Boys make me laugh. We’ve been blessed with a handful of little nephews to love and spoil. We thoroughly enjoy every moment, engaging in pirate battles, sword-fighting, ball games, and endless superhero adventures. They dress in costumes, turn sticks into weapons, and attempt many things that end in bruises and skinned knees. Donned in their mask and cape, they fearlessly save their Mama from “the bad guy” whomever he may be. Curious, wild, adventurous; daring to test the limits of their own boundaries. They desire to be brave, to win challenges, to be a hero. As John Eldredge put it, “deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”
But somewhere along the way kids can lose their spirit of adventure. Risks are discouraged. Dangers, avoided. Their strong, willful spirit is subdued. Failures increase. Self-doubt ensues. And the boy starts to wonder if he has what it takes…to succeed, to be a hero, to be a man.
In these crucial moments, I’m concerned about what we are teaching our boys (and girls). It disheartens me to see how many parents smother or shame their kids in order to keep them “safe”. They speak the message of “no”, “you can’t”, or “I won’t let you”, affecting autonomy and risk-taking. You can have adventurous, independent kids and protect them at the same time. One doesn’t negate the other. For more on raising strong boys, read these great articles here and here from moms who have been there.
Taking a Risk Inspires Confidence
My husband started cooking on the stove at the age of 4 and had a job by the time he was 12. When he was 14, he went on a 2 week wilderness survival trip. We’re talking bears, moose, and food rations. While part of me thinks that’s insane, the other part of me admires and applauds him. He was encouraged to lead and take risks as a boy, making him the hardworking, strong, confident man I know and love today.
There will always be risk, but that doesn’t mean you have to be risky. Riding in a car is a risk. Riding in a car without a seat belt is risky. There’s a difference. “You can limit risky behavior, but you can’t
eliminate risk”. And to be honest, I wouldn’t want to. I want my nephews (and my own kids) to explore, to be curious, to take risks, to learn about themselves and the world around them. I want them to ride a bike, to face the dark, to climb trees, to swim in the ocean, to stand up to bullies, to build a fire, to trust and love without fear or shame. Taking risks provides the opportunity for boys to learn how to make decisions, become masters of their own destiny, and develop their ability to handle fear and failure.
Facing Fear Inspires Courage
I’m also concerned about what we are teaching boys about fear. Plagued by our own fears and worries, we breed fear and reluctance into them. We teach them to play it safe and how to become “really nice guys”.
Fear has been around forever. It wasn’t that long ago that boys were fighting pirates, conquering lands, and leading revolutions. Many people in the Bible felt fear. They were called to do monumental tasks and face incredible odds. Josiah was only 8 years old when he became king of Judah. David boldly faced Goliath and killed the giant at the age of 14. Jonathan led troops into battle against the Philistines when he was 15 years old. Samuel heard the voice of God and received his calling at the young age of 12. These boys faced risks and challenges that called upon them to be fearless men of faith.
Boys may seem tame by comparison today, but they are still fighting their own giants. They still do battle. Instead of teaching them to eliminate or avoid fear, maybe we ought to be teaching them how to face it.
The same David who stood against the giant later told his son to “Be strong and courageous and do it” (2 Chron 28:20). I love those words from a father to his son. Sometimes I wonder if this is what was playing over and over in David’s mind as he was going up against Goliath. He knew something about being courageous: Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Everyone was terrified of the taunting giant but David chose to charge him anyway. At fourteen. His courage, strength, and faith in God gave him victory that day and was the first among many steps of faith that eventually led him to be king.
Fear will always be a natural part of life. What we choose to do with our fear will make all the difference. We can allow our fear to paralyze and control us, playing it safe but missing out on life. Or we can choose to take the risk in spite of our fear, trusting with faith and developing courageous character in return. David told his son to be courageous, but those weren’t his only words. He ends by saying, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you.” In other words, the God who was with him on the battlefield is the same God who is with us today. When we are afraid, we can find our strength in Jesus who gives us the ability and courage to press on.
“Courage begets courage, like fear begets fear.” If we want to raise fearless men of faith, we must lead by example. As a wise mom once asked, “how can I let go of my fear when that’s what’s keeping my kids safe?” She realized in that moment that she felt more in control when she worried but that “fear doesn’t prevent death – it prevents life”. So my charge to you, mamas, is the same. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Be courageous, and raise courageous kids.
Training boys how to take risks and “be strong and courageous and do it” in the midst of feeling fear will inspire an unshaken confidence in them. It will solidify a character marked with courage, strength, and dignity. And most importantly, it will increase their faith in a big God who may call upon them one day to do big things.
Quotes in this article were taken from “Help for Overprotective Parents“.