Most guys have an inborn desire to be known as “manly.” This includes middle school boys, even though they are usually still years away from full-fledged manhood.
Despite the significant gap between middle school boys and mature men, I like to encourage and affirm their “inner man.” I developed a series of tests of manliness that creates a fun opportunity for adults to connect with boys and leads to good discussions about what it actually means to be a man. Here’s what I do:
1. Get a group of four boys together. This works with two or three boys, but four is the ideal amount. Set aside about four hours for all the tests. This activity works best in the summer when you can be outside. Have the guys wear shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes because they will be active.
2. Break the boys up into two teams of two. Give them a chance to come up with their own team names with their partner.
3. Set up different mini-competitions between the two teams that test different characteristics commonly attributed to men. Here are some examples:
- Speed: See who is the fastest by having the boys race through a course on a playground. You go through the course first and demonstrate the path they need to take. Boys take turns going through the course one at a time while you time them with a stopwatch. The team with the lowest combined time wins.
- Sense of direction: Go to a local mall or large store. Make the boys wait at the entrance for 5 minutes while you go into the building and find an obscure location to sit down at. Then they go around the store as teams and try to locate you. The first team to find you wins.
- Knowledge and resourcefulness: Go to a library. You enter first and make the boys wait outside. While inside you write down the name of one different book for each team. Then tell each team what book title they need to find. Send the teams into the library at the same time—you wait in the lobby . The first team to find their designated book and bring it to you wins.
- Throwing things: Play one hole of Frisbee golf. The team with the lowest combined score wins.
- Good with money: Go to the nearest Target or Wal-Mart. Tell the boys to find the cheapest item they can find in the store. The team that finds the lowest-priced item wins. For a twist you could have them try to find the most expensive item in the store.
- Gentleness: Buy a carton of raw eggs. This one can get messy so bring some wet wipes. Make each team toss an egg back and forth, with the boys taking a step back after each successful catch. Toss the egg until it breaks. Do this for a few rounds. The team that breaks the fewest eggs wins.
4. After you complete the different tests, find a local restaurant to grab dinner or a snack. As you eat you can discuss the tests the boys just completed. Sometimes I have this discussion toward the end of the activity but save the Gentleness Test (see above) for the very end after the discussion—it helps you finish the whole activity on a high note.
During Step 4 you’ll want to explain that some of the things they were tested on are only caricatures or stereotypes of what a real man is. For example, a real man doesn’t necessarily have to throw things well or have a good sense of direction. I only use the six tests listed above because they are cheap and easy to execute. You can discuss how society can communicate a skewed view of a “real” man who is strong, muscular, unemotional, and totally self-sufficient.
End your discussion by talking about it actually takes to be a real man. Hopefully your conversation will touch on things like responsibility, character, integrity, hard work, self-discipline, and care for others.
Putting middle school boys through these tests of manliness will hopefully be a small step in guiding them toward genuine, courageous manhood as adults. Plus, they’ll think the tests are fun and they experience can help foster friendships between the boys. There are lots of “wins” involved with this activity!