What’s Wrong with Our Young Men?

We’re missing the mark and starting too late in our young men’s development, as families and as a Church.

Tell me if you’ve experienced this as a Young Men’s leader:

I was called and set apart as a Priest Quorum advisor. The coveted calling! These were the elite young men. They were only a couple of years – some only a couple of months away from their missions. I have the opportunity to witness these “young men” turn into men!

We adult leaders sat them down in our first planning meeting and tell them we are willing to do anything, go anywhere and even spend whatever money necessary to have a great young men’s program for them. We asked them, “if they could do anything, what would they do?” Each one of them submissively stares at their shuffling feet. “Basketball?” one dares say. I resist rolling my eyes as I reply, “Okay, but let’s dream big!” Another long pause ensued before a new suggestion was offered. “How about a game night?” That’s an improvement. I say, “Sounds good! What kinds of games?” 

“Uh, Fortnight?” My head drops.

I worked in that calling for a year and went nowhere with them. They had very wealthy leaders willing to take time off work to spend their own money on anything they wanted. And they wanted none of it. I realized when I was released that we were too late: These boys were already set in their ways. I concluded we needed to start when they were a couple of years younger – the Teachers Quorum was where you could really make the difference!

Wouldn’t you know it, I soon received a call to be the Teachers Quorum advisor. I charged in with the zeal of Zeniff. Anything they wanted, I would help them make it happen. What adventures awaited them? As you probably know, I got more of the same: Dodgeball, ice cream nights, and movie nights were all they cared to do. No! I wouldn’t stand for it. I could see their grim ambitionless future before me and I loved them too much to allow it to happen. 

I came up with a night of adventure that would help them see how great life could be if they just “manned-up” and sought out some adventure. We planned the whole thing together, involving them every step of the way, as I had been trained to do. Yet, when I reminded them of the activity the Sunday before, half of the quorum said they wouldn’t be able to make it – Disaster! When I probed, none of them had much of an excuse. So, I stopped by the other boys’ homes early on Wednesday and convinced them it would be a grave mistake to miss out on this night. They finally agreed to come and we had a grand night! Huge success! …right?

I was exhausted. I had worked my tail off. I felt proud that I had shown charity and sacrifice in my willingness to magnify my calling and get these boys out of their house, away from the video games, Netflix and YouTube, and doing something worthwhile. Surely now that they had seen the light, they would be inspired and be ready to plan the next outing of adventure! …right?

When we sat down for the next planning meeting guess their response: “Yeah, we just kinda wanna do a video game night.” We were too late, I concluded. Deacons quorum is where it needs to happen. Think about it:  They’re excited to have the priesthood and be passing the sacrament. They feel so grown up. They have that twinkle in their eyes and the innocence where they’ll do anything their leaders ask of them!

A year later I got my chance with the Deacons. A year later, I had the same result.

When does it happen? When does a boy lose his sense of adventure? When does he lose his ambition? When does he stop wanting to be Batman or a Fireman or a Stuntman… or any kind of MAN, for Pete’s sake.

My wife and I are raising six sons. So, I intensely observe them to find the answer:

My four-year-old is full of ambition:  He will jump as high as he can, and then try as hard as he can to jump even higher. He will build the “biggest fortress in the world!” and then promptly destroy it with as much enthusiasm. 

My eight-year-old is so excited to learn new things. His curiosity is out of this world, quite literally — asking questions about shooting stars and the Milky Way; asking how fast the earth turns and how long a day is on other planets. He asks about how fast cars go, how tall the tallest man is, and how much food could possibly fit inside the human stomach. So many questions that would even stump Alexa, Siri or Google – and he soaks it all up, insatiably. He is competitive, daring anyone to beat him in a race of any kind.

My 10-year-old has been exactly the same way as my four year old and my eight year old, during those phases of life. But I notice a difference at his age. Pretty much daily, now, I have to tell him to stop watching so many videos. I have to tell him to go outside and do something. Now, don’t get me wrong, he will remember that he likes adventure and danger… building things and destroying things… learning things and applying his new skills. It’s just that now we have to remind him, and that’s the point: 

In the tween years, there’s a transition a boy goes through where they have to be reminded that they enjoy the things boys naturally enjoy. If not, they will sink into a rut that they may never get themselves out of for the rest of their life. Think I’m being dramatic?  I haven’t even gotten started, yet.

This is the age where the temptation to play video games all day or binge-watch the Star Wars series becomes a daily temptation. This is the age where we parents celebrate on their birthdays by shoving a smartphone in their hands with internet browsers and a dozen games already installed that are literally described as “addicting.” This is the age where they are gifted their first very own gaming console, complete with role-playing games purposefully designed to suck a boy in for hours upon hours into a fantasy land, like a digital version of Pinnochio’s Pleasure Island. Only here, the boy loses more than his sense of time. He loses his God-given masculine desires: To build, to destroy, to experience danger and adventure, to learn and apply learning, to start and finish ambitious projects, to accomplish great things that give any boy self-esteem, hope, and happiness.

By not reminding our boys in those critical tween years that they love all these things, they will absolutely forget. So many young men, by the time they reach Priesthood age, have already been trained to behave like a spoiled slothful king, demanding to be entertained constantly for hours on end and have passively fallen into a life of apathy and indifference. By the time they reach Priesthood age, they have done nothing upon which to build their self-esteem, to give them hope, or to base their happiness.

So, based on my 20 years of Young Mens callings and my personal experience raising, so far, three of our six sons through the teen years, it is my strong opinion that the critical age for boys to start their path to manhood, is 10-12 years of age. And boy, we as a church haven’t done so well in that age group the past 20 years.  

Which callings does the Bishop always choose for the elite men in the ward to serve? In Aaronic Priesthood leadership: Ages 12-18! Right? But we now know, it’s too late by then! The life patterns of ambitious adventure-seeking or of idle passivism have already been cast and both are very difficult to reverse by priesthood age.  

Which calling does the Bishop usually choose for the semi-active man? The Boys Primary Activities Leader (Formerly Blazer Scout leader) over the 10-11 year olds. Those leaders hold the key, and yet we traditionally put very weak leaders that don’t show up half the time with kids who are actually willing to go on ANY and EVERY adventure their leaders aspire to offer. If you get an ambitious Primary Activities Leader who can present a 12-year-old boy to the Deacons Quorum who remembers what his passions are, you will get a boy that will continue to remember throughout his youth and into manhood.

Suggested Reading:

  • “I Love Loud Boys” -Elder Yoon Hwan Choi, October 2009.
  • “Boys Need Heroes Close By” -President Spencer W. Kimball, April 1976
  • “Our Priesthood Legacy” -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, April 1995

You can follow Bozy Hasman on Twitter at @BozyHasman.

1 thought on “What’s Wrong with Our Young Men?

  1. Want a great observation. I read in Pres. Ballard’s book, counciling of with your Councils, that the most important calling in the youth programs was the 2nd counselors. They set the tone. Same can definitely be true for activity day boys and girls.

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