Every child is unique, but that does not mean there are not traits that children share. Thus, the phrase “boys will be boys” exists for a reason. This article is not an excuse for boorish behavior or anything like that. Instead, this is a look into five traits I have found all boys share. These features exist in varying levels, but if you look you will see them in your sons, brother, and even husband (or self). I am not going to mention girls in these traits as their traits are for another time.
A Desire for Discipline
Of all the five traits boys share, the desire for discipline and structure may be the strongest. Non-parents often seem confused by this feature. Teenage boys, in particular, will complain, gripe and even throw tantrums when discipline is applied. The complaint is a response to specific disciplinary actions, but not discipline itself. I have found boys respect disciplinarians and often gravitate to people that appear to be just in applying discipline. Kids understand cause and effect from birth, and there is a level of comfort that comes from the black and white aspect of discipline. They are not bothered by gray areas in general, but drawing a line in the sand works for all ages.
A great example is my youngest son’s basketball team. The practices combine fifth through seventh-grade boys with a single coach on the court. The coach is a young adult himself, and I doubt he has any children of his own. However, he knew that discipline works with boys. The players were getting a little out-of-control and were not paying attention to the coach. He noticed the attention drift and stopped them all in the middle of what they were doing. He got their attention and laid down rules that included punishment (running laps) for those that did not fall in line. There was an immediate impact on the boys, and his speech inspired a chorus of “yes sir” from the players. The rest of the practice was smooth as silk.
A Need for Respect
Every boy understands respect. Of course, they also see it as a weapon at an early age. Calling someone names shows disrespect and, in my experience, this is the first attack boys use. The desire for respect from others is something I don’t think is ever “outgrown.” Respect is discussed in marriage troubles in a book called Love and Respect*. The respect portion of the title is about men.
The desire for respect extends to everyone in their life. A boy craves respect from his parents and receives this through praise and discussions. A “lecture” conveys an amount of disrespect, but talking through a problem with a child is seen as showing them respect. In young boys, the desire for respect/praise leads to “know-it-all” attitude. Boys will bring up all sorts of facts they have learned in the hopes that their knowledge is shown respect with an “I didn’t know that” or similar comment.
A Competitive Spirit
The competitive spirit shows in many ways in boys, but I see it as an extension of the need for respect. A competitive spirit is often relegated to sports and physical pursuits, but that does not give the full picture. Boys find ways to compete in all they do. That is why they love machines and guns at an early age. Tools are ways to compete with others, self, or even nature. Bare hands are all that is needed to fight, but boys are designed to find new and better ways to compete.
A quick example comes from coaching a hockey team several years ago. The team of middle school aged boys that had enough talent to compete in every game. We struggled with wins and losses though as are practices lacked a sense of competition. The boys did drills and learned skills, but it was only a learning environment. An assistant coach (and professional teacher) decided to bring some iTunes gift cards to practice. These cards were rewards for the players that worked the hardest during practice. We only did this once, and the element of competition stayed with those boys for the rest of the year. We gave them a reason to compete during practice, and they jumped on it.
They other traits we have covered lead to this feature. Boys use heroes to model how to win, earn respect, and define limits. I think the first heroes boys have are Mom and Dad. Young children will brag about “my Dad can beat up your Dad” and how “cool” their Mom is. Unfortunately, this worship wears off as children age so enjoy it while it lasts. Parents fade, but other heroes take their place as a boy find his way in life. A hero gives a boy something to strive towards, a way to compete with himself on a daily basis. Boys also learn from their hero. Thus, heroes will be leaders in fields a boy enjoys. This may be a great ball player, a smart teacher, or any other leader in a field.
I think the love of heroes is part of why teenaged boys are so moody. They hit the age where they see everyone else as human and heroes are hard to find. This realization that people are people is depressing when you invest a lot in some people being heroes. Disappointments do not stop the quest for a hero. Boys will continue looking for one even when they won’t admit it. Of course, fantasy allows heroes to be more than human. Boys may drift towards this fantasy in books, comics, sports, or girls.
Desire To Protect
This last of the five traits may seem contradictory to the bully you remember from school. Boys are painted as enjoying destruction and fighting. Of course, I am not going to argue boys of all ages like a big explosion. However, the desire to protect can found in every boy. This is not to be confused with the protection of a mother; boys have more choice in where they focus their protective desire. I see this protection trait with family members such as younger siblings, but also among friends and those that are less able. It could be that chivalry still lives in my part of the country, but I see it in boys that were not raised here as well.
It takes a little digging to find it, but boys have an innate desire to protect just as girls have a desire to nurture. This most often takes the form of being protective of sisters and mothers, but look closely at a boy’s relationships, and you might find it elsewhere. This most often takes the form of being protective of sisters and mothers, but look closely at a boy’s relationships, and you might find it elsewhere. I don’t think this trait fades either. As boys grow older, their desire to protect others grows into the desire to protect their family.
In my years of getting to know kids from a variety of backgrounds, I have found many boys to be deeper than they are given credit. Maybe your boy is not as special as you think, perhaps you just see all of his traits. Don’t worry; girls are special too. We will look at them next.
*Read more about Love and Respect here:
Love & Respect [Abridged, Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] Publisher: Oasis Audio; Unabridged edition