Dispatches

Outgrowing the Boy

Parents Need to Move Past "Boys will be boys"

If, as the poet says, “the child is father to man,” what kind of men will boys of today become? Little girls are known to develop social skills at a more rapid pace than boys. Boys are often considered unruly, hyperactive, aggressive—more interested in video games and following their impulses. It is easy to dismiss them with a shrug: “oh well, boys will be boys.”

The dilemma in their young psyches is exacerbated by society’s expectations that boys conform to acceptable standards of behavior, whether it be treating a sister with respect or putting together a sentence of over five words, let alone abiding by the golden rule of treating others as they want to be treated. Not that boys have an over-abundance of adult role models to emulate.

From sitcoms to greeting cards, men are often portrayed as incompetent, irresponsible, beer-drinking oafs who hog the TV remote and growl at their kids. In such a culture, it is a daunting task to raise godly kids of either gender, and to guide our sons to become strong, God-fearing leaders might seem almost impossible.

As a gardener carefully prunes a fruit tree for better yield, so Christian parents need to nurture their sons. It takes courage to confront areas in their lives that need correction, the kind of courage demonstrated by King Lemuel’s mother as she grappled with his dark side, as well as her own.

Centuries ago, she offered what advice she could to shape and guide her boy king. Knowing he was destined for the throne, she wanted him to develop strength of character so he could rule with a firm hand, yet be compassionate—act decisively, yet remain circumspect.

From sitcoms to greeting cards, men are often portrayed as incompetent, irresponsible, beer-drinking oafs who hog the TV remote and growl at their kids.

Many Bible commentators believe Lemuel was a nickname for Solomon. If that is the case, his mother was Bathsheba, whose scandalous history is recorded in the eleventh chapter of 2 Samuel. Perhaps she seduced King David, perhaps not—maybe she had no choice but to do the king’s bidding. Either way, one sin stacked on top of another until the tower of lust, conspiracy and murder toppled. David, and presumably Bathsheba, repented and God mercifully granted forgiveness. Still, a decade or so later Bathsheba surely had regrets and longed to spare her son similar moral failure. Her words in chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs identify three potential inhibitors to her son’s ability to lead in a God-honoring way:

1. LUST. “Do not waste your strength on women, on those who ruin kings,” King Lemuel’s mother cautioned in Proverbs 31:3. But today’s sex-saturated culture bombards our sons incessantly with ungodly messages about women. Psalm 119:9 asks, “How can a young person stay pure?”

The answer: “By obeying Your word.”

Deuteronomy 6:7 also emphasizes the need to teach scriptural principles to children: “Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” Even before they enter kindergarten, we need to teach our sons to respect girls, to run from temptation and to set biblical standards for themselves that will win out over raging hormones. Self-discipline and delayed gratification are crucial elements of godly leadership.

2. WINE. While the Bible soundly condemns immorality of any kind, many Christians do not believe it speaks as clearly on alcohol use. Pew Research Center found that 42% of evangelical leaders say drinking is compatible with being a good evangelical Christian. Little wonder that alcohol consumption and its peripheral issues create problems even among faithful churchgoers.

But knowing how alcohol obstructs and perverts good judgment, the king’s mother warned, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol.” (Proverbs 31:4). Clear thinking and sound judgment are essential for godly leaders.

 3. POWER. British politician Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” King Lemuel’s mother understood that a person’s character is often revealed in how he treats the underprivileged.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed,” she urged (Proverbs 31:8).

If our sons are to govern others, they must first learn to govern themselves. It’s a pathetic reality that our children often adopt our weaknesses. How are we measuring up against the standards King Lemuel’s mother set for him? Are we heeding her pleas regarding sexual integrity? Do we set an example of sobriety? Do we demonstrate compassion, especially for the downtrodden?

We would do well to echo the prayer in Psalm 139:23-24: 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

We tend to withdraw from such painful searching of our own hearts, and our natural tendency is to minimize our child’s character flaws and to excuse with a sigh, saying, “Boys will be boys.” It takes courage to confront that which needs correction in our children and ourselves, but it is only by godly living and teaching that we can guide our boys to become the men that God designed them to be.

Esther Zeiset lives in Newmanstown, PA.

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