Traps of Boyhood
About the Guest
There's a lot that can trip a boy up these days. Braxton Brady, a chaplain at a Christian day school in Memphis, tells of the real threats of pornography, bullying, peer pressure, alcohol and sexual promiscuity that can lead a boy off-track.
There’s a lot that can trip a boy up these days.
Traps of Boyhood
Bob: Braxton Brady works with about 650 elementary-aged school boys in Memphis, Tennessee, helping them understand what it means for boys to become men. He says there are some manhood myths that he has to dispel as he talks to these boys.
Braxton: I think the one that we have to war against the most is that men are judged only by their achievements and successes. I think that’s the one that is the most important, at least in my world. These fathers have pushed “You’ve gotta be defined by success academically,” especially “You’ve got to be defining your success athletically.”
That’s the one the boggles my mind, that fathers have put their sons up on a pedestal at ten, 11, and 12 years old, thinking that they’re going to be the greatest athlete and that’s going to be their ticket. And so, as they get older, they just continually… It’s an identity issue with them. They’re identified by what they do and not who they are.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
How can you help boys understand what it means for a boy to grow up and really be a man? We’re going to explore that subject today.
And welcome to FamilyLifeToday. Thanks for joining us.
You know, if you stop and you think about most young men, most boys, growing up in the culture today and you ask the question “Where are they getting their picture of what a grown up should look like?” For a lot of them they’re having to look around. They’re not really sure; it’s not clear to them what they’re supposed to be when they grow up.
Dennis: No doubt about it. They’re probably getting their images from television, movies, music, the internet, and certainly from their peers. In fact, that’s what I want to talk about today with our guest because I think peer pressure was dangerous back when we were raising our children. I think it is exponentially more dangerous today.
Bob: It was dangerous back when you were 16 years old, wasn’t it?
Dennis: You know, it really was. I mean, it seems like every era has its traps but I just think the traps today are occurring at a younger and younger age. Parents have to be aware of where the traps are and how peers really can lead their children, good children, astray.
Braxton Brady is our guest today, again, on FamilyLifeToday. Braxton, welcome back.
Braxton: Thanks for having me.
Dennis: Braxton is a graduate of the University of Memphis. He is the Chaplain of the Presbyterian Day School. And, as we mentioned earlier, this is the largest boys school, sixth grade and under, 630 boys. And you’re the Chaplain of that. And you also teach a class that is called “Flight Plan.”
Braxton: It is. It’s part of our Building Boys, Making Men program, where we teach our boys basically, from first through sixth grade, what it means to be a man and how that fleshes out in their daily life.
Dennis: You’re really trying to provide life skill training to these boys so when they do encounter peer pressure they’ll know in advance how to handle it and how to do the right thing.
Braxton: Definitely. We want to be pro-active and not reactive. I think we’ve got a reactive parents’ society, at least where I deal with every single day, is that parents see something, react to it, see something, react to it, instead of trying to look forward and think with the end in mind and say, “This is what’s coming. Let’s figure out how you can make a wise decision.” And peer pressure is definitely the most important issue.
Dennis: You’ve put this in a book called Flight Plan, what you teach those 75 sixth graders. And what we’re talking about today is better equipping parents to know how to train their sons with these life skills as well.
Bob: I’m just curious. As you try to teach these things to boys at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis, I know it’s a private school so if the parents aren’t jazzed with what you’re telling their sons, they can go somewhere else. But are there people in the community who look and say, “Oh, they’re teaching boys to be chauvinists.” Or “They’ve got an old view of what it means to be a man.” Do you get criticism for the program?
Braxton: Most times we don’t because at the end of the day most people in our city want men who are willing to stand up for what’s right. We’ve been applauded over and over and over again for trying to teach boys at such a young age. I think a lot of times we think, ”Oh, we’ll just wait until middle school. We’ll just wait until high school. They’ll get it in college.” And that’s not the case.
The most formative years of a boy’s life is right in the ten, 11, and 12-year-old range. They form their biases then. That’s just a crucial time for us to try to shape and mold them and teach them what it means to be a godly man.
Dennis: As I was talking about peer pressure, you were nodding your head. You’re undoubtedly seeing a whole new level of traps being set for young men today as they move toward adolescence. What are some of those traps?
Braxton: I think number one is the access to information. It is absolutely unbelievable how quick boys can access information. I tell parents all the time you know, it would have been hard for me --I’m 38 -- but in my high school years and elementary years, it would have been hard for me to go and try to find some type of pornography.
But now if you’ve got a hand-held device or a computer, and it’s in your room, you might as well go and stack thirty Playboys in his closet because he’s one click away from getting into something he does not need to get into.
Dennis: And it’s not a question of if your son is going to see pornography by the time he’s 13. It’s a matter of how early he’ll see it and how often.
Braxton: Absolutely, it is. Our parents are so scared of it that we try to put this bubble around it and make sure that it’s not ever going to happen. But it’s going to happen at some point and they’ve got to be willing to talk about it and address it without our kids being fearful that “Oh, Dad’s going to yell and scream at me. I’m going to be in trouble and I’m going to go in a hole and not be able to communicate anymore.” There’s got to be a strategic and intentional conversation with that.
Dennis: Let’s talk about pornography for a moment. What would you say to parents about protecting their sons from getting into this? And, as far as that goes, their daughters as well.
Braxton: Absolutely. You’ve got to take appropriate measures with the computer. In my home, our house is one big open spot on the first floor and everybody’s rooms are on the second floor. Technology doesn’t go up on the second floor. We want to make sure that our boys and our three-year-old is not old enough to--well she might be old enough, the way technology is going nowadays.
Dennis: Yeah, really.
Braxton: But our boys know that if they need to get on the computer they need to ask permission and obviously we’re going to check our history. My 13-year-old, against my better wishes, has a cell phone just because he’s at a school now that I’m not there and so he’s fifteen minutes away in case he’s got football or late.
But I think with cell phones you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got such an open communication with your son or daughter that they’re willing to say, you know what, if you get into something that you don’t feel like you can handle, then come to me and let’s talk about it and let’s work through that. Because I want it to happen under my roof before they leave when they’re eighteen and go off to college and have to make wise decisions on their own. I want to be able to talk them through that.
So, cell phones are a big, big deal and I would encourage parents to not let them move around with their cell phones. I think they need to make sure that cell phones go all in the same place, parents included, because it’s as bad of a problem with parents as it is with kids, because parents are on their phones more than they are communicating with their kids.
Dennis: I want to ask this appropriately, but have you had a conversation with your sons about viewing pornography? I mean, perhaps they’ve been exposed. I’m not going to ask you that here. I don’t want to embarrass your boys. But have you had those conversations?
Braxton: I have. My middle son is eight, so we’ve just started having those conversations. But my 13-year old and I have continual conversations on “What have you seen, what have you not seen, what do you think you would struggle with?” I put him in situations where “What would be the situation where you would give in? What would that look like? So let’s try to help navigate that.”
I do that with drugs and alcohol. I do that with pre-marital sex. I do that with all my conversations with him. “Let’s look at what kind of situations would you feel like you couldn’t stand up to the test and let’s try to walk through those.”
Dennis: What I want our listeners to hear is you, as a parent, need to be intentional. You almost can’t start too early. I mean, it’s almost a shock to a parent; I know moms are going, “He’s just a little boy. He’s eight years old.” But I’m going to tell you something. Evil is preying upon eight-year-old boys. You don’t have control over their peers, what happens in other people’s homes, and what kind of access they have on their computers. These conversations need to be started.
Braxton: Absolutely. I tell our parents every single time, the first thing that comes out of my mouth at a parent meeting, is your son is going to get a version of manhood from you or womanhood from your mom or something from someone else. And I can promise you, you don’t want the alternative.
You need to be the one to cast a vision of godly manhood, godly womanhood, for your son or daughter. You need to be the one to do that. You need to be able to communicate truth. Your kids need to know how to apply Biblical truth to everyday life. That’s the parents’ role.
I tell our headmaster all the time and our co-author Lee Burns, I really shouldn’t have a job. If parents were doing what they should I shouldn’t have a job. I wish I didn’t, honestly. I wish every parent would say, “You know what, Braxton? I’m on board with you. I’m going to take this and you can just kind of supplement as we go.” But sadly that’s not the society we live in.
Dennis: As you look at peers today, not only around your sons, but at school, what are some of the other areas that are just as deadly, just as crippling, that can occur in boys’ lives today?
Braxton: I think one critical issue, it’s an identity issue is, really, bullying. And more verbal abuse than it is physical. But just kind of knocking boys down, kind of chipping at them every now and then. And then you see a boy kind of shoulders hunched over and not really confident in himself. It’s because he’s getting his identity from achievements and successes and not really who he is.
We don’t see that as much as PBS but a lot in our neighborhood is that boys are trying to one-up each other and they think that by abusing the other one, that makes me look good. So that’s really a big one that we’re dealing with now.
Dennis: So you’re seeing older boys put down younger boys, say things about them. It’s back to the old statement, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, the words do hurt and they stick and stay in the hearts and heads of these young boys. As adults, especially as men, we need to be speaking good words to our sons and calling them up.
Braxton: Absolutely. And another area of peer pressure that I’ve just personally dealt with… I meet with a group of high school guys on Tuesday morning that I mentor and they all went down to the beach for fall break and every single one of them gave in to alcohol. And so we had a real serious conversation of “Why? Why did you give in?”
And pretty much the reason was “I just wanted to see what it was all about. Everybody keeps talking about how great it was and I just wanted to see what it was all about.” I said, “How did it make you feel?” And every single one of them said, “It just made me feel empty inside. It really didn’t matter. Nobody really cared if I drank this beer or not.” They just wanted everybody to be the same or the same as the guy making the mistake.
And so it’s just a critical, critical issue that the influence that peers have is unbelievable. It really is.
Dennis: I had a conversation recently with Josh McDowell. He authored a book that’s now sold, I don’t know how many tens of millions, More Than a Carpenter. But Josh speaks to a lot of junior high, high school students and he was speaking to the very issue you were talking about. I want you to comment on it too. He said the thing that is moving these boys, and as far as that goes, girls, into some of this experimentation with sex and alcohol and drugs is curiosity. It’s a part of the adventure of being a boy. What’s a parent to do with the curious nature of a boy?
Braxton: Well, I think you’ve got to set the stage as a parent to give them as much information about it as you can so there’s really not that curiosity or less curiosity after they get through talking with you. And that’s why I want our parents to be proactive and say “This is what’s coming and this is what it looks like. Let me take a little bit of the curiosity away.”
But you know also it just goes back to an identity issue. My oldest son is 13 and has decided that he now needs a girlfriend and, despite our numerous conversations of reasons not to have a girlfriend at a young age, he and this young lady have begun talking.
Dennis: (Laughing) I’m sorry for laughing…
Bob: You’re starting to sweat a little here, Dad.
Dennis: You got serious all of a sudden here, Braxton.
Braxton: Let’s just don’t mention my three-year-old daughter and then I’ll get really, really serious.
Dennis: I’ve got a book I’ll give you on that. I’ll prepare you for that.
Braxton: Please. We’ll talk later. But he has come home the last few days just sad about the relationship. And so my wife, I let her take this one, since she’s a little bit better at communicating the girl issues than I am. The root of the issue was it was his identity. He didn’t want another guy to be talking to her because he felt like maybe she’ll like him more than she’ll like --
Dennis: Oh yeah.
Braxton: And so it was an identity issue. It was just… I think it speaks to the heart of all this peer pressure. It is where do our boys, where do our girls, find their true identity?
Dennis: And I like what you said. You ran past it rather quickly and I just want to underline it here verbally. You said as a parent you want to give them as much information as you can coming from Mom and Dad.
And what we try to do in the new Passport2Purity®, which is brand new, totally revised, is we tried to set the parent up to engage their sons and, as far as that goes, their daughters, in a conversation about matters of the opposite sex, about choices they’re going to face, which is what you’re talking about here.
Braxton: And I think the point you made earlier is that I think parents are scared that “Oh, we’re doing this too early. We’re doing this too early.” I don’t think it’s early enough, honestly. We give the sex talk to our boys at PBS at sixth grade and I tell our parents all the time that I’m hoping and praying that you’ve had this talk several years before so that we can just supplement what you are doing. And so I think you’re exactly right.
Bob: And the talk is really a series of talks. It needs to be an ongoing dialogue on this subject, doesn’t it?
Braxton: It does. I mean we’re a little bit landlocked in the fact that we’ve only got an hour and a half once a month to teach this class. We educate our parents of what we’re doing as we go. And really, in a perfect world, they would have had every one of these conversations before they’ve gotten to us, and we could just supplement the information for their kids.
Bob: When you have spent six years, maybe a little longer, with a young man starting at the age of five or six, up until the time that he’s 12 years old, trying to drill home the values that you’re drilling home at the school and the values that are in the book, trying to help him understand what’s at the core of masculinity, is he ready for life now at age 13? I mean, have you got him pointed in the right direction?
Braxton: We hope we’ve got him pointed in the right direction. But those five guys I just mentioned having a conversation with…
Bob: They’d all been through this?
Braxton: They’d all been through it.
Bob: So this is not an inoculation. You can’t take your son through this and go, “Well, I’ve delivered the goods; now he’s safe against whatever he’s going to face.”
Braxton: Absolutely. In the peer pressure chapter we give about seven or eight scenarios of “What would you do in this situation?” And it’s all good and they can all make wise decisions when they are in front of me. “Oh, this is what I would do.”
But the minute that the beer is handed to you, what are you doing to do then? I mean, real life application. And so we can’t do that with them. So we see great stories and we see stories like the guys that I’m still mentoring in the tenth grade.
Bob: But how much better for them when they get the beer handed to them that they’d had some conversation from the time they were six years old about what makes a man a man, so that at least there’s a voice of conscience that speaks to them in those moments.
Braxton: Absolutely. That’s what we want. But we also want our parents to have the opportunity to talk with their child too so that when that beer is handed that that son comes home and says, “Dad, I got tempted tonight. I did it or I didn’t do it. Let’s talk through it.” I mean, that’s really my goal is to educate dads and moms-- to say “Here’s what your boys are doing to be facing,” and “Here’s the kind of intentional and strategic conversations you need to have with them.”
Dennis: We’ve mentioned the word intentional several times. My children described me as an intentional daddy.
Bob: Mr. Intentional.
Dennis: Mr. Intentional. But I have to say this. I look back on it. I was far too naïve about what you just talked about here. I think I had the sex talk and I didn’t double back. Not just on an annual basis but look for opportunities regularly to check in, check up, “How you doing?” and even get down into talking about the gritty issues that a young boy is going to face.
Braxton: I definitely think you need to circle back. One of the points that I make to parents is we’ve got to communicate truth and once you’ve had that talk, well, guess what? You’re going to be sitting watching the Superbowl with your son and a scantily clad lady is going to come across the screen or an Axe body spray.
Which is probably the funniest thing of the culture nowadays, is our boys at PBS spray this spray on them and they think girls are going to come out of the lockers and flock after them, which is funny because there are no girls around, which is even funnier.
But we need to make sure that we stop, we pause the TV or DVR and say, “Listen. This is not an appropriate view of how you should treat a woman.” If we don’t, then we’ve just created a normal that’s opposite to what we’re teaching. If we let that go and we’re passive as Dennis said, then we’re creating a normal that we don’t need to have, that that’s normal. We think that’s normal. And that’s not.
Bob: How do you root this call to Biblical manhood in something that keeps it from just being a call to a higher standard of morality for these boys and really help them see it’s a Gospel issue?
Braxton: In our manhood definition the first few words, “a real man glorifies God.” And our key phrase and keyword at PBS is “Live for God’s glory and not your own.” And when you understand that your life is lived for God’s glory, then it fleshes out in how you treat others and your friendships. It’s how you treat the opposite sex. It’s how you treat your parents.
It’s how you walk into the classroom everyday and say, “You know what? God has given me a brain to use and I’m going to use it to His glory today. I’m not going to worry about what everybody else in the class makes as far as grades. But I’m about walking in here and being respectful and kind to the teacher and I do that because of what God has done for me.”
And that’s the constant that we always teach at PBS, the why behind what you’re doing. You’re doing it because you’re living for God’s glory and not your own.
Dennis: And the thing every man who is listening right now needs to consider, is how am I living for the glory of God and not for my own glory? Bob knows what I’m talking about here, but earlier we did some videotaping of Mark Driscoll for a brand new series we’re coming out with for men. It’s taken from my book Stepping Up, A Call to Courageous Manhood®.
Bob asked Mark Driscoll, “What’s the essence of a man?” and you know what? He agrees with you a hundred percent, Braxton. He says it’s a man who glorifies God, who’s all about the glory of God.
Frankly, I can’t wait for fathers to get a copy of your book, Flight Plan, to begin teaching their sons. And I can’t wait for this new series to be out, which will better equip not just the fathers, but the husbands, single men, and, as far as that goes, probably some younger men are going to watch this video series as well that will better equip them to know what real manhood is and how to be a man.
But above and beyond videos and books and all that, they need somebody who’s got skin on. They need a dad in their lives that is demonstrating, calling them, showing them how to handle their successes and their failures, and calling them up to godly, mature, manhood.
Bob: The reason some guys aren’t engaging with their sons is because they’re confused about what manhood is all about. I hope our listeners will take just a minute and pray for us as we’re trying to put the finishing touches on this video series. It comes out in August and, in fact, we’re kicking it off with a one day National Men’s Conference, the Stepping Up National Men’s Conference.
It’s going to originate from Chicago. It’s going to be webcast to churches all around the country. Hundreds of churches are going to be host churches for this event. If you’d like to find out more about how your church could host the Stepping Up National Men’s Conference, featuring Dennis Rainey, James McDonald, Crawford Loritts, Dr. Robert Lewis, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the Stepping Up link there.
There’s more information about the national conference and about the video series that comes out in August as well. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link that says Stepping Up. You can also find information about Braxton’s book, Flight Plan, when you’re on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
Or call us toll free at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word “TODAY.” Ask about the book Flight Plan when you get in touch with us. Or if you have questions about the Stepping Up National Men’s Conference or about the Stepping Up video series, call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and we’ll answer whatever questions we can.
And we want to say a word of thanks to those of you who are helping us with the funding for the Stepping Up video series and the National Men’s Conference, especially those of you who this month have given a gift to FamilyLife Today. During the month of May those financial gifts are being matched dollar for dollar, up to a total of $650,000.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this Sunday. Hope you can join us on Monday, on Memorial Day, as we reflect on the legacy of men who have protected us and defended us in the military. We’re going to look at some of those men who have been awarded the National Medal of Honor, coming up on Monday. We hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next week for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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