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Beyond the Pink and Blue

Carmen Kamrath

The Pink

Sugar and spice, and all that's nice; And that's what little girls are made of.

Today's girls will argue that they are more than sugar and spice -- much more. More girls today are treading new territories that were once thought to be extreme for girls, such as playing organized athletics or becoming astronauts. Today's girls are more confident and outgoing than in previous generations.

The pressures have escalated for today's young female population. Girls are bombarded with sexual images in the world of entertainment. And with girls maturing physically at an earlier age, sometimes as young as 7, these sexual messages are confusing. Girls are looking for a place to belong where they can feel special without the pressure of outward appearances or popularity. Girls need to know that Jesus loves them unconditionally.

What Girls Want

Girls want beauty and glamour. Some girls may try out the entire makeup case, while others are content with just the lip gloss. Girls want to be noticed, and thankfully, today's glamour can be found in non-traditional venues like the women's World Cup soccer team.

Unfortunately, secular society has taken advantage of this area, and girls are often drawn to wear clothes like their favorite pop music stars -- clothing that's often too mature. They're under great pressure to act and look older than they are. They watch television and movies where sexual content is the status quo, and they're at risk of growing into their teen years thinking this kind of behavior is to be expected rather than rejected.

Accessorize inner beauty. Teach girls that true beauty comes from within. Conduct a class for preteen girls on inner beauty qualities and how to take care of their changing bodies. Teach them that God loves them for who they are and that he looks at their hearts for their inner beauty.

Point out good role models who exemplify this kind of beauty, such as American Idol winner Jordin Sparks or Olympic track star Sanya Richards. Compliment and assure girls when they display their inward beauty.

Welcome girls when they come to church because of who they are -- not how they look. Avoid always choosing the outwardly lovely children for parts in a musical or to answer questions.

Girls want to shine. Like boys, girls also want to succeed and be the best at something. Girls are succeeding in areas that've traditionally been set aside for boys to excel in, such as math, science, and sports.

There's more pressure for girls to be successful. The pressure to succeed can develop a perfectionist attitude that can make girls susceptible to dangerous practices such as eating disorders or promiscuous behavior. Our culture tells girls that they can do anything, but sometimes this translates into the notion that they can do it all. Girls often feel pressure to be the best in many areas at the expense of precious downtime.

Help girls focus. Assure girls that they can excel, but caution them that they don't need to do it all. Provide opportunities for girls to be successful through games that help them master tasks. Lead girls in serving the community where success is measured by someone else's gain. Provide girls-only outings where girls can have fun and develop relationships. Provide mentors who can discuss girls' personal pressures and can steer them toward making positive decisions.

Girls want to nurture. This is how girls are biologically wired; the nature to nurture kicks in. Whether it's caring for a doll in the housekeeping center or doting on a friend who's crying over the latest crisis, girls want to care for and fix what's broken. Even at a young age, girls instinctively know the significance of what it means to bond with something or someone they care about.

Nurture their nature. Give girls opportunities to care for others by having them feed a classroom fish or go on a monthly outing to a local nursing home. Teach girls about the art of caring for others, and commend them in their efforts to help fix problems.

Some girls have absent mothers, either physically or emotionally, and these girls need not only to mother but also to be mothered. Provide female mentors whom girls can learn from and talk to. Teach about mothers in the Bible and the roles they played in history. Make your church a place where girls are cared for and have their needs met.

Girls want intimacy. Michael Gurian in his book The Wonder of Girls says, "The hidden yearning in every girl's and woman's life [is] to live in a safe web of intimate relationships." Girls need to feel close to friends, family, teachers, or mentors. Some desire physical intimacy by craving hugs, while others long for deep, meaningful conversation. Girls thrive in a community, a group of girls with common interests and goals.

Danger looms for girls when they don't receive the intimacy they need, because they begin to look for it in inappropriate peer groups or relationships. And broken friendships can leave lasting scars of rejection and mistrust when girls cast individuals out of friend groups.

Help girls connect. Help girls form friendships at church. Make your ministry a safe environment where girls can talk without being judged. Help kids appreciate one another's differences. Provide girls-only small groups, and invite high school girls to share with girls about friends and relationships. Teach girls about experiencing an intimate relationship with God through prayer, worship, and Bible study.

Girls want to be loved. Just as girls want intimacy, girls also desire to love and be loved. Girls typically express their love more freely than boys, either in words or actions.

For a girl, a loving relationship with her father or significant male adult is crucial as she grows up. Girls will base future relationships with the opposite sex on the relationships they experience with their dads. Girls are very observant and need guidance from positive role models to show them the true meaning and expression of love.

Make matches for girls. Provide positive male role models whom girls can trust and relate to. Model how to give and receive love as you love girls unconditionally. Teach girls that true love isn't what's often portrayed on television and in today's music. Dr. David Wall, director of psychological services for Remuda Ranch Programs for Anorexia and Bulimia in Wickenburg, Arizona, says, "Loving them with a passion is not an iron clad guarantee...But a loved daughter -- one who sees the love, feels the love, hears the love, and experiences the love -- will not quickly succumb to the illusions of the world."

Tell girls the amazing love stories of the Bible and about the love relationship that God intended between a man and woman. Help girls strengthen their relationships with their dads by hosting a dad and daughter dinner or a night out bowling. Most importantly, help girls know that the most intimate and loving relationship they'll ever experience is the one they can have with God.

The Blue

Snaps and snails, and puppy-dogs' tails; And that's what little boys are made of.

The age-old cliché says that "boys will be boys," but what exactly does that mean in today's society? What does it mean to be a boy today? With a deluge of new books regarding raising boys, it seems that many people are trying to find the answer to that question.

The world has changed for boys. Our culture has gone from using an iron hand to groom boys into responsible men to helping young men find their sensitive sides. Our culture values boys and girls as our hope for the future, but that value can stress out boys with its seemingly unreachable expectations.

The saying "boys will be boys" is an important one for us as we seek to effectively minister to boys. As we better understand what boys need, we can introduce them to the aspects of the Christian life that appeal to their boyishness. To ignore who they are, though, sets us up for certain failure.

What Boys Want

Boys want to build and conquer. Watch boys as they play video games. Their mission: To conquer and beat the level they're playing. They're relentless as they play for hours on end, and they search books and Web sites for strategies to help them conquer the game. They'll do anything to win.

Boys want to know they have what it takes to one day be men. John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, writes, "It's not a question -- it's the question, the one every boy and man is longing to ask. Do I have what it takes? Am I powerful? Until a man knows he's a man he will forever be trying to prove he is one, while at the same time shrink from anything that might reveal he is not."

Meet boys' conquering need. Help boys build, succeed, and master by offering opportunities to accomplish important tasks. Have boys paint an elderly church member's home. Play games in your ministry that encourage teamwork or allow boys to beat their own scores. Teach them about people in the Bible who succeeded, such as Joshua or David. Talk about the successes of Christian role models, such as the St. Louis Rams' Aeneas Williams or dc Talk's Michael Tait. Celebrate boys' successes, whether boys make the school basketball team or bring a math grade from a C up to a B.

Boys want to be brave. I recently observed a group of preschool boys pretending to be firefighters. A cat sat at the top of the slide, and they rushed up the ladder as the imaginary flames were about to close in on the defenseless animal. One little boy scooped the cat into his arms and slid down the slide to safety -- a self-proclaimed hero.

Bolster boys' courage. Teach boys how to stand strong in their faith. Provide boys with the tools they need, such as putting on the armor of God or being part of an accountability group, to live out their faith throughout the week. Discuss issues of good versus evil and how boys can be on the good side. Give boys opportunities to solve problems by using biblical truths to conquer tough life situations.

In their attempts at bravery, though, boys feel a great deal of responsibility and stress, even at a young age. Pressure to get good grades, to excel in athletics or music, and to behave appropriately are all part of life for boys. So provide opportunities for boys to let off steam in a pressure-free environment; this means providing an activity just for boys, such as tackling a ropes course or playing a game of laser tag. Have boys talk with male mentors and each other about the struggles they face. Let them know that bravery includes putting their trust in God.

Boys want the "gross-factor." Face it -- nothing brings a bigger smile to a boy's face than a supersonic burp or the opportunity to play in the mud. Today's media and toy manufacturers have discovered that marketing gross products is a quick way to the young male consumer's pocketbook. Candy makers serve up gummy snot and earwax candy to eager boys who have pockets full of cash to spend on these yucky items.

Gross 'em out. Teach Bible truths using slime, messy science experiments, or stories like the bug problem during the plagues. Let preschool boys play with shaving cream or finger paint. Remember that everything we do at church doesn't need to have a deep spiritual meaning to it; sometimes just having fun, laughing, and being silly can minister to the boy who needs a place to belong.

Boys want adventure. And they want someone to share the adventure with. Boys need to feel part of a clan, even if the clan includes only one other boy. The adventure may be as simple as a night in a tree fort or as complex as installing a new engine in a go-cart. Boys appreciate knowing the rules of the adventure they're embarking on and want the opportunity to venture as far as they can without violating the boundaries.

Through their adventures, boys need to have the opportunity to lead and follow. They need assurance that when one adventure ends, another one is just around the corner. Boys need to feel challenged and know that they're up to the task that awaits them.

Be their adventure guide. It's important that boys understand that the Christian life is the greatest adventure. Instead of stifling the boisterous enthusiasm of a boy on an adventure, give him the chance to talk about it. Boys need to share their stories. Use scavenger hunts, dramas, or movie clips to reveal adventures in the Bible. Let boys work together in groups, but provide guidance so they know their boundaries. Boys enjoy challenges, so stretch them with opportunities to be the classroom greeter or help organize teams for a game. Take preteen boys backpacking in the wilderness or to rock-climbing gyms.

Boys want to be loved. In his book Real Boys, William Pollack, Ph.D., says, "The fact is that boys experience deep subliminal yearnings for connection -- a hidden yearning for relationship -- that makes them long to be close to parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and family. Boys are full of love and empathy for others and long to stay 'attached' to their parents and closest mentors."

Boys need people they can trust and depend on. Boys desire relationships with adult role models who can show them the ropes and who can speak openly with them about their triumphs and concerns.

Connect with boys. Provide positive male role models for boys through trusted adults who can give boys guidance and validation. Invite dads to be part of ministry events so they can share experiences with their sons. Express appropriate affection to boys with high fives or pats on the back. Show you care by remembering their birthdays or surprising them with doughnuts on a Sunday morning. Most importantly, let boys know they can experience a radical, unconditional love through Christ. Your passion to follow Christ will speak volumes to the boys who you want to grow in loving relationships with God.


Carmen Kamrath is the associate editor for Children's Ministry Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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