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In our opinion: Nurturing boys into men

Young men are in crisis, Boy Scouts can help

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

15-year-old Nick Calacino (left)(Boy Scout) and 18-year-old Jon Nelson (Boy Scout) load donated food on the Utah Food Bank truck during the "Scouting for Food" drive. Scouts participated from the Great Salt Lake (Salt Lake), Trapper Trails (Ogden) and the Utah National Parks (Provo) councils. Saturday, March 27, 2010. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News)

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

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Growing up has never been easy, but the challenges facing today's young males seem particularly treacherous. Naturally fitted to seek adventure, friendship and accomplishment, teenage young men are easily lured into manipulative media that provides compelling but dangerous counterfeits for each.

For example, rather than engaging a real world of adventure with actual flesh-and-blood friends, too many young men are wasting millions of precious developmental hours seeking to move up to new levels of challenge in violent multi-player video games. Giving into an addictive false sense of adventure and achievement, they are, in the end, left bereft of genuine friends and solid accomplishment.

According to respected psychologist Michael Gurian, young men yearn to develop character. They may not fully recognize those yearnings (and they will almost never articulate them), but according to Gurian, the rapidly growing psyches of young men want to develop identity, autonomy, morality and friendship through skillful guidance from family and community. Teenage boys know intuitively that in order for them to be valued over their lifetime, the challenging world they are entering into will have to depend on them. That can be a frightening intuition. Consequently, boys require painstaking life-lessons in how to serve, how to lead and how to succeed.

Traditionally, master-apprentice relationships and honored rites of passage helped point boys into clearly defined roles of manhood. In today's far more ambiguous and fragmented world, families must very consciously unplug their boys from popular culture and guide them into wholesome challenges that will help them form character and become men.

For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America has dedicated itself to helping families instill strong traits of character in young men. The programs provided by the Boy Scouts have been specifically tailored to the developmental needs of growing boys. They begin with Cub Scout programs that center around family and home activities for pre-adolescent boys. These programs emphasize character development, citizenship, personal fitness and ethical decision-making.

As boys enter into the transformational adolescent years, the Boy Scouts offer several active, year-round programs. The traditional Boy Scouting program emphasizes concepts of honor, teaching young men about their duty to God, country and self as they participate in challenging outdoor activities. The Varsity Scouting and Venturing programs provide older teenagers the opportunity to develop and lead their own program of high adventure, team activities and personal development.

When administered by well-trained, competent and dedicated adult leaders who honor the divinity within each boy, the programs of the Boy Scouts of America have provided millions of young men with priceless opportunities to enjoy the wonders of nature, recognize that they can do hard things and provide meaningful service. In doing so, these young men have gained genuine self-confidence and character.

Between the ages of roughly 12 and 18, young men experience extraordinary changes in mind and body. Their minds become more capable of critical thought and abstract reasoning. Emotions become poignant and powerful. Their bodies take on the physical characteristics of manhood. If these transformations are to be fitted to the demands of future responsible fatherhood, young men require aggressive nurturing. They require opportunities for self-expression, appropriate risk-taking and leadership, as well as a sense of belonging and moments of genuine solitude to connect with nature and the divine.

Far too few institutions provide anything remotely resembling this kind of specialized nurturing as boys become men. But the Boy Scouts of America is specifically designed for this purpose: to help young men positively address their powerful sacred yearnings to belong, succeed and contribute.

February marks the anniversary of the Boy Scouting movement in America. Now more than a century old, the need for the ideals of the Boy Scouts has never been greater. Successful Boy Scout programs rely on dedicated, well-trained volunteers who understand the importance of making each scout feel useful, responsible and cared for. As we consider the perilous state of boys and young men in our society, we encourage all to take a fresh look at the promises afforded through skillfully led Boy Scout programs and to get involved and support this noble cause.

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