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6 Ways to Feed Your Boys’ Need for Adventure

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Two summers ago, my 9-year-old son and his neighborhood friends embarked on a quest.

“Can we dig a hole?” they asked me one afternoon. Sure, I thought and directed them to the far corner of our backyard. And so began what turned out to be a summer of high adventure.

Armed with shovels, buckets, and wheelbarrows, these boys spent hours digging each day. They’d show up early in the morning eager to work, taking breaks for lunch, for water, or to jump in the pool.

Under my watchful eye from the kitchen window, they planned and collaborated and designed and dug. By the time school rolled around, they’d dug a 2-room hole that was well over their heads, hatched all kinds of dreams, and made lasting memories.

Boys don’t just crave adventure, they need it. Here are 6 reasons why our boys need adventure and ways to feed that need for adventure as they grow.

1. Their brains are wired for it.

James Dobson, in his book Bringing Up Boys, notes that boys are wired for “change, opportunity, risk, speculation, and adventure.” Instead of fighting it, we parents can learn to direct it.

Let your sons dream. One of my teen sons fell in love with sailing. We provided startup lessons, but he researched and bought his own small sailboat and spent many summer days in the local river, studying maps and dreaming of an epic adventure sailing a string of lakes and rivers.

*Bonus tip: Because your son is designed to move, you can often communicate best when moving with him like doing yard work, shooting basketballs, or even working in the kitchen.

2. They can experience risk in a semi-controlled environment.

As my son and his friends dug in my backyard, I watched from my kitchen window. When I went out to admire their work, I was also checking that the walls were sturdy and there were no tunnels.

That son is older now and kayaks with his friends. Before he was ever allowed in a large river, he started in our neighborhood canal, with no tides or wake, but with lots of adventure.

3. Their hormones are designed for it.

Boys have more testosterone and less serotonin than girls, says the authors of Raising Boys by Design. This means boys don’t “sit still for as long as females and tend to be more physically impulsive and aggressive.” But we moms knew that!

I found that boys who were busy adventuring in the neighborhood creek, hiking trails, carving wood, or gathering Christmas trees for a fort were less likely to have an unhealthy explosion of testosterone at home.

4. They need the structure to develop manliness.

The very chemistry that makes boys wiggly and act without thinking helps them become take-charge leaders, entrepreneurs, and world-changers.

As boys, they need structure to develop these qualities. Fathers can do this for sons or look into groups such as Boy Scouts, Royal Ambassadors, and Trail Life USA. Summer camps can also provide a wide range of adventuring activities for boys.

5. They experience natural consequences.

My oldest son recounts a story from a summer when he was a camp counselor for teen boys. After a day of hiking, his crew stopped to make camp for the night. As the boys set up, they discovered one teen had packed only his cell phone and some snacks — no sleeping bag, no rain gear. The natural consequences of spending that night on the hard ground and the next day walking through rain taught lessons no book ever could.

6. They stay too busy for boredom or electronics.

While our boys will often default to the ease of electronics and screen time, that’s a poor substitute for real-life adventure.

Limit screen time until your boys have had plenty of outdoor time. Let their boredom drive them to create and play outside. Give them tools and wood to build; take them to parks to explore; help them start that neighborhood recycling venture or lawn mowing business. And chances are they will have precious little energy to use up on electronics.

Readers, take a minute to comment below and share ideas about how we create an environment that allows our sons to have an adventure.


What is one of the best adventures you’d like to have?

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