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OPINION

Rescuing America’s Boys

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Trail Life USA

Boys are in trouble.  

Children — and boys specifically — are being corralled through a one-size-fits all educational chute that focuses on maximizing efficiency, safety, and economy rather than enabling boys to test and strengthen themselves as they take risks and experience the sort of adventure that develops problem-solving, grows critical thinking, and molds great men.

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Until the industrial revolution took fathers from the home, boys learned on the farm and in apprenticeships alongside men. Now boys are straight-jacketed into a one-size fits all classroom with few masculine educational examples to model. Boys are falling behind in an environment where they are expected to where to come inside, sit down, be still, do as they are told, and behave like the girls. Is it any surprise that two out of three students with learning disabilities are boys, boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls and girls now lead boys in every academic category?

Contrary to science, boys are told they are no different from their female counterparts, gender is a social construct, and that their natural God-given draw toward risk and competition is somehow toxic. As boys are caught in a failure cycle and masculinity is emasculated, the most noble virtues of manhood — judging righteously, standing in faith, defending the cause of the weak and the fatherless, upholding the rights of the afflicted and oppressed, and rescuing the weak and needy — are being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. 

It’s as if in this culture, boyhood and masculinity are some sort of social disease that needs to be eradicated. 

A closer look reveals the challenges faced by boys drowning in this rising tide and the staggering statistics that scream for our attention. Like canaries in the coal mine, our boys are beginning to falter. Men account for 70% of preventable opioid deaths. Over 75% of juvenile court cases involve boys. Seventy-four percent of teens in drug and alcohol treatment programs are boys. Men account for four out of five suicides in America, and the most rapidly growing suicide rate demographic is boys between the ages of 10-14.

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Even as it is apparent that boys need rescuing, our efforts must go beyond preparing them only to survive these challenges. We must take on the greater challenge: to engage a generation, calling them forth as a remnant that will be equipped not only to survive the overwhelming rising tide, but to reverse the tide itself. 

Organizations like the Boy Scouts that previously upheld the uniqueness and wonder of boyhood have abandoned the male-centric environment that for centuries was the key to awakening the hearts of boys and men as, together, they experienced adventure, nurtured faith, and grew to become the men God called them to be.

We owe it to the next generation to reach back and lay claim to the time-tested generational biblical values that shaped the best of men, and then to model those values — values like courage, conquest, sacrifice, and truth. We need to deliver these values in a culture that is denying the potential in a generation of boys or, more darkly, a society that knows the potential and is out to suppress the difference these values can make. It’s not likely that boys will stumble upon these values on their own. 

It falls to us. 

To halt and reverse this tragic trend, parents and leaders of boys must work to establish in our boys a hope for their future driven by the construct of a self-identity that is more valid than the warped identity provided by appearance, social stature, choice of gender, likes, shares, and follows. We must help them develop an identity founded on sure values that have provided generations of boys with a model of who they can be.

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That takes men who are willing to rise up and commit their lives to a cause greater than themselves — a cause that rescues America’s boys.

What can boys and men do to recapture this sense of adventure and purpose and witness biblical masculinity in action? I believe this is found in Christ-centered, boy-focused, male-centric activity in outdoor adventure organizations like Trail Life USA. As boys and men hike, camp, canoe, solve problems, and develop skills, mentors are found, fathers and sons connect, purpose is discovered, and boys encounter the unchanging biblical foundations upon which leadership and character are built. 

Strong leaders provide the bedrock so boys can not only keep their heads above the rising tide, but reverse the tide itself. Engaged and aware men can inspire a remnant that will stand out in a world that is in danger of losing the masculine fortitude and risk engagement that has driven men to cross seas, to launch to the moon, to storm beaches, and to put ourselves in harm’s way for the good of the generations that follow.

We haven’t lost this drive. But amid the strident noise and suppression of political correctness, the confusion over gender roles, the identification of masculine values as “toxic,” and threat of being canceled, we may have misplaced it.

This clarion call is not to shame men. There is plenty of that going around. Instead, it is to remind them of who they are and to encourage them to find and create communities and brotherhoods of godly men so we can rediscover the strength that is unique to men, and to rescue the next generation of godly men who will deliver us from a culture that seeks to devalue us all.

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(Mark Hancock is the CEO of Trail Life USA, a character, leadership, and adventure organization that is both Christ-centered and boy-focused. Trail Life USA partners with churches and parents across America as the premier national character development organization for young men which produces generations of godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens. In over 850 churches in all 50 states, fathers and sons are connecting, relationships are deepening, and legacies are beginning as a new generation of godly leaders rises.)

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