Daddy Days: The nature of boys

Exercise is good for all kids, but movement is a part of boyhood in a special way.
Exercise is good for all kids, but movement is a part of boyhood in a special way.
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Boys are naturally … destructive. Build a block tower in front of a 2-year-old boy and you don’t have to tell him to knock it down to make that happen. This is why parents of boys spend so much time telling them not to rip pages out of books, jump on sofas or hit things with hammers.

Left unchecked all of these things will happen. Maurice Sendak was sure on to something with his book "Where the Wild Things Are" and you can’t help but marvel at the power of this restlessness, this call of the wild inside boys.

Exercise is good for all kids, but movement is a part of boyhood in a special way. There’s a reason contact sports and games with a physical dimension are so popular with boys. If they weren’t given a ball to hit or kick or an opponent to tackle, they’ll find something less ideal to hit, kick or tackle. Probably a lamp.

The other day I came across a group of children who had invented their own game. From my observations this game was played by each kid getting an empty plastic juice bottle, placing a small wiffle ball on top of it, and then swinging a wiffle bat into the bottle as hard as they could with the goal of the ball falling straight down and the plastic bottle flying forward with a cannon-like “thump!”

I don’t think I have to tell you that all the participants were boys. And all mine as well.

Now, this looks (and sounds) pretty silly if viewed under the category of constructive uses of time. However, within the confines of the game, this behavior was harmless. You don’t hit the bottle at anyone. You don’t substitute rocks for the wiffle ball. You don’t hit people with the bats. You even cheer on fellow players when they make a particularly loud whack. Juicebatball™ has some downright redeeming qualities not so different from other sports. Plus, it’s even more intelligible than cricket.

There’s some push back against boys being boys these days, and it seems to stem from a misunderstanding about boys. Boy behavior is not bad in itself. But, if the “boys will be boys” phrase is used to dismiss bad behavior, then the harmful overreaction of trying to make boys behave less like boys is viewed as a good thing.

Channeling boys’ destructive and physical energy is important. Having the characteristics of a soldier, firefighter or bodyguard aren’t character flaws. After all, we need all of these roles filled in society. But those characteristics do have to be nurtured in the right direction. Destruction for destruction sake is vandalism, and it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from there to violence for violence sake. That’s not good for anyone.

If we just stepped back and acknowledged the reality we all see when it comes to boy behavior, we may come up with better approaches to channeling that behavior instead of trying to change or eliminate it. You don’t have to be a sports fan to see the benefits of a structured endeavor that allows physicality while also teaching restraint. Hunting, fishing, camping and building are all less-contrived endeavors than sports but can also function as a way of channeling energy and encouraging constructive skills.

So maybe there are better ways than Juicebatball™ to channel boys’ energy. But I’ll take that imperfect channeling over the elimination of boyhood any day. Harris and his wife live in Pflugerville with their six sons. Please email comments or suggestions for future columns to

Caleb Harris
Caleb Harris

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Daddy Days: The nature of boys