I have been working with high school boys now for as long as most of them have been alive. Throughout that time, I have identified some behaviours and traits that stand out. I guess some of these will apply to girls too but perhaps not all. Here are three that are common to almost all boys. Not your son obviously, but pretty much everyone else’s.
They cheat (Do not steal)
Whether it is classwork or homework your son will be quite happy to copy from other boys. He will be happy to let other boys copy from him. True North on the moral compass for boys seems to be ‘can I get away with it?’ I don’t think too many teenage boys have come across Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, but it does suggest that their morality will be based on the norms of the group. In a boy’s world being part of the brotherhood (which involves ‘sharing’ your work) supersedes the need for integrity in this area. Teenagers do not equate cheating with the stealing of intellectual property and a violation of the 8th Commandment. In their minds if it is not hurting anyone it can’t be wrong.
They watch porn (Do not commit adultery)
Men have tried to look at pornography ever since it has been produced. The only difference between now and the past is that today it is easy to access and in colour.
I heard someone, in answer to the question at what age should you give your son a smart phone, say, “As soon as you are comfortable with him watching porn”.
This is not to say all boys are addicted to pornography (some are) but all boys have watched it, and many will have done a bunch of other stuff to. I know this is not technically the same as breaking the 7th Commandment (Do not commit adultery) but it is in the same area. I suspect many are aware that watching pornography is wrong which may lead to strong feelings of guilt and shame. Not a great combination.
They lie (Do not bear false witness)
Don’t believe me? Ask your son if he has cheated on a test or watched pornography. In their book, ‘Nurtureshock’, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman expressed the sentiment, “If your teenager isn’t arguing with you then they are lying to you.” If you don’t give your son the space to challenge, disagree or question the rules, then he is going to politely lie to your face as you are laying down the law and then quietly (or loudly but out of earshot) get on with doing exactly what he wants. There are different sorts of lying of course and I am not sure if all of them break Biblical commandments, nonetheless, living a lie is not good for anyone.
They do not want to disappoint you
When I speak to boys in trouble their biggest concern is not what punishment they might receive but the fear of letting you down. It is precisely because they will let you down that they lie and cheat. Boys feel pressure to live up to the expectations you have of them. This means they may feel obliged to cheat if they feel they cannot achieve their (your) goals legitimately, or lie to preserve the image you have, or they feel you want, of them.
Painting over the cracks is not the way to live the Christian life.
Rather we must be big enough to allow others to let their faults show. Then we can deal with them. Don’t force your teen into being a ‘whitewashed tomb’. Gleaming on the outside but full of hidden guilt and shame on the inside. At some point the cracks will widen and the house fall.
Jesus models a healthy balance of confronting unhealthy behaviour on the one hand and acceptance and support on the others.
Create the space for your sons to be themselves, to set their own goals, to argue with you and to make mistakes. Just like you, they need to be allowed to move past their failures. Like you, they are a work in progress. So don’t expect them to be perfect or the finished article. This allows for open and helpful conversations where you can guide them from a position of truth. Most of all they just need your love and support. Judgement and criticism are likely to have the opposite effect to what is intended. After all, let those who are without sin cast the first stone.