Monday, November 10, 2008

Must boys be boys?

[Haveil Havalim is here!]

I have no illusions about my childhood; I did my share of the taunting and fistfights and vandalism that go with growing up as a boy. Some tell me I was “well-behaved,” but I still remember, with no small degree of nostalgia, the types of escapades which make people say, “Boys will be boys.”

I see this “Boys will be boys” phenomenon in kids all the time, in shul:
*We had a Regional Shabbaton for Eastern Seaboard NCSY in our shul this past Shabbos, and it came as no surprise that among the dozens of kids, despite good supervision, some managed to find their way into trouble.
*A couple of years ago we had a Bnei Akiva Simchaton at shul, and experienced similar things.
*Every few weeks, a pre-teen finds some way to damage something in shul on Shabbos.

The sages were aware of this adolescent and pre-adolescent propensity for destruction and disinclination for rebuke. As Daf Yomi participants recently learned (Kiddushin 30a), parents can successfully rebuke their kids only between the ages of 16 and 22, or, per another reading, 18 and 24. Why not earlier? As Rashi explains it, kids who are younger than that do not have the דעת, the intellectual maturity, to absorb and apply rebuke.

So I understand and accept what’s normal for boys – but I would still like to find a way around it, in raising our beloved sons. If there were only some way to get them to pay attention, to think before they break fragile items, to be considerate and not trip people, to avoid putting things down drains just to see what will happen… not just sometimes, but most of the time.

I know this is an impossible dream. And I’m not foolish to imagine that anyone else’s boys are perfect. And I’m happy that my kids have so much energy, because that same energy will serve them well, Gd-willing, when they finally reach an age at which they can harness it.

But surely there must be a way to tame them… a little bit?

Currently, I try to:
*provide outlets for their energy, and
*model good behavior for them – to let them see self-control, to walk through my own challenges with them and demonstrate how I handle them, and
*show them respect, so that they will respect themselves and so that they will want to live up to that respect.

None of these are bad approaches, but I would love to hear from others. What do you do, besides damage control? Must boys be boys?

[Daughters are a topic for another time; I have absolutely no clue what to do with them…]


  1. I think that you did a thorough job of covering the basics. My grandfather OBM used to say that you can't screw an old head on young shoulders.

    The reality is that there is no substitute for life experience.

  2. I always thought it was interesting that the gmara sets teh minimum age at 16 or 18 but that boys are fully chayav in mitzvos and are considered adults at the age of 13. I'm wondering if this is the time that the gmara is telling parents to reproach their sons about how to treat their wives (since the gmara just said to get married at 18)...

  3. Jack-
    Very much agreed.

    An interesting thought; the gemara doesn't clarify what sort of rebuke we are talking about. It's not general chinuch, since that does begin at a much younger age. It must refer to a stronger type of tochachah.

  4. I raised daughters plural but only one son and had no clue so I asked a friend, the mother of 19, who has 18 boys and only one daughter. First she laughed and then said that she fully believes that there has to be some genetic basis, some substance in the body that does not come fully into play until a boy hits around 17 or 18. Her answer to how to deal with them until this maturity sets in? Develop patience, lot of patience.

  5. ProfK-
    Not the answer I was hoping for. As a lifelong male, I was really hoping for more of a quick fix.