Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Understanding the Development of Teenage Guys

          The truth is, this book could not of come to me at a better time, seriously.  I have been involved in youth ministry for about 20 years now but I have just recently become the father of a teenage boy.  My little boy has grown up fast and now the "expertise" I may have felt as a youth pastor is being shattered to pieces as I and my wife navigate into the waters of raising teenagers.  Also, it has been a while since I have picked up an adolescent development book so I thought it would be time to read a book that would be a refresher.  In fact, the last time I went to a Youth Specialties conference I remember a session that was offered in which Steve Gerali was talking about his book and in my arrogance I thought, "Already read those kind of books in college and seminary, been there, done that."  IDIOT, I am. 
     This book was not just a refresher course on adolescent development.  This book was so much more.  In many cases as I read about the specific changes going on within the body of a teenage boy I heard my internal voice saying things like: "Ooooooooh, that's what is going on!" "This guy just described my son!", and several time quite humbly, "I did not know that! Wow!"  Steve Gerali is well-versed in discerning what is going on in the life of a teenage guy by exploring much of the recent research that is out there in all the fields of scientific study.  He also is critical of some of the explanations and approaches that the church in general has taken toward male development.
     Gerali takes on the 6 areas of development which create a holistic teenage guy.  He explores these six areas in detail: physical development, sexual identity development, emotional development, intellectual development, social development and faith formation.  Gerali spends a significant amount of time in each area providing insight, analysis, critique a very well-reasoned approach to understanding our teenage boys. 
Favorite Quotes:
Gerali on Sexual Desire: Guys carry a lot of guilt and baggage because of the reckless, incorrect information the Christian community has perpetuated out of a fear of sexual arousal. Guys will think sexually and feel sexual because of the testosterone pulsing through their bodies. (p. 62)
Gerali on Sexual Boundaries: Guys need to learn that sexual arousal is not wrong, and that the things they see may arouse them. The discipline of guarding one's mind involves understanding the process of arousal and setting boundaries about pursuing sexual adventure. . . . we need to teach guys that arousal isn't the problem. It's the pursuit of sexual adventure that needs to be curbed. (p. 86-87)
Gerali on Sexual Identity: The greatest sexual identity conflict occurs for Christian adolescent guys. All the cultural messages they receive about masculinity are pro-sex, while the messages they receive from the church are anti-sex. the dilemma? He believes he isn't a real man because he has to keep his sexuality in check; he believes he isn't a real Christian because he has to keep his sexuality in check. (p. 92-93).

Gerali on Emotions: Follow the logic: His body is rapidly changing, releasing hormones that alter and affect mood.  He can't quite verbalize what he experiences because he doesn't know how to conceptualize it yet. Then on top of that, Western society and the Christian community impose cultural expectations on him that counter his internal emotional experiences. He learns quickly to operate within a very limited range of emotions. This is defined negatively. . . . In other words, our boys grow up to be men with restricted emotionality. (p. 114-115)

Gerali on Balance: Here's the truth: A person is neither a thinker nor a feeler. The truth is that God creates guys to be balanced, and both reason and emotion are essential for a balanced life. . . . Guys must learn that they need to think things through and trust their emotions.  Balanced living uses both the heart and the mind fully. (p. 120)

Gerali on Intellectual Development: Sometimes an early-adolescent guy will say something so incredibly profound that it will catch you off guard - then with the same breath he'll say something so outrageously moronic that you believe he needs an intellectual booster chair just to get into the 'normal zone.' A junior high guy's thought processes are definitely otherworldly. But it doesn't get better. As he matures into middle adolescence, he gains more confidence and a better grasp of the conceptual. Now he knows everything, and in his mind you need the intellectual booster chair!  When he enters late adolescence, he hits a more rational, logical stride. This would be great if he didn't idealize everything. Now everything becomes black-and-white with no gray. Now every conversation is a debate! Welcome to the dark chasm of the teenage guy's mind. Other than from infancy to the toddler years, never is intellectual change so pronouncedly marked as during adolescence. (p. 177).

Gerali on Affection: Now a double jeopardy effect kicks in: guys can't experience any physical affection from other guys because it's perceived to be homosexual; and he can't receive affection from girls because it's perceived to be lustful, impure, and inappropriate. . . . Guys must learn that they need and can give affection in opposite- and same-gendered relationships and that affection is not sexual. (p. 226-227)

Gerali on Intimacy: Guys truly desire to love and be loved. They're wired with deep intimate needs. Yet throughout his life, a guy is on a trajectory that informs and rewards him if he's a man who is strong, competent, self-sufficient, and who needs very little. (p. 232).

Gerali on Fathers: Research shows that fathers who are actively involved in the lives of their sons turn out guys who are less aggressive and competitive, are better able to express their feelings of vulnerability and sadness, have more flexible attitudes about gender and life, have a healthy self-esteem and fewer incidents of depression, have greater academic and career success, are better equipped for intimacy, and have better problem-solving skills. (p. 241).


Gerali on Spiritual Formation: Herein lies the dilemma: there seems to be a bipolar pull on guys when it comes to faith formation. On the one hand, the messages they get from culture, including a Christian culture, is that masculinity involves conquest and control. This is played out in power situations, sexual encounters, and relational detachments, all of which run counter to true spiritual formation and conformity to the person of Christ. On the other hand, he is faced with a spirituality that's presented as being feminine. A guy constantly finds himself in the dilemma of having to deny being a man or being a Christian. For a teenage guy in the developmental stage where identity and spirituality are still being formed, this dilemma becomes an internal storm. (p. 261).

Gerali on Spiritual Needs:
Teenage guys don't need to see a powerful man work for God; they need to see a powerful God work through men. . . .

They need to see that real spiritual men are marked as Christ's disciples by their love,not by being strong and right. . . .

They need to know that love is not a feminine characteristic but a God-characteristic. . . .

They need to see leaders who will be shepherds, not CEOs; conciliators, not generals; and servants, not dominators. . . .

They need to see men who are confident because of whose they are, not who they are. . . .
(p. 277-278)

     Overall I really enjoyed this book and it not only helped me understand the guys in my youth group better, but it helped me understand my son better.  Gerali is also not afraid to take on current thinking within certain Christian circles that have perpetuated a negative view of masculinity and sexuality.  He also takes on the tough issues like anger, depression, suicide, sexual development, homosexuality, and false concepts of masculinity with compassion and grace. 

     I also really enjoyed Gerali's emphasis on the importance of rights of passage.  I really wrestled with this my first 8 years of full time youth ministry.  It seemed like that just wasn't any ways in which the church intentionally created rights of passage for teenagers.  It wasn't until I landed in the church that I am currently in that I saw the importance of Confirmation as a right of passage for junior highers to take ownership of their faith and for the weekend retreat called Chrysalis to help high school aged teens mature into their faith.  Both experiences have had profound effects on the teens in my youth group.

This is a great book and everyone who has contact with any teens in their life needs to put this on their "must read" list. 

     So with all this in mind, I would highly recommend this book not only to adolescence  professionals but also parents of teen boys.  It is very helpful in understanding all of the things that they are going through from many different angles.

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