On Raising Boys to be Men

or The Sheep, The Wolf, and The Sheepdog

by @Flyover_Country

Reposted from Twitter with Permission

     A society that shackles its boys’ natural tendencies towards understanding righteous violence will find that they grow into insecure young men who are obsessed with it as a means to validation. Boys who are taught to defend themselves, and others, do not grow into monsters.


     From their earliest ages, boys scrap with one another to:

  • Establish hierarchy
  • Give an outlet to energy
  • Experience receiving, and giving, pain
  • Build confidence in themselves

It is the last two that matter most.

A boy who has felt his fist crunch against the face of another boy never forgets that complex, primal rush of sensory experiences. Nor does he forget what it’s like to be knocked down, or the exquisite and terrifying pain of having his nose broken.

As hard as it is for a parent, or the zero-tolerance schoolteachers, to see…fighting is a NECESSARY thing for a boy. Pain is the ultimate teacher, and violence is the final answer. Part of being a man is having the real, no-shit memory of conflict in his toolbox.

The confidence gained from surviving a fight, however small, changes a boy. That black eye (properly framed by a male role model, at least) is a badge of honor. The pain of healing is a reminder that he defended himself adequately, and lived to fight another day.

The Sheep

Boys who do not learn to reconcile the reality of violence – to harness it – are behind the masculinity curve for the rest of their lives. Stronger men will take advantage of this. So, too, will women. The conflict-averse male is stepped on everywhere he turns.

The average boy is not a monster-in-waiting. He’ll get in shoving matches, one or two of which will escalate to punches or wrestling. Some boys will become bullies, pushing their pain onto others, usually because of a bad home life. But neither of these types “just snaps”.

Bullies, Sociopaths, and the Victim turn into the The Wolf

It is the quiet, submissive-seeming kid who snaps. He’s usually picked on because he is less physically capable, not quite as handsome, certainly not popular. He grows insecure, adding layers of depression and unreconciled emotional pain as the years carry forward.

In that darkness of insecurity, he nurses his grudges. He fixates on the sources of his pain, and plays his killing-simulator video games (you think Call of Duty isn’t desensitizing kids to the wrong type of violence?!). He becomes obsessed with weapons and makes plans.

The thing about firearms is that they are, by design, a neutral tool of “force multiplication”. A frail, elderly woman can more readily protect herself against a high-testosterone violent felon. So too, can a picked-on, downtrodden social misfit lash out at scale.

Social engineers want to make it about the gun, because that is viewed as an easy solution. “JUST TAKE THE GUNS!” But we also need to get rid of cars, knives, anything that can be used to harm or maim someone. The will to commit mayhem will find a tool.

Rather, shouldn’t we find the courage as a society to let boys be boys? To give them a little space to understand violence in a low-stakes way? To quit loading them up with anti-depressants, when they mostly need a better diet, exercise, sunshine, and friends?

There’s a reason that the vast majority of these shooters fit a stereotype – frail, “nerdy”, loner, imbalanced emotionally, on meds, plays video games, etc. Individually, none of these are predictive indicators. But in concentration with one another, they paint a picture.

Collectively, they are the hallmarks of a kid who has received nothing but the wrong kind of pain. Dumped on, forgotten, and hollowed out by rejection. So they find an ideology or justification to hurt others. And one day, the world will know their name…

This is an incredibly complex issue, and is nearly-unique to the United States. Everyone has picked their reason based on their own projections – availability of firearms, bullies, culture of violence, “toxic masculinity” – and reverse engineered their conclusion.

The reality is, we’re into our second generation of boys being raised almost-exclusively by women. In the home, in schools, in church. Positive male role models are harder to come by. This isn’t an attack on feminism, either. That, too, is an easy, inadequate target.

A boy who is coddled into adulthood by the best intentions of women does not know how to process – to cope – with the inevitable reality of emotional, mental, and physical pain. An exclusively-male influence produces a higher propensity for predatory violence.

A boy (or girl, but when was the last mass shooting event by a female in the US?), needs a primary masculine influence, blunted a little by the feminine. He needs to fight, even just once. He needs to be reinforced, not coddled.

Making a Sheepdog

Boys are not showing their weakness or lack of discipline when they fight. They are learning how to forge their own chemistry, urges, and emotions into a tool of self-control and confidence.

Mothers, let your sons bleed a little.

Fathers, teach them to heal.

Gelding our boys does not ensure a safe society. It increases the risk of mass violence by putting a cork in the bottle, increasing the pressure inside until the young man explodes. His pain demands a response (credit to @mcclay_roman for that phrase).

We must build better men, or resolve to ourselves that mass violence will continue to increase in frequency and severity. Or we can keep building soapboxes on the bodies of the innocent victims.

Our choice.

Our future.




Editors note: Teaching our children the difference between pointless violence and proper application of violence to stop a threat to themselves or others, to stand up for the ‘underdog’, to extend their hand in friendship to another, and preparing them for the falls and pains of life is our job as parents. Not just our sons, our daughters as well.

Somewhere in the last few decades we missed telling our children two important things:

  1. Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will not hurt us.
  2. The is no such thing as a free lunch.

There are nuances to these sayings to be sure. Our job, as parents, is to instill the strength of character and drive to succeed in our children. Our lives are busy, we have stresses, but taking an hour out of our day to interact with our children makes them and us better.