If you read no other book (besides the Bible) to learn how boys learn and grow, please make sure to read Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Boys. Michael has researched male culture literally all over the world and developed many insightful ideas by combining both the physical and cultural shifts a boy goes through as he matures.
The combination of the two – changes to the body and guidance by the overarching culture – are the two most powerful effects on a young man. And, while we can do little to change the biological side of things, there is a lot we can do for the cultural.
Michael speaks often of three families all healthy children enjoy. As a summer camp director and long time youth coach, this idea of three families made enormous sense to me. The first family is the 'nuclear family' made up of parents and siblings. Thankfully for today’s world, his research shows it doesn’t matter if it nuclear family be ‘mom and dad’, a blended family, a single parent, an adopted family, or a single sex family.
The second family is the extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. This group could also include nannies and long term caregivers or teachers in small schools.
The third family, which Michael describes as more ‘tribal’, is the group of people in the larger community from which the child learns and grows. This could be the school kids attend with their assortment of children and teachers. It could be the church they spend time at each week. Or, it can be the gang that accepts and initiates the boys.
As a summer camp director, this idea of the three families or tribes speaks powerfully to me. The children we see grow into confident young men and women come from families in which their trust and love is secure. Their extended families are thriving and a big part of their lives (this seems to be especially true with grandparents and nannies). And, the third family around them – the church, synagogue, teams or camp – makes them feel as though they belong to something larger than themselves in a healthy, positive way.
The problem today is that many of our young men grow up with tenuous connections to the second and third tribes.
Extended family members live elsewhere or are so engaged with their own lives that there is little to no time for others. Schools have become so large that children battle isolation in a sea of people. And, while many church communities are thriving, the larger story across our nation is the gradual drift away from a meaningful connection to the local church.
The result for boys is the loss of support and knowledge of what it takes to become a good man. And, if you don't think men are important, I urge you to check our Kathleen Parker's Save the Males.)
We humans have always been relational, tribal beings. Up until the previous few generations, we spent time on farms or very small communities made up of extended families and close friends who helped and shared and raised children together.
Young men had ample examples and motivated teachers on their pathway to manhood. It was in the community’s best interest to build men who could produce for families and, if needed, protect them. In the post-industrial age where families are separate and boys spend 44 times more time in front of screen than one on one with their father a week, this breakdown is nearly complete.
I am convinced there is a solution to this problem. We will have a difficult time changing the first or second families, especially in a mobile society. What we can influence, though, is the Third Tribe. If our churches, schools, and camps provide boys a road map to a healthy, Christ based manhood in a fun, engaging way, we can start to make up for lost time.
God has called us to do so in Ezekiel 34:1-6:
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
The way I see it, we are all the shepherds and the children our sheep. We have to take care of the lost, the injured, the strays. We have to bring them back and mold them, care for them, and raise them. It’s time for the Third Tribe to make a difference.
Who is with me?
To learn more about how The Immanuel Project is working to make a difference, please learn more about our Pathway Class or reach out to me anytime.