Boys Will Be Boys

From the sandbox to the construction site, being male is often associated with a natural spirit of trouble making. You don’t have to be on John Eldridge’s mailing list to recognize that there is an untamed energy that is uniquely masculine. Middle school boys at church camp are no exception. After 19 years of volunteering, I’ve got plenty of stories to tell. But I’ve come to the point where I’ve said “enough is enough” when it comes to pranks and roughhousing.

Early on, I tended to participate in or even instigate much of the pranking. One summer, I had a camper who kept leaving his dirty boxers all over the place. When he was out during free time, I led the charge to hide and/or display all of the errant unmentionables in strategic out-of-reach locations throughout the cabin. He actually thought it was pretty funny.

I organized “smackdown” wrestling for years, but those days are officially behind me. The downstairs common room in our cabins has a support post in the middle and a bank of metal lockers, so all 16 boys would strip their mattresses and feed them down the spiral staircase to provide plenty of padding. They would pair up with an opponent of similar size/weight and have 60 seconds to wail on each other (close to the mat – no aerial moves), accompanied by blaring heavy metal. Did I get the message when I had the kid puke following his match? Or when the boy almost dislocated his elbow? Nope.

Two incidents finally convinced me that pillow fights are about as rough as I will allow from now on. A couple years ago, the last year I overtly allowed any kind of pranking (including the classic removal of the bunk’s support board and remaking the bed with only the mattress so the victim falls through), the boys couldn’t get enough of “pantsing” each other. At least they confined it to the cabin! When both cabin leaders were gone near the end of afternoon free time, one boy stood up for a less assertive kid who was frustrated over the repeated involuntary exposure. Pushing led to (unsupervised) wrestling and the “bully,” older but smaller than the “champion,” ended up pressed against the wall and unable to breathe. The last thing you want to find when you return to the cabin is a camper who has recently passed out.

I learned last summer to never even playfully or implicitly give permission to pound on each other, especially to an older boy frustrated with the antics of a younger one. In the heat of the moment, he forgot the size and strength differential and injured pride as much as body.

Now and forevermore, my mantra for pranks and excessive roughhousing is “don’t promote, don’t participate, don’t allow.” It has to be shut down right away. And if something does happen, the youth pastor needs to know sooner rather than later. He’ll get the intense phone call about it, not me.  


This article originally appeared on the Youth Specialties site at