When asked what's wrong with boys today most people can give
you a list. At the top of nearly everyone's list is irresponsibility.
Why are young men so irresponsible? Why are boys taking so long to become
men? One reason is social change. It is no longer necessary for a young
man to be responsible at thirteen, twenty, or even thirty. If it isn't
necessary, why bother?
A boy growing up before 1950 often went to school during the day, but
every night and all summer there were jobs to do. Jobs that gave him real
responsibility and impact. He might feed the chickens (that fed the family)
or he milked the cows (milk they drank). Or maybe he was the paperboy.
The news was delivered to everyone in the neighborhood, not by the TV or
the internet, but by him. He had responsibility and it mattered. At 18
he probably went away to defend his country from a clear and evil enemy.
His life counted. He had to be responsible.
A baby-boom boy didn't have the same need to be responsible. He had
chores to do, but many of them were domestic: clean sinks, pull weeds,
vacuum and dust. He had chores, not responsibilities. He might have had
a job bagging groceries, stocking shelves or working a till. His job was
important if his income was helping him to get set up in life – preparing
for responsibility – but not if was spent on self indulgence.
Many a boy today has no need to be responsible. Nothing (or no one)
depends on him, so he stays home and plays video games (boys games – games
of war and competition because he wants to be a man, a winner, important.)
He is the man in fantasy baseball. He makes his trades on time but he still
doesn't take out the trash in the real world.
Every boy is a Sherlock Holmes. When needed Sherlock was sharp. The
adrenaline flowed. But when he wasn't needed he was full of lassitude and
could sit for days doing nothing.
A boy without real responsibility does not become a man. When real responsibility
is delayed until the mid-twenties it should be no surprise that many boys
are not becoming men. There are still ways to make boys carry real responsibility.
Parents just need to find them.
Mike Shaughnessy is an elder
in The Servants of the Word
and the Director of Kairos in North
America. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high
school, university and post university aged people..