Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Boys 2 Men

A friend was over at our house yesterday with her three boys, who were tearing around the house with my boy, engaging in heated battle. In other words, Nerf Gun nirvana.

My friend and I talked about the Dilemma of the Modern Boy. Or perhaps, the Dilemma of the Parent of the Modern Boy. It can be summed up as follows: We want them to read great, enriching books. They want to play video games.

Are you with me on this?

This is a hot topic with nearly every parent-of-a-boy I know. Nothing gets the eyes rolling faster, the angst level in the conversation ramped up higher. And we all agree, we can restrict the video games and screen time until our hair stands on end, but the bottom line is, the more you make something a precious commodity, the more it becomes, well, precious. On the other hand, they clearly need limits. I know of what I speak.

My friend related a conversation she'd had with her middle son. She'd made the stump speech most of us have made at one point or another: "You know, J., a long time ago, people didn't have ANY electronics for entertainment, and they still managed to have lots of fun."

His response was telling, "Yeah, but Mom, they had creeks to explore and Indians to watch out for and real guns to shoot!"

Here's what we concluded: Boys today have the same drive they've had wired into them for thousands of years. They need excitement. They need that feeling of being in a groove, preferably lubricated with adrenalin. They need the joy of achievement. In the words of Daniel Pink, they're seeking purpose, flow, and mastery. (Girls seek that too -- maybe just differently. Generalizing here.)

And what do video games provide them with? Purpose, flow, and mastery. Structured, reliable, unemotional feedback. The opportunity to defeat enemies and obstacles, and to conquer their previous skill level. There's some adrenalin in there. There's the bonding with, and recognition from, peers.

Last year Ian and read aloud the wonderful book Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers. We both recognized how Ralph, the main character who literally comes of age in the course of the book on the Colorado frontier, had his deepest needs met by learning the art of ranching and contributing to his family's living, riding herd with the cowboys and earning his dad's respect. This kid was not bored. As a ten year old, he worked long days all summer minding the neighbor's cattle -- alone. His family needed the money. He needed to learn what it would mean to be a man. (See also, Secondhand Lions.) 

My friend and I realized how hard it is to provide our boys with this kind of experience today. We live in neighborhoods with yards. Labor that contributes meaningfully to the family's welfare and gives them a sense of purpose, flow, mastery is scarce.

So we do our best -- giving them chores (cleaning toilets isn't stacking firewood, but it's a whole lot better than nothing), taking them to Scouts, sending them to camp or whatever we can. We do our best -- working from a whole new script we're writing together, hoping that boys can still be boys, trusting God for the men they will become.

(Some photos courtesy of Stefani)


JoAnn said...

Hannah, I heartily agree. It is getting more and more difficult to provide the kind of worthwhile activities that build character in today's boys. However, I do think you and Tim are doing a commendable job of it. Not easy.
And... I think you ought to submit this one to a magazine.
Your loving and grateful MIL

Tim said...

Very well said.

Margo said...

Hannah, Please don't ever delete your blog. When I finally muster the courage to have kids, I'm going to need it, desperately. :)

Vanessa said...

Even more challenging when you don't have a yard or having a father who loves video games as well ;) OLJ!

Bear Creek Mama said...

Video games I can handle, but unfortunately there's football...Texas Football and college football in general. We don't even have TV! ...It will be the death of me - or my son.
two notes:
1)did you know that researchers have found that video games produce the same same kind of chemical reactions in the brain as cocaine?
2)check out the book Do Hard Things by Brett and Alex Harris. Your comments about Little Britches turned me there.