By Kile Baker, Crosswalk.com
Western culture doesn't have a manhood ceremony. This may not be entirely bad, as many of the rites of passage into manhood were (and in some senses still are) brutal. From diving headfirst off a tall wooden structure with only vines to keep you from bashing your face in; to ritualistic skin burning, blood-letting, or mutilation; to lion hunting or jumping over cows (yes, that's a thing).
Most ancient cultures have devised a clear delineation point between boyhood and manhood — but western cultures don't have this. Maybe this is why adolescence creeps farther away from a male's birth. Perhaps this is why we see so many im-mature "men" who should know better or can't grow up. Or why we have intercessory terms to describe different stages like "adolescence," "young man," or even "teenager."
There are only two stages for many cultures: boyhood and manhood. With this in mind, how can you, as a parent (whether mother or father), help your son become a man?
Here are three ways to help your son become a man.
1. Address Their Age and Activity
We have expectations on how boys should act and how men should act — and these expectations are decidedly different. There may be few things as painful to watch as a man acting like a boy. A grown man throwing a tantrum, refusing to take responsibility for themselves or their families, rampant immaturity, or simply an unwillingness or inability to grow up is a bit painful. Not only does it affect how others see them, but it affects those they lead, who they raise, and who they are married to.
If you've ever said or heard someone say something along the lines of "act your age," then you know what this is like. But at what age do and should boys act like men? Most of us might have a few ages in mind where the age of a male should designate them to act like men, but like the mysterious age of accountability, there isn't a set age where everything just clicks and boom, a boy is now a man. We've all seen 13, 18, 21, 25, 35, and even 45-year-old males who still seem like boys, so it isn't just age.
As a parent, we must address our son(s) not only at the age they are currently at but at the next stage of age they will go into. After all, we're raising adults, not kids; and specifically, we're raising men, not boys.
Andy Stanley has an incredibly helpful progression of stages that I believe is a useful tool in helping our boys become men:
- The Discipline Years (ages 0-5)
- The Training Years (ages 5-12)
- The Coaching Years (ages 12-18)
- The Friendship Years (the adult years)
There are actions in each of these age ranges that are appropriate for that stage and those that will and must fall off when they get to the next stage. Potty training is in the disciplines years (sometimes the second too) but should be finished by the coaching years. Likewise, in the training and coaching years, we need to have a foundation to build on in order to teach, reinforce and develop good behaviors, mental acumen, and more than anything else — a growing relationship with Christ.
Practical Step: As a parent, you know your son better than anyone else. Look at each of these stages and write down some actions and attitudes you believe fit with each stage. Cross off the ones you've completed, and circle the ones you are looking forward to or need to get to. Notice the last stage specifically. This is where all of your hard work (hopefully) pays off. You're building up to your friendship years with your son. While you still may give them advice and help when asked, this is more on a peer level, which means you need to give them all the discipline, training, and coaching during the previous stages!
If you're a dad and want a few specific ways your role can help them into manhood, check out this article on five ways to be a better dad.
2. Think about Maturity in Faith
For Christians, maturity is a far more important metric than age regarding our faith. It's an important aspect of manhood as well.
As we discovered above, while there are stages to a boy's life that are pivotal and formative, this is a guideline and not an exact formula. We discipline, train, and coach to help our son grow into maturity, not into an exact age. They'll reach a certain age whether we do anything or not, but they will not reach a certain maturity unless we intervene.
Scripture is quite clear that maturity is a worthwhile and necessary goal when it comes to one's faith. The Apostle Paul says so in more than a few places:
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
Ephesians 4:14-15 So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
Likewise, the writer of Hebrews says:
Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Maturity in faith is one of the pivotal ways that boys transition to manhood. Think about some of the major tenets of Christianity - love, service to others, dying to oneself, humility, the importance of truth, the discipline of Scripture reading. These are just to name a few, but these all have to be taught, modeled, and can only be done when someone is mature.
Maturity in faith is, in my opinion, a necessary step to becoming a mature man (or person). We cannot do any of these things unless the Spirit draws us to God and helps us mature in our faith. And when we mature in our faith and seek out God first in everything we do, the right actions and attitudes will follow.
Practical Step: Spend more time as a parent in spiritual disciplines like Scripture-reading, acts of service to others, going to church, praying with them, having open conversations about God's viewpoint on life, people and the world, and the importance of truth. Talk openly about the differences and benefits of different genders, the duties of fathers and husbands, how humility is a true measure of manhood, etc. If you notice, all of these are counter-cultural and, therefore, will counteract the worldly views on masculinity and manhood that are vying for our son's attention.
3. Develop a Character that Longs to Be Like Christ
The greatest man any son can follow is Jesus.
While this may seem like "the Jesus" answer, where we roll our eyes and yawn, it's more nuanced and important than a bumper sticker would give credit. Too often in church, we center on Jesus dying for us and coming back to life. To be sure, this is where our hope comes from; and the Gospel writers also gave us more than a few details about His life and character. When we give our sons the whole picture of Jesus, we learn some surprising things about being a man.
Men value truth. Jesus modeled telling the truth in love, even when hard to hear. Jesus called out the Pharisees for their legalism (Matthew 23:13), had the guts to tell people to leave their life of sin (John 8:11), and even told the people closest to Him when they were being selfish or ungodly (Matthew 16:23). He said that the truth would set a person free, and He was willing to tell the truth because He loved people. In a world that is increasingly running from the truth, we need to teach our sons to know, love, tell and stand for the truth as found in Christ.
Men get mad at the right things. The Bible doesn't say that anger is a sin; instead, it cautions us not to sin in our anger. Jesus actually got mad a few times (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-17) because it was the right thing to do. Our sons will experience anger and a bunch of other emotions, and God has given us emotions to respond to truth in a meaningful way. We need to talk with our sons about what they should be mad at — lies, injustice, mistreatment of others, devaluing of people, racism — pretty much anything that treats another human being less than the image of God.
Men know what true strength looks like. Many men today were taught all the wrong areas to look for and see strength: in physical strength, athletic prowess, confidence, masculinity, sexual conquests, money, position, status, followers, name recognition, personal branding, etc. It's no wonder these things feel hollow and confusing even when they're attained. We need to raise our sons with the realization that true strength comes from humility — primarily the humility to say that our strength really comes from Christ. Christ says of us that "without [Him] we can do nothing."
Practical Step: There are obviously many more examples than the ones I mentioned, which means that as parents, we have a lifelong task and hopefully a passion, to tell our sons about the man to model their lives after. In my opinion, as we read and teach our kids scripture, a bulk of our time should be spent around the identity of Jesus. When our sons see what kind of man (and also not just a man!) Jesus was and is, we set them on a trajectory far after our parenting is over, to continue to be Christ-like, and therefore more man-like.