Appreciating the Essence of Your Son
About the Guest
Are you expecting your son to behave like a girl? You might, and not even realize it. Boys are under attack, according to pediatrician and mother of six, Dr. Meg Meeker. Dr. Meeker tells how boys, who are naturally attracted to activity and motion, are being reprimanded for acting like boys. Hear Dr. Meeker share her concerns about too many boys being misdiagnosed with ADHD, and advises Dads to reach into their sons' lives by doing something with them.
Meg MeekerDr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who has practiced child and adolescent medicine for 31 years and is an author of six books including the best-selling book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters; Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers and more. She is a nationally acclaimed speaker on parenting issues and speaks at Dave Ramsey’s Smart Conference. She has appeared on numerous national television and radio shows including The Today Show, NPR, Today with Kathie Lee a...more
Dr. Meg Meeker tells how boys are being reprimanded for acting like boys.
Appreciating the Essence of Your Son
Bob: Dr. Meg Meeker says we live in a day when the message being presented to our teenage sons about their sex drive and their hormones is this—
Meg: “That is the one thing you can’t control because we all know what a strong drive it is in boys,” and, “Oh, well. We’ll shrug our shoulders and hope you won’t get in trouble.” That is how our boys are treated—a lot of verbal and nonverbal language to boys about that. It is devastating to boys because they need to understand that they can control every aspect of their humanity.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today forThursday, December 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. You want your sons to grow up to be men; right?—strong, confident, humble men. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you remember, several years ago, a book that came out called The Dangerous Book for Boys?
Dennis: Yes—over in England. That’s right.
Bob: It was like huge. People really resonated with this book that was all about teaching boys how to use jackknives and how to do risky things.
Dennis: Yes. You’d think it wouldn’t have been very popular; especially, as it migrated to America because of it being politically-incorrect.
Bob: Well, why do you think it took off the way it did?
Dennis: I think, innately, girls and boys are different. I think the book pointed that out in fresh ways; and I think it resonated with moms and dads, all across the country, who were looking for a way to raise sons who are uniquely boys. I think our guest on today’s program feels the same way. Dr. Meg Meeker joins us. Meg, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Meg: Well, thank you for having me. It is just a lot of fun.
Dennis. You have written a book that would be considered politically-incorrect: Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons.
Meg: Yes. I kind of enjoy doing things like that—going against the grain a little bit. But, I really wrote Boys because I wanted to put the spotlight on boys. I wrote it as a follow-up to my Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters because one of the things I realized, when I was writing the father/daughter book, is how marginalized men feel in our culture—husbands / single men.
I wondered if that sense trickled down to younger boys: “Do they feel marginalized because we have had so much focus on girls with the feminist revolution, and so on, and so forth?” I found that they did. I think that is, maybe, why that Dangerous Book for Boys, was popular because it highlighted masculine traits, and masculine adventures and joys, and said: “This is really good. This is a good thing.”
I really wanted to write about boys to put the focus back on them and say: “Have they been victims of a war that has been fought culturally in the United States? Are they sort of the casualties, in other words, of feminism? Let’s take a look at them, and see what they need, and what is really going on in their lives,”—a lot of fun to write.
Dennis: You are a physician—
Dennis: —a pediatrician. You are a mom of four. You have one son. This book has a particular spot in your heart. One of the stories you tell—that I think reveals that heart—is the story of the four boys who had the tree-house. It illustrates the very thing we are talking about here.
I just want to say, at the start, I just want to cheer moms and dads on—who are raising the next generation of boys. They must be successful. That is why you wrote the book.
Meg: Yes. I really did, and I also believe that boys are tremendously under attack in our culture.
Dennis: Yes. They are.
Meg: I think sexually—their sexuality is under attack. I think, physically, they are under attack. Emotionally, they don’t know where to land. They don’t know how they are supposed to behave. Many don’t have a father in the home—they don’t have any male role model. They have strong women sisters, strong mothers; and they just don’t know who they are supposed to be.
Bob: We went past the tree-house. Tell the tree-house story.
Meg: I love the tree-house story. This was told to me by the boys who have the tree-house. They wanted their real names used because of the tree-house—they are very, very proud of it.
Dennis: They are proud of it?
Meg: They are very proud of it. And they are adults now—cute as buttons. I think they are always kids. You know, 25-year-olds are still kids to me. These are boys who grew up in a regular old neighborhood in Michigan—northern Michigan—where I live. They had a small patch of woods behind their houses. This patch of woods connected one boy’s home with the other boys’ home. This was their secret place.
This was their spot. Nobody was allowed in here. Certainly, girls were not allowed in this area. They built a fort back there, and they made it high so that mountain lions could not get at them. The boys would go into the woods, and they would play fantasy games—healthy fantasy games—war games.
You know Bruno Bettelheim, a great psychiatrist, wrote about the importance of fantasy in our kids’ lives—not fantasy on television—fantasy that kids are involved in because they work through a lot of the conflicts they feel. The good-guy / bad-guy: “Is good going to win over evil? Am I strong? Can I do this?” They would play games out there; particularly, war games.
At one point, they set up a wire from their fort to a tree. They had to use this line so that if they needed to escape the enemy quickly from their fort, they could take a carabineer, and hook it on to this wire, and they could fly down out of the fort, and they could pretend that they were parachuting.
The wonderful part about the tree fort story—as recounted to me by 20-something boys now—is that, as they told me the stories of fighting mountain lions, or fighting men, who were hiding behind trees, that they were convinced were there—these boys didn’t have real guns. They used sticks. They used props—they used PVC piping, and they turned them into machine guns.
Now, hearing this terrifies some parents because they think, “I don’t want my son to be a violent kid.” This does not make boys violent boys. This is how they need to play, and this is how they stay out of trouble. They would recreate these stories as they would tell them to me. Even as they said so—in their 20’s, and they talked to me about the enemy and what he looked like, and what they thought he looked like—it was almost as though, at 25, they were back, being 12 again, in the woods. It clearly made a big impact on their character development.
Dennis: What you are outlining here is the contrast—the clear contrast between boys and girls. Auto insurers know the difference.
Meg: Yes. They do.
Dennis: They know the difference. I have paid the difference for my sons versus my daughters. Now, that I have grandchildren, I have fresh evidence of the difference between boys and girls because—you don’t know this, Meg—I have one daughter who has five boys. And I have a son who has four daughters. I have been to both houses. I have babysat both kids. I have taken both bunches to go get ice cream. Boy, are they different! [Laughter]
Meg: They are completely different.
Dennis: I mean, the girls are doing these sweet little things; but the boys—I’m telling you—they want to wrestle. They’re physical—they want to get guns, they tear up rooms—bless my daughter’s heart.
Meg: I think that one of the shifts that I have seen happen in parenting, over the past 15 years—I have been at this awhile now—is that we expect boys to behave more like girls. We want them to color in the lines—we want them to sit down.
I see this happening in elementary school teacher’s, too, because a lot of these kids—these young boys—seven, eight, and nine years old—will come in. Their parents will say: “He has got ADHD. He is out of control. Please help me.” Really, he is not getting enough play time. He is not outside. Boys must move.
There is a real subtle sense in which we, parents, dislike boy activity—boyness. It is not politically-correct to let your five-year-old boy play with a squirt gun or any kind of a gun because he will be violent. If you allow him to play war-games, if you allow him to have sword fights, if you allow him to jump over couches—we don’t want wild, out-of-control violent boys—of course not—
but we have gone the other way. We want our boys to sit in classrooms. When the schools get budget cuts, what do they cut?—P.E. When a boy acts up in class, what does the teacher do?—keeps him in from recess. You can’t do that with a boy! You must get him outside.
Many boys are tagged as learning disabled in their early elementary school years because they can’t keep up with the girls. It is not because they are dumb. They are emotionally a little bit behind—their maturity is a little bit behind. Rather than saying: “This is just kind of the way it is,” we tend to tag boys. If you tag a first-, or second-, or third-grade boy as being learning disabled or something—he carries that for the rest of his life.
Bob: Let me ask you—and I just run a little bit of a medical bunny trail. You mentioned ADHD. Is it over-diagnosed?
Meg. Way over-diagnosed. It exists.
True-blue Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder does exist; but boys are diagnosed seven times more frequently than girls are. A lot of things can mask ADHD. Depression can mask ADHD. Dyslexia—a child with dyslexia—who can’t read—can’t sit still to read because he can’t see what’s on the page. He is antsy. He wants to move, and get up, and walk around the classroom.
Maybe, home life is chaos. Maybe, they are struggling. Maybe, they didn’t sleep that night. There are a lot of other reasons. I fear that we just slap on stimulants to these kids far too quickly—a lot of disservice being done to these kids. This is very, very serious medication that we are giving them. Yes, it needs to be given; but parents need to know exactly what‘s going on with their kids. The diagnosis needs to be correct. Make sure that it is not something else; and then, you can keep life in order.
Dennis: Do you have an estimate of how much misdiagnosis is taking place? You said boys are diagnosed seven times more frequently than girls.
Meg: Correct. Yes. Yes.
Dennis: What would you estimate?
Meg: I would estimate about 40 percent because they are diagnosed too quickly with too little information.
Bob: What do I do, as a mom or a dad? How do I determine if it is the real thing or if it is a teacher just trying to get my boy to quit being a boy?
Meg: Exactly. You go in to a pediatrician—who is used to working with kids with ADHD—or a family physician—somebody who is very familiar with the illness or the disorder. Then you say: “How do I know? Show me how I will know. How are you going to test my child? How are you going to make sure it is ADHD and not something else?” Have that physician explain the other options to you.
If your physician doesn’t have enough time, take him to a psychologist, who works with learning disorders, and behavior problems or issues—who is familiar with what ADHD looks like. At a minimum, parents should be required to fill out extensive forms called the Connor’s Questionnaire.
This is what I use in my office. I give one to Mom, one to Dad, and one to two different teachers in the school. They go through, they fill these out, bring them back, and I rate them. I look at them. I grade them, and then I decide. I have another visit with the parent, whether I think this is ADHD or not. I do a lot of digging and a lot of probing.
Bob: In the end, what is often being called ADHD is, as you say, boys are being boys.
Bob: They are just doing what they are wired to do; right?
Meg: They are. They’re doing what they are wired to do. They may be emotionally not quite as mature as a girl, and may not have the ability to just sit still and color in the lines, as I say. Another problem—if you look at elementary school teachers—there is a predominance of women there, who understand the girls. If you have a classroom with 15 students—and you have seven girls and eight boys—the girls all behave, and answer questions, and raise their hands.
I have taught Sunday school long enough to know it is much easier with a class of girls, who sit down and do the crafts, than the boys who want to throw the crafts at you.
Dennis: Hey. Let me tell you something. I taught an 11- and 12-year-old Sunday school class for 11 years. I had almost 600 kids in my class with that period of time. I can count, on one hand, the number of girls that I disciplined.
Bob: That acted up—right.
Dennis: But the boys—I was constantly—and you know how I punished them? You’ll love this, as a pediatrician. I would make them sit between two girls. [Laughter] At 11 and 12, that is the ultimate punishment. In a year, it would be the greatest reward; but at that age—
Meg: That’s fabulous.
Dennis: —but, the point is, they are different; and we need to treat them as such.
Now, I want you to answer a question because we have talked about letting boys be physical—letting them build a tree-house, be adventuresome, have swords and guns, and play, and have imagination.
Is there a key component that a parent needs to make sure they are providing for their boy that is different than what they need to provide for their daughter? Is there something they need to do for that boy that is unique to him?
Meg: I believe there is. As a boy gets older, boys learn to relate to—they bond with siblings, friends, and parents—through activity. Girls bond through talking. I think that, as boys hit the teen years, the father influence is so critical—mother influence very, very important until around ten.
Then, the boy, as he hits puberty, and he needs to figure out who he is as a man—transitioning from boy to man—pushes the mother away, emotionally—very, very painful for mothers—gravitates toward his dad—and really needs to bond with his dad.
I do believe it is important that, during those teen years, Dad has adventures with his son. You don’t need to go out and talk with your son. You need to take him out and bike ride; you need to go into the woods; you need to canoe. You need to do something outside—a physical activity, where the boy can feel he can bond with another man.
I think that is a hugely missing component in a lot of our teen boys’ growing-up experience today. I think they need that for psychological development, for emotional health, and physically—so that they can see what maleness looks like. That is what I think is very distinct to boys growing up that girls don’t need.
Dennis: And spiritually, he needs to be connected to his dad, as well.
Meg: Yes, very much so.
Dennis: Take a look at the Proverbs—over and over again in the book—there is the statement—
Bob: “My son.”
Dennis: “My son, hear my teaching. Give your ear to wisdom. Listen carefully to what I am about to say to you.” Where is that coming from? It is coming from a sage—from a father.
Dennis: Maybe, someone who doesn’t know everything—but who is a couple of laps ahead of this boy in life—but he is passing on truth about God, about people, about life, about love, about relationships. I think if there is a call that I hear you making in all of this—it’s for moms to be sensitive—for boys to be boys--let them be adventuresome—but a call to men—dads—to step into the life of these young lads and to impart where they find life.
Bob: So, if there is a mom—who is a single-parent, and she has a ten- or eleven-year-old, who is starting to push her away—but he is looking around for where he is going to get that sage-stuff we are talking about, and dad is not in the picture—is there anything that mom can do?
Meg: Yes. Find a man—a good man. I don’t mean find a man, and marry him, and bring him into the home. Find a man in your world—who you admire and who can show your boy—remember—they are visual creatures. Boys need to see masculinity so that they can mimic it—so that they can take it from outside, and they can internalize it.
What I tell single mothers is—first and foremost—you cannot be mom and dad. You cannot be. Mothers are exhausting themselves trying to make up for the fact that dad isn’t there. She can’t be. Ask God to fill in the holes, and ask Him to be the Father. If you need—and you do need—a tangible man for your son to see—find one—uncle, brother, grandfather, an older sibling—somebody—a pastor, a youth worker—and ask him to spend some time with your son or even with you.
Invite him over for dinner so that, at least, the boy can see how this man speaks to you, and how he relates to other people because the son’s—the boy’s world—is so much not about mom anymore. It is not because of a failing of a mother—it is because he needs maleness around him. It is a very important thing I wanted to mention here, too—very important for healthy masculinity—for that transition from boyhood to manhood to occur is a sense of self-control.
Independence—that is what the teen years are all about: “Dad and Mom used to do this for me, but I can pick up the ball. Now, I can do it,”—full self-control. We teach this to boys in all areas, except sexuality: “We, as a culture, and Mom and Dad expect you to be able to control every part of your life, but”—
Dennis: —in this area, we expect you not to be able to control it.
Meg: No—because, “You are going to be wild because all boys are wild.”
Dennis: “You are just going to be enslaved to your sex drives, so go ahead.”
Meg: Exactly. “That is the one thing you can’t control because we all know what a strong drive it is in boys. Oh well, we’ll just shrug our shoulders and just hope you don’t get in trouble.” That is how our boys are treated—a lot of verbal and non-verbal language to boys about that. It is devastating to boys because they need to understand that they can control every aspect of their humanity.
I write, in the book, about meekness—one of my favorite words, particularly, for boys. Meekness is fully-constrained power. It is the picture of Christ on the cross—who could have jumped down, at any moment, and didn’t. I say to boys: “If He could stay stuck up there, how much more can you control every part of your character, your intuitions, your drives, your feelings, and your ambitions? How much more can you take charge of those during your teen years?”
I say, “It is an insult if anybody speaks to you like you can’t.” It is another great reason why teenage boys need to see that worked-out and acted-out in men.
Dennis: What we are saying here is that boys need a mom and a dad. They need to understand what the objective is—that it is not a controlling issue, all the way through adolescence—you have to let them go.
That is why the imagery in Scripture—“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth,”—you let go of the arrow. You aim it, you point it, and you let go, and it flies; and you know what? It is out of your control, Mom. It is out of your control, Dad. That is how they learn to trust God on their own—how they grow up, how they become responsible, and how they ultimately become men, on their own.
Bob: And wouldn’t it be great if moms and dads had a clear picture of what the end target is—what healthy, genuine, authentic masculinity is supposed to look like?
A lot of us have damaged pictures of that from our own background of experience; and a lot of us don’t even know what the target is supposed to look like. I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if moms and dads had a road map or a blue print for: “What do I do to get my boys from being boys to becoming men”? I think that is what you have provided for us in the book that you have written. I want to encourage our listeners—we talk about a lot of resources we have available, here at FamilyLife Today. The book, by Dr. Meg Meeker, called Boys Should Be Boys—for parents of sons—I think is one of the best resources we can recommend to you on this subject.
Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. The information you need on Meg’s book is available there. Again, it’s called Boys Should Be Boys. She has also written a book for dads called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters; and we have that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, as well.
Go, online, at FamilyLIfeToday.com for more information; or call, toll-free, 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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Pray that God would supply our needs, and that we’d be in a good position as we head into 2014 to do ministry in the coming year.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Meg Meeker is going to be here again. We’re going to talk about how the culture is giving us a distorted image of masculinity, and how we can raise sons to embrace authentic masculinity in the middle of the cultural propaganda that we’re getting. I 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 am Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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