So …
Jim: --seriously though, our culture's getting so acclimated to political correctness.
Jim: Some will cringe when they hear you say that. But no, no, that's not right. But you're—
Gregory: I know.
Jim: --trying to point out that there are just core differences between boys and girls. And it's better to embrace it and know how to raise them with those uniquenesses, rather than try to form them into something that they're not.
Gregory: Absolutely, that is what I'm saying.
Jim: So often that tenderness, it's good for boys to be tender, but at the same time, they want to experiment with their ability. I'm thinking about the little boy who--and I've seen this over and over again at a park with my own boys—where mom is so cautious that they'll rescue their little boys from things that are not harmful. They might get a scrape on the knee or something—
Jim: --like that, but they're trying to, with clinical precision, keep them ( Laughter) from all harm.
Jim: You know, wrap them in body bubble tape, so they don't get hurt (Chuckling). Why is that not wise for a parent, particularly for moms? Why is that unwise for them to protect their sons in that way?
Gregory: Their son needs to have learning and what we'll call "natural consequences." So, you fall down; you scrape your knee. Okay, we'll put a Band-Aid on it. But we're not gonna be so over-protective that they don't have natural consequences to learn from.
Jim: Now as a mom, they're drawing from their own little girl experience.
Jim: And what you're really sayin' and what I'm hearin' is that, girls are a little smarter than boys. (Laughter) They don't need to—
Gregory: And you're right.
Jim: --scratch themselves in order to figure it out.
Jim: But there's a lot of truth in that, isn't there?
Gregory: There really is. You know, I'm reminded boys are gonna play differently. It's gonna seem rough. It's gonna see sometimes like fighting. And a mom may say, "Whoa, you guys; stop hitting each other." And they're wantin' to intervene on it.
Gregory: Whereas to boys, this is just play. They're having fun.
Jim: Last night, it's a battle on the couch (Laughing) and one of my kids had his feet—
Jim: --on the other one's legs and it turned into, "Hey, get your feet off my legs." (Laughter) "No, my feet were there first. Move your legs from my feet." Bam, bam, bam. (Laughing)
Jim: And of course, Jean's like, "What are they doing?" And I'm sayin', they're just getting' to know territory, where they could push each other.
Gregory: That's right. (Laughter) And that was a natural process, by the way.
Jim: Yeah and it keeps going, even at that age. Your boys are how old?
Gregory: Okay, I have a senior in high school. He's 17.
Gregory: And I have an eighth grader, who's 14.
Jim: So, we're livin' the dream.
Gregory: We're in the middle of this.
Jim: I have a sophomore and an eighth grader, so we're all in.
Jim: When you talk about heroes, the acronym, HERO—
Jim: --and we ended last time wanting to get to this acronym, to equip parents to think of their boys in this way. What does HERO mean and how do we apply it day to day?
Gregory: Sure. Every boy has a need to be a hero. This is why the superheroes growing up, right. They're looking to who is their hero? I want you to teach your boy that he is a hero. The H in HERO stands for "honor." We need to teach our boys integrity and honor, which really means, doing the right thing.
Jim: Can we compete with the culture, Dr. Jantz, that is telling our boys in so many different ways that heroes have dark sides. I mean, almost every hero today—
Jim: --now has this dark side that we didn't really see growin' up. It was always positive for us, that a hero always had only the right attributes. But today, whether it's Marvel Comics or the movies—
Jim: --that are made from 'em, they all seem to have this, you know, an edge of this uncertainty and this darkness in their heart, along with all the good attributes. Can we convince our boys that they can be heroes, that they can grow up to be men of integrity, even with this avalanche of kind of darkness falling on 'em?
Gregory: Well, I think we need to teach them what's a true hero? And one of the things you're gonna teach your young man is, in integrity, you're gonna teach him to be compassionate. A hero is one with honor, that is going to speak truth.
And so, this takes some time. This is as you're developing the hero within your boy. You're gonna need to have strategies that we talk about, but remember and carry this near to you, the H is honor. Teach 'em honor. That's doing the right thing.
John: And I just think, Jim, of the scriptural precedence here where it's a process. As you were—
John: --just askin' about heroes, I thought, in the Scripture, pretty much every hero had a dark side. They were all flawed men.
Jim: And that's true. The Scripture says we're all sinners saved by grace and we're gonna have those things. But it just seems as you're trying to convince your son to be that hero, it comes with the acknowledgment that you're not always gonna be perfect. And that's important for them to hear I think, that—
Jim: --perhaps some times when you're not at the top of your honor game and you gotta recognize it and correct it. That's what the Lord wants from your heart.
Gregory: That's that developing that sensitive heart and that's in your boy. It's there.
Jim: Yeah, which is fantastic. Let's move through the acronym though. You talked quite a bit about honor. You mentioned "enterprise"—
Jim: --which is the E in HERO.
Jim: I love that. What are you drivin' towards?
Gregory: Oh, we see this with our boys early on, the enterprising nature. Boys have dreams. Have you noticed that? I'm going to be this.
Gregory: They have a big vision and they may be talking a lot about something that to you may sound unrealistic or pie in the sky, but boys have visions.
Jim: What's an error a parent will make in that moment, rather than embracing the unrealistic vision? What do we say that dampens it?
Gregory: Well, we tend to pour cold water on it and we're probably quick to criticize it. Let's just step back. Let the boy have a vision. Let him have a dream. He's gonna learn along the way, but God puts this part of the enterprising nature and you'll probably see this with your boys early on. They're building things. They're talking (Chuckling) about what they're gonna do in the future. Let 'em have that.
John: What if you know though, there's really no chance? I mean (Laughter)—
John: --just sayin', let's say that my son envisions himself being a starter in the NFL or on the baseball field. He's inspired by what he sees on TV.
John: How do we coach and cultivate an attitude of, you can do about the best you can do. You can't really be that good. There's a balance there.
Gregory: There is. But help them have a Plan B.
John: What does Plan B look like if NFL starting quarterback isn't—
Gregory: What is the Plan B? Help them explore that and help them see their God-given gifts. For some boys, they be even more enterprising, more intellectual. We've got things that are happening in technology. Boys easily step into the technology and digital world. So help them develop Plan B, but let 'em have their dreams.
Jim: Well, and in fact, your teenager, your senior in—
Jim: --high school, he had a dream about doing a business and you let him get started in it.
Gregory: We actually helped him when he was 11-years-old.
Gregory: And he worked himself up to have a storefront and he hired kids that were older than him, knowing that he had to go to school. (Laughing)
Jim: Right, so another job.
Gregory: And we took that. We saw early on an enterprising nature with this young man. So, we took that and we did it in steps. We did it in baby steps to see could he actually, 'cause there's a testing. You can be really passionate about something, but do you have the "whereall" to really carry this through?
Jim: Yeah. What a great lesson for him though.
Gregory: So, yes.
Jim: And he's 17 now and the business is going and it's a Segway tour business, right?
Gregory: He's doing Segway tours in our community, yes.
Jim: That is fun.
Gregory: Historic. So he had to learn about the history of our area. If he's gonna do a historical tour, which means you have to go out and talk to people, gather history, create a tour route, come up with some fun and interesting facts. And so, one of the things that forced was not just having all the fun riding the Segways. What does it really mean to have a business?
Jim: And pay for the Segways. (Laughter)
Jim: No, that's good. I'm sure some moms are going, don't you know that would be dangerous (Laughter) for him to ride on that. Maybe some dads, too. The other letter in HERO, R, responsibility.
Jim: Explain what you're getting at with responsibility.
Jim: (Laughing) Every parent's going, yeah, tell me about that one.
Gregory: Oh, yeah. You know when responsibility is taking hold in their life when they stop blaming. A kid will rationalize their behavior or they'll blame others. So a real turning point with responsibility is when they take self-responsibility.
Jim: Do you see that occurring at a particular age generally? Or can it happen at 12, as much as it will happen at 18? Or is it that cortex development that you talked about before and that science is saying for boys, that judgment part of the brain—
Jim: --maturing in their early 20s? So, is that normally what you see, a boy begins to understand responsibility in their late teen years, early 20s?
Gregory: They're gonna get it more and more in that probably late teens—
Gregory: --you're gonna see them take responsibility. Not uncommon to have a boy want to always rationalize his behavior, not take responsibility. Don't get terribly concerned about that yet.
Jim: What a dialogue you can have with that 15-, 16-, maybe—
Jim: --17-year-old where you're noticing as the parent they're not taking that responsibility? They're deflecting the problem. What's the dialogue you can have with them? Teach us how you would—
Jim: --talk to that son.
Gregory: One of the things I'm gonna ask is if they understand what it is I'm expecting. And so, ask them the question. What does responsibility look like? In the situation that you're apparently not doing your homework, what would it look like?
Jim: It's the teacher's fault.
Gregory: Yeah, so … (Laughter) or you know--
Jim: That's what they'll say.
Gregory: --so first of all, you have to find out are they really having an academic struggle, okay? We know that boys oftentimes will struggle in school. So, is it a learning style? Is it a true struggle, or is it just they're not doing it? Talk to them about the consequences, the natural consequences.
One of the things that we've done is, if you don't do well in this class, then you know what that looks like. That means that maybe during the summer you'll be redoing this class. Is that how you would like to use your time? Play it out for them.
We actually had the situation where one of our young men didn't fully believe that, but he actually did do a class over the summer.
Jim: He tested it.
Gregory: And now he goes, "No, no, I don't want to do that again"—
Gregory: --okay. So, now taking responsibility. Sometimes taking responsibility is painful, because it takes courage.
Jim: Yeah, well, that's the HER in HERO.
Jim: Now we gotta get to the O, originality. So, you think boys are driven for originality.
Gregory: They are. They need to know that they are original. They need to know that, hey, I do have good ideas.
Jim: They're one of a kind.
Gregory: Yes, they need to know that.
Jim: That's fun. I mean, it's part of that dreamer mentality.
Jim: But again, as we said, these attributes fall to both boys and girls. You're saying it's just—
Gregory: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: --most common, this is how a boy will think--
Jim: --John, I think it'd be good to post this online so parents can go check it out, the HERO—
John: That's a fine idea.
Jim: --acronym, along with all of the descriptors there So, Dr. Jantz, with your permission, we'll do that.
Gregory: Let's do that.
John: And you'll find those and other resources, including Dr. Jantz's book, Raising Boys by Design at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Dr. Jantz, probably one of the overriding parenting principles that many of us, particularly Christians, but not just Christians, that we want to train our children and our boys in is this character development and self-discipline.
Jim: How do we begin to build character and self-discipline effectively?
Gregory: Our boys are gonna first of all, be watching us.
Jim: (Laughing) Okay, ouch, all right.
Gregory: Really, they do. They're gonna learn from us.
Jim: Yeah, that's true.
Gregory: So, you think about character, character is something that's observed and they're learning that by how we are.
Gregory: And so they're seeing us do the right thing, they're learning from us. So, it's interesting. Character is something that's developed over time and one of the things is, have a life verse for your son.
Gregory: Help them discover a life verse.
John: Describe that for the person that isn't familiar with that concept.
Gregory: Sure. Well, one of the things that we did was, we worked with our sons to have a verse that is important to them.
John: A Bible verse—
Gregory: A Bible verse.
Gregory: And one that our older son has is, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Now that verse is actually engraved on a sword, okay. And that sword hangs above his bed, okay.
John: In a dangerous sort of way? (Laughter)
Jim: Which way is it pointed? (Laughter) Straight down over his heart?
John: Well, I'm thinkin' the same thing. (Laughter)
Jim: Hey, that's a good idea. (Laughter)
Gregory: Here's the thing. An object, what that sword represents, and then a verse engraved on it as a reminder. So, that's a life verse. That is etched into his DNA, his heart. "I can do all things" and to live your life with that character.
Jim: You talked specifically about engaging your son in conversation to help develop that character growth. That would be part of it, but not just pointing out the things that are needy in the character of your son, but also affirming those things which are good, right?
Gregory: Oh, please do, yes.
Jim: And is there like a ratio you need to think about in that regard? I think in marriage they say, you know, 10 or—
Jim: --five or 10 affirmations to every one negative thing you might say.
Gregory: Well, here's a simple way to remember it. Give your son and this is true, maybe you're a grandparent. They all need a look, a touch and a word. So, your son, if you have a good word for him, touch him on the shoulder, okay. Always include the touch. The touch with a positive word is very affirming.
So, find ways to do that. When I say look at them. Give 'em the word and give 'em a touch. So, when you want to make sure that you've got something positive to say to them, combine it with good eye contact and a touch.
Jim: I can see a difference when I do that. One time somebody gave me the advice and I took it which was, when you're tucking the boys in bed, just tell 'em they're good enough.
Jim: And I thought that sounds kinda simple and silly really. I don't think they're gonna respond to that. But I can remember, it was profound. They were probably 5 and 7 when I did that. And I remember my oldest, it lit him up. I mean, he had the biggest smile on his face and he just said, "Thanks, dad."
Jim: It made a difference for him. Why?
Gregory: Well, and you brought up, Jim, such an important point. At the close of a day, the last words and as they're tucked into bed, regardless of their age, let them know they're loved and you're proud of them. Given them that hug. My 17-year-old son, we still have prayer in the bedroom and he will raise up out of bed and give me a hug and his mom a hug. And I will always make sure before he goes to sleep that the last words he hears is that his parents believe in him. We're proud of him. He is loved.
Gregory: Yes. So, my precious eighth grader, he has a great heart. Now sometimes his behavior, because he's junior high (Laughter)—
Jim: That says it all right there.
Gregory: Okay. He's testing boundaries.
Gregory: And you probably noticed with a boy, you have to be very literal. "Can I have a friend over?" You have to spell out, is that friend plural, 'cause a friend can mean four. (Laughter)
John: So, I heard what you just said about letting the day end well. There are times when it doesn't for us.
John: So, how big is that and how do I recover from those times where that night didn't end the way I wanted it to?
Gregory: Right, I think we're gonna close the loop. I think we're gonna say, "You know, I was thinkin' about last night and we had some challenges yesterday. And I just wanted to acknowledge those with you. I know we had some challenges. I just want you to know how much I love you."
Jim: Keep the relationship..
Jim: Keep the relationship.
Gregory: Bring it back around. So, when there's been conflict, when there's been anger, don't allow that to be a loose end.
Jim: Hey, Greg, this sounds exhausting. (Laughter) I mean, I really have to pay that much attention to this thing called "parenting?"
Gregory: It is!
Jim: Are you saying--
Gregory: It is, yes, some work.
Jim: --yeah, absolutely.
Jim: But it does, rather than seeing it as your top priority, there's only a short season these kids are gonna be in your home.
Jim: I mean, that's the thing that I often forget, because I think, wow, another issue, another thing. And we have to be reminded that you have about 18 years--
Jim: --to really do the job you need to do and some would say, some researchers, by 10, 11, the moral fiber is—
Jim: --mostly there. It's built, whether for good or for ill. And then it's a matter of keeping them mindful of the boundaries. It's an important job. Don't take it lightly, but I want you to express it. Where do you find time to be so in tune with your child that the things at work, the things in your marriage, you manage this all appropriately?
Gregory: Yes, it's so important and it's an ongoing work. We're always prioritizing, reprioritizing and look for things with your kids. They'll have favorite things they like to do. Engage yourself into their world. Find multiple ways that you can bond with them on things that they like to do. Have time just with, if you have more than one son or kids, find one-on-one time.
They'll know if they're a priority in your life. And you're right, the seeds you're planting now, they'll come back to you. Keep planting those seeds.
Jim: Keep planting and keep watering and—
Jim: --if you don't get fruit the first year, don't give up. (Laughter) It may take a year or two.
Gregory: Oh, and it may take getting out of junior high. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, right. That's definitely is for sure.
Gregory: The … the seeds have been planted. It's gonna be okay.
Jim: Dr. Greg Jantz, author of the book, Raising Boys by Design, thanks for bein' with us. You have brought so many good things to think about and to apply. And you, the listener, right now, mom, you may be in that spot where you're saying, my son is not responding to us, not responding to the goals that we've set for him or the behavior that we'd like him to see. This is a resource you should have, because I think you're gonna find the right instruction there to concentrate on the important things and to maybe, just maybe, let some of those things that seem so important relax them for a while and you'll be in a much better place and the good news is, your son will be in a much better place.
So, get ahold of us today. Don't feel that you have failed. We expect literally thousands of people to call and to take advantage of this great resource, Raising Boys by Design, along with the CD or a download of this program and other parenting helps that we can provide.
Supporters have made it possible for us to be here to deliver this radio program today. And we are grateful to them and we want to ask you, if you haven't supported Focus in a while or maybe ever, now would be a great time to let us hear from you. And we want to say thank you by providing this book for a donation of any amount.
John: Make that donation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us if we can be of any service to you. We have so many great resources and such a great team here standing by, ready to help. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Now Dr. Jantz, again, it was terrific to have you at Focus these last couple of days. For that desperate mom or dad, what am I gonna do to dig in to move this son in a slightly different direction, besides prayer?
Gregory: Oh, always cover 'em with prayer and a blessing.
Gregory: And have patience.
Jim: Patience is good.
Gregory: Patience is good. And don't lost heart. You keep planting those seeds. You stay with that son and keep in relationship with him.
Jim: The long view.
Gregory: He has a future and he has hope.
Jim: That is good. Great to have you with us.
John: And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here at Focus on the Family, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller inviting you back tomorrow as we'll hear from Fawn Weaver sharing how you can reduce conflict with your spouse.
Fawn Weaver: "But it's that timing, making sure that when you're saying what you're saying, that the person you're speaking to is at a place of being able to receive it and you're at a place of being able to say it in such a way where they can receive it."
John: Practical steps to reduce conflict in your marriage – next time on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly.
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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.