Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The "Zone" of Marriage

Being married is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. A large body of research confirms that married couples are happier, they live longer, they are healthier, they are better off financially, and they have fewer psychological problems than people who are not married. Americans also highly value marriage—when surveyed, people consistently rate a good marriage and having a happy, healthy family as their most important goals.

So if marriage is so good for people and society, why can about half of current marriages expect to end in divorce? Why are young people increasingly reluctant to marry—they yearn for a lifelong loving relationship but are skeptical of its possibility? Why are about 40 percent of children born out of wedlock and likely will not have a marriage relationship modeled for them? These children are significantly more inclined than kids born and raised in a “traditional” family to have children out of wedlock themselves.Are we seeing the results of the disintegration of marriage in our culture today? If so, how do we erase the decline and help people understand the value of a good marriage?

Just like laying a stable and solid foundation is the key to building a house that lasts, building a solid foundation for our relationship is one of the important keys for a marriage that lasts.The structure of that foundation is a relationship based on healthy intimacy, which in turn creates an environment where couples can grow together long enough for a deep and nurturing love to take place.

The truth is that love and marriage are difficult. When Hollywood and Madison Avenue sugarcoats them and makes romance seem like a walk in the park, they do a great disservice in creating unrealistic expectations for millions of young couples.

Loving a woman is, on the one hand, very easy. On the other, it is very difficult—sometimes nearly impossible. Frequently it doesn’t take much to make a woman happy—a kind word, an unexpected expression of love, or a romantic gesture with no expectations. Other times, no matter what a man does, it is never enough. Likewise, women probably find men perplexing as well (although nowhere near as complicated).

Most men, if they are lucky, marry “up.” They value their wives as a greater “prize” than they deserve. My wife is a better wife than I am a husband. She’s certainly a better person than I am, and if I’m being honest, she’s likely a more mature Christian as well. Not only that, but she probably rates higher on most of the positive character traits than I do. She’s more compassionate, tolerant, patient, loving, kind, gentle, caring, and humble than I am. She might even be more honest, faithful, loyal, and good than I am (okay, maybe more intelligent as well).  I’m a lot stronger physically than she is, but that might be the only advantage I’ve got on her. (This works well for my main roles around the house as jar opener, garbage remover, bug killer, and heavy furniture mover.)

I’ve noticed that there are times in life when everything just seems to go right. I have experienced these phenomena in sports, in business, and in relationships. For brief periods of time nothing you do can go wrong. In sports they call it being in the “zone.” Every basket you shoot goes in, every baseball coming toward the batter’s box looks as big as a beach ball, and every pass you throw is perfect. You feel “at one” with the field or court, your teammates, and the flow of the game. In business there are usually short periods times when every decision pays off. You feel like King Midas—everything you touch turns to gold.

And there are times in a relationship when things go perfectly—when you are in the zone. When she gets and actually appreciates all my jokes (instead of getting offended), when I am able to artfully articulate exactly how I feel, when I am smooth and suave in everything I do, and when she looks at me like I am all that matters in the world. That “zone” to my wife probably looks like this: he focuses all his attention on me without being distracted, he spends time with me, he’s open and shares his innermost thoughts and feelings with me, he treats me like a queen.

Those times probably seem to be infrequent to both spouses,but they happen just often enough to encourage us to have hope. Hope that they will come again—usually when least expected. Those marriage “zones” are when my world seems best. Like the infrequent surprise sunny day in Oregon, they make all the other dreary times seem worthwhile.

Excerpted from Rick's upcoming book, Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping intimacy alive in your marriage, by Revell Publishing, 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Marriage Fraud--What's the Character of Your Marriage?

[Marriage] is the merciless revealer, the great white searchlight turned 
on the darkest places of human nature.
—Katherine Anne Porter

Two (usually young) people start out in life together under the bliss of hormone-induced euphoria.They have well-intentioned but unrealistic ideas of what their lives together will be like.What starts out as an innocent, uncorrupted, and pure bud of love, over the years morphs into an old gnarled, scarred, and weather-beaten tree stump of friendship and devotion.And yet within this hoary old trunk beats a vibrant heart of the strongest white oak hardened by its perseverance and longevity to withstand any challenge that man, beast, or Mother Nature can throw against it.Those marriages that last for decades begin to discover the peaceful joy and contentedness that can only come from a lifetime of companionship and working together to rise above obstacles.

Many partners enter into marriage as frauds—showing only the best of themselves. But marriage has a tendency to expose the truth about two people and shine light on their true character.What was kept secretly under wraps while dating soon becomes apparent in the light of day during marriage.
When that happens, the character of the individuals either nourishes the relationship or destroys it. A healthy marriage relationship is comprised of the traits of trust, honesty, humor, faith, and commitment.Marriage in turn teaches us patience, selflessness, and humility.

Overcoming challenges is what makes us successful and grows us as human beings.Whether in a sporting event, at the workplace, or in a science lab, the person who is able to overcome the greatest difficulties is celebrated as a winner.Why should marriage be any different?When the hardships of a relationship confront us, we shouldn’t easily quit but rather give it the same effort we would any other worthwhile challenge in life.Certainly a good marriage is more important than throwing a basketball through a hoop in the larger scheme of things, yet people go to great lengths to improve themselves in sports when they won’t spend nearly as much energy trying to overcome minor obstacles in their marriage.  

Certainly marriage is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our spouse.  That's worth fighting for.  Don't you think?

Excerpted from Rick's upcoming book, Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping intimacy alive in your marriage, by Revell Publishing

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Do Only Men of Faith Achieve Greatness?

 I was raised in an alcoholic home with all the disadvantages that environment brings with it. I was raised to believe that religion was a crutch for weak people and that all Christians were hypocrites. By the age of forty, after attaining all that the world says should make you happy and successful, I found myself yearning for more. Something was missing. I had a hole in my soul that could not be filled by success, achievement, or materialistic acquisition. That chasm in my soul was literally destroying me.

In a desperate attempt to find inner satisfaction and peace, I studied a number of religions and belief systems. At the time (like many men) I did not have any real friends or other men I looked up to for advice, so I decided to look at the lives of men throughout history whom I admired to see what they had that made their lives significant. Interestingly, the only common denominator I discovered between all these great and admirable men was the fact that they were all Christians—men of great faith.
That epiphany was a mighty blow to the worldview I had been raised with. I personally had always been a bit contemptuous of Christianity. At the very least it just seemed inconsequential or insignificant in the bigger picture of things. I wasn’t necessarily hostile toward it; I just thought it was a misguided philosophy designed and developed by perhaps earnest but intellectually weak or even ignorant men thousands of years ago to keep uneducated and ambitionless people content with their lot in life. Sort of along the lines of Karl Marx’s quote, “Religion is the opium of the people.”

However, upon making this discovery, I began to investigate the history and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. I set out upon a yearlong study of anthropologic, geologic, and historical components of Scripture in order to disprove the validity of the Gospels. After that year I came to the conclusion that not only could I not disprove the truth of the Gospels, but that they were in fact true. After accepting Christ as my Savior, I felt a huge sense of peace, satisfaction, contentment, and most of all forgiveness that cannot be described or proven by any scientific method I’m aware of. I just knew in my soul that this was truth in its purest form. I felt fulfilled and whole. This then propelled me into the work I do today, which has allowed me to lead a much more fulfilling life than I ever thought possible.
The study of great men throughout history was what initially led me to be interested in pursuing salvation. Was it coincidence that every historically significant man I happened to study was a Christian? Probably not. But as I have investigated and researched further, it appears to be extremely difficult to find any men throughout history who have made a positive and significant difference in the world who were not Christians or at least men of great faith. (For example, someone such as Mahatma Gandhi could probably be considered a man who made a significant, positive difference in the world and, though not a Christian, had a deep religious and moral faith.)

 “I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.”
--C.S. Lewis

With that in mind I use great men throughout history and the character traits they were most famous for to illustrate the foundations we need to instill in young men in order to develop healthy and truly life-giving masculinity. Were these men perfect? No. They were ordinary human beings like you and me—flawed, imperfect, and prone to making mistakes. But they did not allow those imperfections to keep them from changing the world for the better.
Too many men in our culture today either use the power of their masculinity to do harm or they neglect and waste it. If we are to teach boys and young men to wisely use the power God has endowed them with by virtue of their gender, we must be intentional. If we are to teach them to use that power to bless the lives of others, we must proactively develop and implement a plan, not just hope and pray for a positive outcome.

In the early nineteenth century, an idea called the Great Man Theory was developed to describe how “great men”—through their personal attributes, such as charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or political skill—used their power to significantly influence history.
For purposes of my newest book, I chose a number of men of faith whose lives were significant and who impacted the lives of many others. All of these men led exemplary lives on some level—not perfect, but significant. Each chapter contains a short bio on the man and how he exhibited the character trait he was known for, a section on why that specific trait is important to teach your son, and finally some practical ways to intentionally instill that character trait into your son’s life. These character traits are not in any particular order of importance, although I did try to put similar traits together in the chapter order.
These traits are not the only traits our boys need to learn, but they are a good starting point to begin to intentionally develop a plan to proactively teach our sons to become leaders and good men.

We need to have the courage to raise men of great faith and character. Our culture is at a crossroads—we are seeing the effects of poor male leadership over the past several decades. We need great men to once again lead and shape our culture through strong character and divine inspiration. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that only a few of the men that I referred to in this book have been alive in the last forty years or so. We create great men by intentionally growing them from boys. As you go through this book, keep your eye on the ultimate goal—to create men who will change history. Without those great men. . . may God help us all.

QUESTION - Can you think of any men throughout history who accomplished great things who were not men of faith?

Excerpted from Rick’s newest book, A Man in the Making: Strategies to Help Your Son Succeed in Life.  Find out more at 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

An Open Letter to Dads of Teen Daughters

Better Dads will host their 2nd Annual Father-Daughter Conference on Saturday, September 27, 2014, at Clark College in Vancouver, WA.  This powerful event is for fathers and daughters 12 and older.  You can register for the event here:


Below is an open letter from one of the dads who attended last year.


When I attended the father/daughter conference in the fall of 2013, I needed help. On the heels of several years of what felt like non-stop challenges facing my family, my relationship with my daughter had suffered greatly. To be honest, I had no clue to what extent it had suffered. But it did. 

So when my wife approached me about attending this event, I was more than ready and quite frankly desperate for an opportunity to not only spend more intentional time with my daughter, but time spent in really getting to know my daughter. 

Boy, I am sure glad I did. I thought I knew my daughter, but there was so much more to learn. And since then, as I have tried to apply all that I learned from that conference, my relationship with my daughter has blossomed into something so much more far reaching than I could have ever imagined.

My daughter and I are both excited to attend this year's event. Building off of what we both learned about each other last year, we can't wait to see how far our relationship grows this next year.

No matter what state your relationship is in with your daughter or even how old your daughter is, it is NEVER too late to spend time together working on it. Thanks to Rick and Better Dads, it has provided me with the tools and inspiration to keep working on it.

As a brother and fellow dad, I want to not only just invite you to attend this upcoming conference, I urge you too, as well. For me, not only did my daughter thank me for it... guess what? My wife did too.

Please join us.

Gunnar Simonsen

Husband and Dad



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hugs and Slugs

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features Janet Allison, founder of Boys Alive! and a Gurian Certified Trainer (


Hugs and Slugs – If Boys Could Speak

 Janet Allison


Recently, I watched as a 6-year-old boy and his mom greeted grandma at the airport gate.  Grandma was eager to give her grandson a hug.  He readily complied, however, his arms were by his side, his body held tightly erect.  As soon as Grandma released her grandson, with exclamations of joy from her and a smile from him, he turned -- and slugged his mom’s leg with his fist.  

Translation: I’m excited beyond words!

Two kindergarten boys do the ‘wrist-burn,’ one squeezing and twisting the other’s wrist as hard as he can – each smiling from ear to ear. 

Translation: You are my best friend!

Two 4th grade boys grab each other by the shoulders - shaking each other, fake-wrestling, and giggling.

Translation:  Will you play with me at recess?

Parents and teachers generally respond to situations like these with, “Use your words.”  We can be uncomfortable with these physical expressions of connection, especially in a school setting.  They may include more physical doing – using hands and bodies and less direct eye-contact and words. 

In his book, Boys and Girls Learn Differently, Michael Gurian explains that these interactions are typical male ways of interacting, calling them aggression-nurturance.   Females, on the other hand, typically relate more with empathy-nurturance, which includes many more words. 


There are two tasks at hand for us:

1.      Understanding and becoming comfortable with the idea of aggression-nurturance and recognizing that there is as much value in this expression of connection as there is in empathy-nurturance.


2.      Continuing to help boys and girls grow in their use of language – especially understanding and using words that explain feelings, thus developing empathy skills.


Empathy is developed by:

·         Identifying our feelings.

·         Giving them words.

·         Expressing them to another – appropriately or inappropriately .


The boy at the airport had a big feeling – but didn’t know how to express it.


How do we help him Feel, Acknowledge, and Express?


FEELINGS:  We think in pictures and so it is helpful to give children images to describe their feelings.  This will also help them understand the many nuances of feelings that occur.  Do you feel like a rumbling volcano?  Do you feel like hot lava rolling down the sides of a volcano?  Or do you feel like a volcano shooting fire into the air?  Children are brilliant, and with some guidance, will give you images of their own.  Using animals for imagery is often helpful, too. 


The boy at the airport may have been “feeling all bubbly inside.”


WORDS:  Boys typically develop their vocabulary later than girls and use less words than girls.  It is helpful to give boys a ‘smorgasboard’ of  feeling words.  We can prepare them ahead, role-play, or follow-up after the emotions of a situation have calmed down.  In all cases, giving them suggested words to put with emotions helps them expand their emotional vocabulary.


The boy at the airport could be given words such as, “excited, ecstatic, nervous.”


EXPRESSING:  Boys and girls (and men and women) have very different styles of communicating.  Many boys and men prefer to communicate shoulder-to-shoulder while doing something, rather than focusing intently with eye-to-eye contact.  Allow him to play with something in his hands, move his body, or be looking away and know that he is more comfortable (and therefore the words may come more readily) and that you’re creating a safe way for him to connect with you.


The boy at the airport could be talking with mom as he is watching people in the security line, and she stands shoulder-to-shoulder beside him.


Rather than shutting down aggression-nurturance and making it wrong, we can welcome it and add some empathy-nurturance, too.  As parents and teachers recognize these differences, we can bring balance to the communication styles of both boys and girls.


Recommended Further Study:

Boys Alive! Bring Out Their Best! By Janet Allison

Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian

Boy Talk – How you can help your son express his emotions by Mary Polce-Lynch


For Professional Development on Gender-Friendly Strategies:  The Gurian Institute


Janet Allison is an author, educator, and Family Coach.  She is the Founder of Boys Alive! and a Gurian Certified Trainer.   She holds a master’s certification in Neuro-Linguistics incorporating these communication skills into her unique parenting curriculum.   She has recently launched the Boys Alive! Certification Program specifically for parenting coaches and counselors.  For more information, visit

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Heart of Masculinity: A Man in the Making

All boys want to know how a man is supposed to act.  Our model of that role is what teaches our sons what it means to be a man.  But for those of us who were not blessed to be raised by a good role model, what does this look like?  Below are some thoughts on authentic masculinity.

An authentically masculine man puts aside his needs, desires, wants--and sometimes even his dreams--for the benefit of others. He does this without fanfare and frequently without anyone even noticing. His life is not about his individual rights, achievements, or happiness; it’s about making life better for others. His sacrifices are part of his character and give his life significance. He meets these sacrifices with the stoic nobility that God granted all men by right of their birth gender.

            A real man has honor. He stands tall as the fierce winds of adversity blow around him. He cherishes and protects women and children. He knows he has an obligation to mentor those who follow in his footsteps. He recognizes his sphere of influence and uses it for good. He understands that life does have fundamental truths and lives his life according to a firm set of principles. He uses his God-given warrior spirit to fight for justice and equality. He stands for something. Too many men today stand for nothing—they are directionless.

            Men who exhibit authentic masculinity live lives of significance. They lift up others to help them achieve their potential. They make sacrifices in order to make a difference in the world--for everyone, not just their own family. They have passion and vision and are genuinely interested in giving of themselves for the betterment of others. And they probably don’t make a big production out of doing it either. Men like this are other-centered, not self-centered. They are other-focused instead of self-focused. Authentic men live to a higher standard in life.

            In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, a young widower blacksmith first meets his father as he travels to defend Jerusalem during the Crusades. His father introduces himself to his son for the first time and asks forgiveness for never having been a part of his life. With nothing to keep him in his village after the death of his wife and child, the young man follows his father and trains to become a knight. In the short period they are together before his father’s death, the young man flourishes under his father’s tutelage and follows in his footsteps, becoming a man of honor. Throughout the movie the young knight relies on his father’s instruction and example. In one powerful scene near the end of the movie while he is preparing the city of Jerusalem against attack by overwhelming forces, he endows knighthood upon the city’s commoners defending the city by quoting the same oath that his father did to him:

Be without fear in the face of your enemies,
Be brave and upright that God may love thee,
Speak the truth even if it leads to your death,
Safeguard the helpless.
That is your oath!

The local high priest admonishes him by saying, “Who do you think you are? Can you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?”

As the knight looks him in the eye and boldly proclaims, “Yes!” you can see all the men who have been charged with the challenge to greatness swell with pride and determination. They do in fact know that the expectations and exhortations of greatness can make a man more than he would be without the knowledge of God’s vision for his and every man’s life.

            Manhood as defined by the Bible requires men to put the needs and best interests of others before their own. It’s about living sacrificially. A man uses his strength and influence to help others and defend those who cannot defend themselves. Read how manly this verse sounds and how it speaks powerfully to a man’s heart:

            “I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him…I made the widows heart sing…I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” Job 29:12,13,15-17 (NIV).

            Authentic men are passionate, fierce, and noble—they care. In fact, they are a little dangerous, but it’s a good dangerous. You might not see this passion on the exterior, but it’s bubbling under pressure just beneath the surface, forcing its way into every area of his life. They have a spiritual longing for adventure, for a battle to fight that’s bigger than themselves, for significance in their lives. Like modern-day gladiators they stand in the ring facing the challenges of life with courage and passion.

            When you see a man with a passion for something bigger and nobler than himself, you are looking authentic masculinity in the eye.



Sunday, February 2, 2014

Signs Your Son Is Using too Much Tech (And What To Do About It)

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features Dr. Gregory Janzt,, founder of The Center, and co-author, with Michael Gurian, of Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs To Thrive

Signs Your Son Is Using too Much Tech (And What To Do About It)

Boys have a hard enough time concentrating, contemplating, and reflecting -- all executive functions centered in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area where teenage males are naturally not as fast to mature as we may like. So the last thing we need is for our sons to spend too much time with technology that inherently encourages surface-level, multi-tasked, short-term thinking.

Signs He's Using Too Much Tech
Would he rather spend time with technology than people?
Is he choosing technology over physical activity and time outdoors?
Does he use tech devices during mealtimes?
Is most of the time he spends with friends on tech devices (i.e., texting, playing video games, watching television)?
Is tech usage distracting from time he should be spending on homework?
Does his greatest sense of joy or accomplishment seem to come from tech usage?
Does he seem fatigued and/or irritable, particularly after long periods of tech usage?
Does he have a hard time concentrating, particularly after long periods of tech usage?
Does he get anxious if he is away from his tech devices for too long?
If you answered yes to any one of these questions, your son may be using too much technology, and it's probably a good idea to consider new (or revised) rules for his tech use.

Introducing New Tech Rules

1) Talk to your family about tech pros and cons.
While he will likely be resistant to a conversation that suggests limiting his tech usage, you are best served bringing it up within the context of your tech usage as a family. Explain to him that as grateful as you are for all the ways technology helps improve your lives, you want to look closely at your tech usage to be sure there is a healthy balance of things.
As a family, brainstorm a list of pros and cons. All the ways technology helps improve your lives -- like providing information, connecting you with friends, and providing services of convenience. And all the ways it can threaten your quality of life -- like distracting from homework, making you tired, taking time away from family and friends.
Note, going forward, make it a point of performing the same tech assessments, and subsequent (applicable) limitations, on all members of your family. After all, the vast majority of us would be better off spending less time with technology. Plus, this way your son won't feel singled out.

2) Assess your son's tech usage.
Even if you already believe your son is too dependent on technology, consider the fact that he's probably using it even more than you know. Spend a week paying attention to how your son is using technology, including computers, smartphones, video games, and television. Keep a journal, making note of what he's using and for how long.
Think beyond the boundaries of your own home. Reach out to his childcare provider, teachers, and parents of his friends. Ask them what technology he is exposed to when he's with them, and for how long. And if your son currently is allowed technology in his bedroom, don't forget to include in your calculation of a guesstimate of how much time he's on tech devices in the privacy of his room.
Note, it is helpful if you can perform this tech usage assessment on all members of your family so that your son doesn't feel as though he is being singled out.

3) Limit tech time.
Once you have a good idea of just how much time your son is spending with tech devices, talk to him about limiting the amount of time he will be allowed to use technology going forward. The more control you can give him over his new tech schedule, the more he will welcome the change. For instance, if you want to cut down his overall technology use by 10 hours a week, let him choose the how much time he would like to eliminate from tech device. That said, make sure there is an even distribution of things. For instance, the last thing you want is him eliminating time on his computer and smartphone just so he can spend all his tech time playing video games.

4) Keep tech out of the bedroom.
If you haven't already, prohibit the use of technology in his bedroom. This means no TV, no computer, and no smartphone. He won't be happy about this, but explain to him that this will give him an opportunity to use his bedroom as it's intended -- to rest and recharge.

5) Monitor his tech activity.
Play his video games. Watch his television programs. Visit the websites he frequents. Read his texts, emails, and posts to his social media pages. This need not be done in secret. Let your son know that the privilege of using the tech devices you provide him with is your right to monitor his activities. The more accustomed he already is to his tech independence, the harder he'll fight you on this. Don't give in. It is your right, as a parent, to do this. And there are plenty of computer monitoring programs and apps to help you do just that.

6) Hold off on a cell phone.
The sooner you allow your son a constant tech companion, the sooner you introduce the possibility of technology dependence. Try and protect your son from the tether of tech addiction as long as you possibly can, at least until he starts middle school.

7) Say no to new tech toys.
Parents invariably feel the pressure to give our kids the latest and greatest of everything, particularly the newest tech devices. Resist at all cost! Your son does not need a new smartphone every time a new version comes out. (None of us do.) An upgrade is perfectly fine now and then -- in a smartphone, computer, or television, for that matter -- but wait until the waning performance of the existing device actually warrants a new purchase. In this manner, you can teach your son how to appreciate what he has, how to wait patiently for what he wants, and how to be a responsible consumer who doesn't perpetuate society's increasingly "throw-away" mentality.

8) Set up consequences for violations of tech rules.
Your son is going to make mistakes, like sneaking extra tech time or using inappropriate language in texts, emails, or social media posts. So before you initiate tech limitations, set up a clear set of consequences should these rules be violated. The most effective consequences are those in which you confiscate the device for a specified period of time.

9) Revisit the rules now and then.
Finding just the right amount of tech usage requires a learning curve. You may find your initial rules don't do enough, or maybe they do too much. Plus, as your son grows and changes, so do his habits, interests, and needs. For this reason, it's a good idea to revisit your tech rules now and then. Maybe once a month for the first six months, then very three months thereafter. And if you happen to forget, congratulations, as what you're doing is probably working.

Find more insights into raising boys in today's tech-intensive world in Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs To Thrive by A Place Of Hope founder, Dr. Gregory Jantz, and Michael Gurian.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Does Political Correctness Increase Bullying?

If you are like me you are sick of hearing about this topic.  But that begs the question: is bullying becoming a bigger problem within our culture, or does the media just sensationalize it because it is the topic du jour?  If it is increasing maybe one reason is the constraints that political correctness forces upon young males.

Perhaps because our culture has somehow minimized (or even demonized) the majestic qualities of manhood, many of our boys today seem a bit softer, perhaps more feminized, than in the past. They seem a bit gun-shy—with a deer in the headlights look about them. They stay in puberty longer and delay launching into manhood later than their predecessors. (Why become a man when being a man is bad?)  Others, perhaps because they have been caused to be ashamed of being a male, overcompensate by acting out in dramatic caricatures of manhood—they are overly macho, violent, and sexually promiscuous.

Young men today also have a certain amount of repressed anger. This may contribute to the seeming increase in bullying in schools, but also in a more escalated level or degree of violence among young males. This is possibly caused by not allowing young males to solve their social issues as they have for thousands of years—on their own. In the past when two young males disagreed about something, they went to the playground and tussled around until one or the other acceded.  Generally they both just got too tired to continue and quit. They then shook hands and forgot about it. In fact, many boys I fought with went on to become my good friends. Today, however, with adult interference, boys are not allowed to solve their own problems. They are taught that any kind of aggression or (gasp) violence is bad. So they are forced to repress those feelings of disrespect, humiliation, and injustice, which eventually cause those feelings to fester into frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness—far more powerful emotions than they were originally faced with. Eventually those powerful repressed emotions spill over and explode into greater levels of violence evidenced by the shootings and stabbings we see of young men across the country.

A big mistake that our culture currently makes with boys is that we unconsciously combine aggression and violence into one behavior. From a males’ perspective the two are not the same. Boys and men see aggression as useful—it is constructive of the self. Violence is just the opposite—it is destructive.  So when our schools, courts, and social service workers confuse the two it does a disservice to boys who actually need aggression in many areas of their life. Our culture just generally assumes now that the more feminized traits like being quiet, sitting down, being contemplative, and nurturing are the right way to act, and the more masculine traits like anger, aggression, confrontation, and one-upmanship are wrong—in every circumstance! That’s not true and does a great disservice to our boys. There are times when it is appropriate to be angry and confrontational instead of passive or gentle.

Our schools and culture’s knee-jerk response to male violence (or even just natural aggression) of establishing a “no tolerance” policy has probably been more detrimental than helpful to young males. (If there is any question that our public educational system has been “feminized” we need look no further than this policy.) One reason is because it’s actually less frightening for a male to “act out” (physically fight) when he feels threatened than it is to have the self-control to face the issue head on. So for instance when a boy gets made fun of on the playground, his sense of honor requires him to respond. But perhaps because he does not have the maturity or coping skills to understand that the more mature thing to do would be to confront his attackers in a non-violent way, he responds emotionally and strikes back. When we condemn his action or response as being “bad” we send the message that his honor is not worth fighting for. And yet he has an innate ego response mechanism that causes him to seek justice when he is disrespected. To not allow him to respond or to require he get someone else (like an adult female) to advocate for him tells him he is powerless, disrespected, and dishonorable. Respect is a key attribute of the core of a male’s psyche. When he does not feel respected or is allowed to be disrespected without recourse, it rots his pride and weakens his level of self-respect.

I’m not promoting that we should teach young males that violence is the way to solve problems. But the myth that “violence never solved anything” is just that, a myth. Violence solves lots of problems—especially violent problems. If someone is trying to murder your wife and children, appealing to their sense of compassion is probably not a good strategy to stop them.

Back in the “old days” when a gym teacher had two boys who had problems with each other (which is inevitable) he put boxing gloves on them both and told them to settle their differences in a supervised environment. Afterward, they were made to shake hands and moved on. Even in the most adversarial unsupervised playground scuffle seldom was anyone injured beyond a bloody nose. Males always respect their opponent after doing battle with one another and frequently become good friends because of the respect they earn for one another. We did not see the problems then that we face today with high levels of violence and the killing of our young men.

However, our more feminized world of total tolerance does not allow a young man to seek justice, which causes him to be resentful and angry. Males are taught it is bad to fight or even be aggressive over any insult no matter how egregious the offense. This frustrates their sense of justice.

Again, I’m not promoting violence, bullying, or unchecked aggression, but this kind of “feminization” of young males not only results in a more intensified level of aggression, but also produces passive men who often internalize this anger and frustration, which then manifests itself in passive-aggressive behavior, which can be just as destructive.

I watched this play out with a group of young males at the local high school the other day. Their horse-playing was becoming somewhat aggressive as young men are wont to do. Several teachers observed this and sounded the alarm that a “fight” was about to happen. This, of course, got all the adults in a dither, running around the building, sounding the alarm. It was obvious from the boys’ reaction to this that they enjoyed the control they gained over the adults who were responding to their “gang fight.” You could virtually see the gears turning in their heads as they somewhat tongue-in-cheek continued the escapades until the teachers and administration had worked themselves into a near panic, at which point the boys quietly disappeared into the sunset with smirks on their faces.

We do our boys a disservice when we do not allow them a certain amount of aggression and autonomy in solving their own social problems. Males are physical beings—they solve problems through action, not by talking about their feelings. (Frankly, to talk about your feelings after having had your honor disparaged does not seem like adequate recompense.) Males often bond with one another through aggression. This means males are biologically wired to be more physically active, more aggressive, and more likely to need physical activity to blow off emotional stress.

Want to stop bullying?  If we want to eliminate physical aggression and fights with young males, we need to find find physical competitions or other direct challenges for them to engage in when they have issues with each other. In addition, directing them into battles that they can use their natural aggression in a healthy way (fighting against sex trafficking, abuse, or other injustices) gives them a more noble vision of their roles in life.  This teaches them to be true warriors who use their power to lift up others, rather than becoming bullies who abuse those weaker than they are.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sex and Depression: A Gender-Specific Approach to Healing

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features Jed Diamond, whose latest book is entitled: Stress Relief For Men: How To Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well.

Sex and Depression:  A Gender-Specific Approach to Healing

By Jed Diamond, Ph.D.

Depression runs in my family.  I became aware of that fact when my father took an overdose of sleeping pills when I was five years old.  Growing up I had little understanding of what had happened or why he was hospitalized and disappeared from our lives.  But I did grow up with a hunger to understand depression and a terror that I would become depressed myself and face my own suicidal demons. 

            When I was 40 and going through my own bouts of depression, I found a journal he had written in the year before he was hospitalized and I got a better understanding of his suffering and my own.  Here are a few of the entries:

June 4th: 
          Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work,  Yes, it's enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.

 August 15th:
             Faster, faster, faster, I walk.  I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family.  I try, try, try, try, try.  I always try and never stop.

 November 8th:
             A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out.  Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education.
Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.

                Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to end his life.  Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same.  For nearly 40 years I've treated more and more men who are facing similar stresses to those my father experienced.  The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today. 

            During that period my mother also became depressed, but it was quite different than my father’s experience.  Where he was often irritable and angry, she was more often sad and weepy.  While he pushed people away who wanted to help him, she drew close to her friends and neighbors.  In working with men and women over the years I’ve found other differences in the ways males and females deal with their pain and suffering.  Here’s a chart that summarizes my experience. 
            Males are more likely to act out their inner pain and turmoil, while women are more likely to turn their feelings inward.  Certainly there are depressed men who fall on the female side and vice versa, but generally I’ve found these differences to hold true for most depressed men and women I’ve worked with over the years.   

Female depression
Male depression
Blame themselves
Feel others are to blame
Feel sad, apathetic, and worthless
Feel angry, irritable, and ego inflated
Feel anxious and scared
Feel suspicious and guarded
Avoids conflicts at all costs
Creates conflicts
Tries to be nice
Overtly or covertly hostile
Withdraws when feeling hurt
Attacks when feeling hurt
Has trouble respecting self
Demands respect from other
Feels they were born to fail
Feels the world is set them up to fail them
Slowed down and nervous
Restless and agitated
Chronic procrastinator
Compulsive time keeper
Sleeps too much
Sleeps too little
Trouble setting boundaries
Rigid boundaries and need for control
Feels guilty for what they do
Feels ashamed for who they are
Uncomfortable receiving praise
Frustrated if not praised enough
Finds it easy to talk about weaknesses and doubts
Terrified to talk about weaknesses and doubts
Strong fear of success
Strong fear of failure
Needs to "blend in" to feel safe
Needs to be "top dog" to feel safe
Uses food, friends, and "love" to self-medicate
Uses alcohol, TV, sports, and sex to self- medicate
Believe their problems could be solved if only  they could be a better (spouse, co-worker, parent, friend)
Believe their problems could be solved if only  their (spouse, co-worker, parent, friend) would treat them better
Constantly wonder, "Am I loveable enough?"
Constantly wonder, "Am I being loved enough?"
         Chart found in my books, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome, and The Whole Man Program.

Gender-Specific Medicine Saves Lives

            For too long, we’ve assumed that sex and gender differences are not important in health care.  But a new field of gender-specific medicine is emerging that can save lives.  We now know that there are differences in everything from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer’s.  For instance, it was once thought that symptoms of an impending heart attack were the same for women and men.  Now we know that women often have different symptoms than men and millions of women are getting proper treatment as a result.

            Likewise, understanding the difference ways that men experience depression can save millions of men’s lives who might otherwise be lost.  We know that the suicide rate for males in the U.S. is 3 to 18 times higher than it is for females.  Many men die and suffer from undiagnosed and untreated depression because we haven’t understood the ways in which male depression manifests. 

            I have made it my life quest to help men, and the women who love them, to live well at all stages of their lives.  At MenAlive our team brings together people and resources from all over the world to help people realize their dreams of a fulfilling life.  I hope you’ll join us

Jed Diamond, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is Founder and Director of MenAlive, a health program that helps men, and the people who love them, to live well throughout their lives.  He is a pioneer in the field of male-gender medicine. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network.  He is also a member of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP), the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male and serves as a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Gender and Men’s Health.  He is the only male columnist writing for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women.  He also blogs for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Scribd, Menstuff, ThirdAge, and other venues.
He is the author of 11 books, including international best-sellers, Surviving Male Menopause and The Irritable Male Syndrome:  Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression.  His new book Stress Relief for Men:  How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well will be available in April, 2014.