Navigating the Wolf Pack: My first year in ministry with teenage boys (Part 2)

Youth Specialties
April 5th, 2016

This post is in partnership with the Center for Youth Ministry Training and is a product of the Communicating the Gospel to Youth class, taught by Dr. Andrew Zirschky as part of CYMT’s Master of Arts in Youth Ministry degree program through Memphis Theological Seminary. Heather Kauffman is a third year CYMT graduate resident and serves as the youth minister at First UMC in Dyersburg, Tenn. Read PART 1 HERE.

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3. Wolves need lots of land to roam

Wolves tend to roam about 12 miles a day (National Geographic Online). Give many of our male students the opportunity to roam, and it is very clear they are similar to the wolf. Boys develop their gross motor skills (i.e. running, climbing, throwing, jumping) before they begin to work on their fine motor skills (i.e. writing). Throughout their lives, boys tend to be more comfortable with their gross motor skills (James 51). This is one of the reasons why you may observe more male students who are restless when sitting than female students.

When it comes to free time activities, more boys tend to choose to spend it outdoors. An environment that is unstructured like the outdoors gives them the opportunity to design their own games and use more visual skills, rather than verbal skills (Sousa 93). Boys often learn on their own during times where they are given large space and some time to visualize and create.

Give boys the opportunity to move in your lessons.

Instead of remaining in one location for the entire lesson, give them the chance to either move themselves to different stations or move as a group to an entirely new location (James 50). If you are limited on space, give the students an opportunity to stand up and spread out mid-lesson. Have your students answer questions by using the different walls of the room as answers. If they answer “yes,” they move to one wall; “no,” they move to the other. Or put a multiple choice question on the board or screen for students to answer and use all four walls. There are many ways to incorporate this activity into lessons.

In my youth group, we take “stretch breaks” if working through a lot of content that does not allow for movement. Give students the opportunity to quietly stand up and walk around if they are getting restless. If it’s nice outside, do lessons outdoors and utilize that as a way to give them some space to move around. It doesn’t matter which way you choose to incorporate movement into your lessons, but help your male students out by giving them the opportunity for it.

4. Wolves live, travel, and hunt in packs of six to 10 animals arranged in a strict hierarchy

Boys think of their friendships in terms of group membership. Research on middle school boys has found that they prefer to work in larger groups, whereas girls prefer groups of two or three. It has also been found that a power hierarchy within these large boy groups keeps the work positive (James 160). Within the group, boys will most often times find themselves craving competition. Some competition, however, makes it difficult for boys to make friendships for fear of competing and “beating” their best friends (Slocumb 16).

Two types of competition are indirect competition and cooperative competition. Indirect competition involves individuals who work to improve upon their past achievements. Cooperative competition takes place when a group works together to accomplish a task or work towards a common goal that benefits the entire group (James 132). Both forms of competition are important for male students to grow and feel a part of the group. It is also critical that male students have male role models as either an indirect or direct part of the “pack.” This makes a huge difference in their attitudes towards any activity like school or church (James 175).

The Practical Application in Your Youth Ministry

As you think about ways to incorporate this into youth ministry, recognize how important it is to give our male students a place of belonging. If they think of their friendships in terms of group membership, their attitude towards the youth ministry is most likely going to be much better if they feel like they are a part of something. When the male students in my youth ministry went to the water park, not one person felt excluded because they were a part of the whole “pack.” Give your male students the opportunity to find belonging among the whole group, but especially among the males in your youth group.

Also, make youth group a place for safe and healthy competition. When choosing games, make sure that the games do not only appeal to the boys who are athletic, but switch it up so that other students may rise up as leaders during competitions. Find creative ways to give each student the opportunity to be leader and follower. One way to do this is to put restrictions on the group (i.e. only one group member can talk, each member of the group must be leader at some point, etc.). You could also give the boys a task to complete in a large group where they compete against the girls in order to meet the needs of the male students, but also to stretch the female students who work better in small groups. Competition can be used as an excellent motivator for students if used properly.

Lastly, and this is extremely important, make sure your youth ministry has a balance of male and female leaders. Not every student connects with every leader, so be intentional about finding leaders with different interests and strengths. If you struggle to find male leaders, ask parents and students to write down two or three names of people they look up to in the church. Pray about them, run this list by the pastor, and give your male students some role models to help make their attitude towards church be a positive one.

Educational research suggests that that we must stop trying to change male students to fit the design of our schools; rather, schools need to begin to change to capitalize the strengths of boys and help them to discover and reach their full potential (Neu and Weinfeld 2). The same is true in our youth ministries. We must help our male students recognize their God-given gifts and abilities and teach in ways that incorporate the differences between boys and girls. We must always remember the opportunities we have to foster positive attitudes about church by our presence and our teaching.

The wolf pack is howling loudly in your youth ministry to be known and understood. Male students are on the prowl for a place of belonging where they can roam and learn together. Listen to their call so they can listen to God’s call for them.

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Heather Kauffman is a third year CYMT graduate resident and serves as the youth minister at First UMC in Dyersburg, Tenn.

(Please note: Female gray wolves are also a part of wolf packs. This idea of “wolf pack” was chosen strictly for the analogy and purposes of this article.)

Sources for further reading on how boys learn:

James, Abigail N. Teaching the Male Brain: How Boys Think, Feel, and Learn in School. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2007.

Neu, Terry W. and Rich Weinfeld. Helping Boys Succeed in School. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press Inc., 2007.

Slocumb, Paul D. Hear Our Cry: Boys in Crisis. Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc., 2004.

Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns: A Classroom Teacher’s Guide. Reston, VA: The National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1995.

Sources for further reading on wolves:

National Geographic Society. 1996-2014. “Wolf.” Accessed 28 July 2014. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/wolf/

Defenders of Wildlife. 2014. “Fact Sheet: Gray Wolf.” Accessed 28 July 2014. http://www.defenders.org/gray-wolf/basic-facts

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.