Saturday, April 20, 2013

How Living Close to the Land Can Help Boys

There are some things I'm so passionate about I start to shake and my stomach gets queasy when I think about them. I'm sure the world could fall apart around me and I wouldn't even notice as I type what's going through my mind. It's just that I feel this incredible need to do something with all those ideas and convictions that well up inside... something constructive!

Today is one of those times... I read an article which clearly struck a chord and I can tell I'm going to be late to an appointment because I can't let the moment go without getting my thoughts out.

To say our twenty-first century youth are in trouble would be an understatement. Yes, there are those who are well adjusted and doing amazing things, but they are the minority. (I'm sorry this seems so negative, but to keep our head in the sand will not make the problem go away or alter it in any way.) Most teens and pre-teens are struggling with issues that seem so insurmountable they are taking their own lives and on occasion, taking the lives of others along with their own.

They are hurting, frustrated, and angry.

So this begs the question(s)...

• Why?
• Is this something new?
• Are they facing problems that we never faced as youth?
• What's the solution?

Obviously the answers to these questions are anything but simple and I would be hard pressed to deal with them all in one blog post. (And everyone would quit reading before the article ended!). Nor do I think there is a single reason for this problem, but there is one aspect I'd specifically like to talk about today.

I happened upon an article by Peter Brown Hoffmeister on his blog by the same name. I don't know Peter and I haven't read any of his other posts, so I cannot recommend him one way or the other, but I can say that I according to his post On School Shooters, I believe he is on to something.

You'll want to read it for yourself, but let me just summarize his thoughts briefly... As a troubled youth, he struggled with many of the same things these mass killers have displayed prior to taking the lives of others. Thankfully, he did not act out on his thoughts and tendencies, grew up, got his act together, finished school and college, and became a teacher himself. He now runs an outdoor program for troubled youth during his free time.

Hoffmeister believes the key difference that causes many to act out on their thoughts today is the over use of violent video games. His observation is that his parents' strong convictions (his mom is mentioned in particular) kept him from sitting in front of a screen for hours on end, however all the recent violent attackers have had a long history of playing violent video games at great length. I'm interpreting his article here, but his belief is that this virtual reality training removed or broke down inhibitions that would have helped prevent these kids from acting out on their thoughts and desires to hurt others (because they themselves are/were hurting).

This isn't really a new thought, but it is insightful coming from someone who has walked very close to the line himself. And the reason his article stood out to me was the fact that he has a very viable solution and is putting that conviction into practice with his Integrated Outdoor Program. Again, I do not know anything about his program other than what I've read on line, so I am not recommending it one way or the other. But, I believe he is on to something that we can all embrace.

All children need to live close to the land in some way.

Another way to summarize this is to say... they need the outdoors; to be close to nature; experiencing creation; etc.

Let me back up just a bit and build my case. May I propose that...

1. Boys in particular need to physically exert themselves. A LOT. Have you noticed that almost 100% of these mass killers are boys? Why is that? Ever heard of male testosterone? Young males get a surge of that stuff and they need an outlet for it. Not all work is equal...they need HARD work. Work that will make them sleep good at night and release excess testosterone. Since the fall in the garden, man has been destined to sweat and toil the ground to provide food (Gen. 3:17-19) and God has designed men to physically meet this challenge. Am I saying every boy needs to grow up to be a farmer by profession? No. But I am saying that they are designed to meet hard physical challenges and it wouldn't hurt if they did some homesteading on the side. Through working on a farm (or tending an inner city garden) and caring for animals, boys learn to be self controlled and gentle even when they don't FEEL like it and at the same time they have an outlet for all that energy.

(Note: I listened to Rush Limbaugh this week while driving and someone tried to bring up the point that mass killers are almost always males to which Rush responded with sarcasm and ridicule. His concern was that the caller wanted to ban only males from having guns, which clearly was NOT her intent, but she just didn't know how to express what she was observing. Why is it that this is being overlooked? Yes, testosterone usually tends to cause males to act "in the moment" and the mass killers tend to commit "premeditated" crimes, but I believe the testosterone is closely linked to the emotion of anger and acting out on this anger can be delayed if one knows they are going to get greater satisfaction at a later time.)

2. Boys need physical work which allows them to contribute to the family and society in a meaningful way.  We've all heard stories of dads that made their boys move a pile of rocks and then move them back (usually as a form of punishment). Yes that exerts energy, but it breaks down the spirit. If we want young men that grow up to be pillars of society, then they need to be engaged in work that allows them to contribute in meaningful ways... genuine work, not busy work.

Not only does the work release excess testosterone, but it helps them emotionally as they fulfill their God-given need to protect, provide, and create. It's like emotionally castrating a young man when all that he does during the day is for his own pleasure and not for meeting the real needs of others, especially for those who are "weaker" in some way... children, women, widows, etc. Please know I'm not saying they should never enjoy some "free time" to do something for themselves, but if they ONLY live for themselves, they will never enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they helped someone else.

3. Boys need to physically connect with creation and their Creator. Yes, girls need this, too, but boys in particular seem to connect with God when they meet Him in a tangible way. And for males, it seems the best way they can do this is outdoors, experiencing nature (and God) up close. This doesn't mean they get a pass from God's call to corporate worship, but it does mean they need to see Him in creation and understand that it is God who orders and ordains all things (as in the cycles of nature), that He is BIGGER than man (like the mountains), that life isn't always fair, but it has purpose (how creation works), and life is fragile (animals are born and they die). And they eventually discover that many of theses things apply to their relationships with other people.

I remember on 9/11, watching the horrors of that day for hours on TV; my feelings were raw and running wild through my mind. At some point, I stepped to a window and looked out to see a few birds, happily pecking away at our feeder. Immediately a wonderful peace flooded over me as I realized the world and life would go on as long as the Creator desired and that somehow, we would be okay no matter what happened in the future. Seeing the sparrows going about their routine amid all the chaos reminded me of the sovereignty of God in a big way! I needed that and I believe it's exactly the kind of thing our boys need.

4. Boys need homesteading mentors. It's one thing to tell a pre-adolescent to go out back and play. It's another thing to tell a teen with raging hormones to go outside and find something to do. Older boys need guidance. Wisdom. And they need it over and over again until they're old enough that their hormones have settled down a bit and those ideas have become a part of who they are as men (ie: their character).

Young men specifically need the Word, not just Creation, and having a mentor who can bring God's truths into their lives is vital. A godly adult can help a boy make the connection between what he sees in creation with what God's Word says because application of Scripture doesn't always follow hearing it and boys often need these correlations pointed out. (Note: We've seen evidence over and over that indicates the mentoring relationship is best when another MAN is able to fulfill that role for a boy, however, God has certainly used females to do this when a male is not available, so do not be discouraged or feel your son is being short changed if God has not provided another man. Do look for opportunities for godly men to speak into his life, but don't wait!)

Homesteading is an excellent solution that any family can engage in to help their children. And if you know of a troubled teen in your neighborhood/community who doesn't have an involved family, you can invite him or her to join you working your piece of land, no matter what size it is. Urban or rural, there ARE ways to connect with nature, whether it's a community garden in a lot between two inner city buildings or a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Other articles and posts address how to find opportunities for these kind of connections, so I won't go into details at this time.

At this point, some of you may be thinking...

"But my son doesn't like the outdoors, in fact, he hates it."
It doesn't matter... he still needs it. Boys don't often know WHAT they need! And moms, why are we coddling these young men? Life is tough... they need to do some things they don't like. It's not like we're sending them to be tortured, for heaven's sake!

"But it's not safe out there." 
Maybe. Maybe not. Danger can be found in many places, and apparently the video games are turning out to be more dangerous than we thought. May I suggest that those who are fearful read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Trust me... it will help you get past the safety issue and stop being so over protective. We live in a remote area with lots of dangerous wildlife (mountain lions, bobcats, elk, coyotes, and sometimes even bears). I found that I was getting more and more leery of letting the girls go out and explore. Reading this book helped tremendously! (Please note, we never send them out without a large dog. Please use common sense.)

If you live in an urban setting that is riddled with crime, and you are unable to move out of that area, find some community leaders or a pastor that can direct you to resources in reasonably safe areas of your neighborhood or avoid crime-heavy locations during "peak" hours.

"Not all boys are called by God to be the outdoor type." 
It's true; God has called some to a 9-5 job, sitting behind a desk. But all the more reason your son will need to know how to go outside and get some exercise when he gets home from work! My husband's formative years sound like a chapter from Tom Sawyer. Oh, the stories he can tell! But by vocation, God has called him to the role of a pastor. Not exactly an "outdoor" job. When he comes home, he needs time outdoors because all those hours in study and counseling weigh on his body physically and without exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, the toll on him is even greater! On days he comes home and sits in front of the computer, he never feels as good. Thankfully, he learned as a boy those things that call him to the outdoors as an adult.

"I don't know anyone who can mentor my son in homesteading; I'm just learning myself." 
Excellent! Learn together. By discovering new skills along side each other, your relationship will be even stronger. Every child can appreciate a humble parent who is willing to say, "I don't know, but let's find out!". And the fact that you are willing to stop what you are doing and specifically spend time with him will speak volumes! If you don't know much about the Bible, do that together as well. Attend a good church that teaches from the Word verse-by-verse, join a Bible study, or seek out a pastor who can recommend a mentor.

"He doesn't respect or obey me and won't get off the computer and stop playing video games." 
Or something of the like. I really feel for the single mom who finds she's in a situation like this. I may be a girl, but I confess, as a teen (before Christ in my life), I was this kind of child although I wasn't into video games. My mom was afraid to tell me "no" on anything for fear I'd run away or worse. When she told me this years later, I was shocked! Yes, I was rebellious and disrespectful, but there was a limit to it in my mind. I just never let on to that fact. For each child, that limit may be at a different place, but I believe children crave for parents to be strong and place boundaries in their life.

If you have a child like this, you may need to seek some professional counseling from someone who can help you both. And as a parent, you may need a parenting class to help you with your son or daughter. But for most, it's as simple as packing the equipment up when he's gone and send it to an undisclosed adult friend's house until he is ready to get it back WITH LIMITS and respect. Then sit down with your child and discuss how he's going to be spending all that "free time" in the future.

A few closing thoughts...

I realize this post is being read by the "choir" for the most part. If so, please share this with those you feel might benefit. Perhaps someone you know just needs encouragement that they are on the right track and not to give up. Parenting is a 24/7/365 job that lasts for YEARS! And we all have those moments that we drop the ball because we're feeling worn out... physically and emotionally (cause hey, we ain't gettin' younger at this job!).

I also understand that absentee parents probably aren't reading my article and it's no surprise to most of us that these are often the very homes that breed troubled and angry youth. Instead of going into detail here supporting this argument, readers can google statistics that prove this point over and over again. But assuming it's true, what can we do with this information that would help?

Find ways to be involved within your community for those whose parents either can't or won't engage with them. Pray and ask God to direct you to some child in need. Allow your children to bring home a friend who seems a bit... unattended by his parents. Only be sure to have very strict rules as to what they will do and where. In other words, don't be afraid to hang out with them even if it seems "uncool". For girls, that might mean all of you cooking together in the kitchen (something I do with my children when their friends come over). But for boys, give the big outdoors a try. Build a garden box together, make a compost bin, haul some dirt for the garden and play a game of "King of the Mountain" while you're at it.

Finally, consider adoption. Whoa... seriously? Yes. It doesn't even have to be a formal adoption. Just be willing to open your home up to a young person in need of a place to spend extended amounts of time. Foster care is an official term for that. Be wise... this isn't a calling for everyone. Don't bring teen boys into your home with teen girls or you'll be creating a situation that isn't good for either. But some of you have big farms or ranches and no girls OR your children are college age and beyond. You might be the mentor some boy desperately needs. We can't change the all the boys in the world, but we can change the world for one boy. Imagine the impact that would make if we all did that!

In closing, I want to reiterate that I am not as naive as you may think when you read this post... I realize this is only a part of a bigger problem and that it's way more complex than what I've addressed here. But could I get an AMEN that this is a big chunk of it? I apologize this post is much longer than normal, but it's as much for me as anyone... I NEEDED to write this. By thinking it out on "paper", I'm able to process my thoughts better and understand things that seem so overwhelming. I hope... in some small way... it has done the same for you.

Blessings to you and your boys!


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