“Xtreme” gender differences

Lightening Reaction Xtreme: a shockingly fun game.
Lightening Reaction Xtreme: a shockingly fun game.

Lightening Reaction Xtreme is a different type of game. Two to four players grab a metal handle out of a plastic base and one presses a button on the base to begin. Spooky music plays while the light flashes red. Then it flashes green and beeps. Last one to press the button on their handle gets zapped with an electric jolt. That’s it. There’s no reward for winning except watching your friends wince at a little pain.

Only guys will understand this game. I’ve explained it several times: the woman all wonder why someone would even consider such a game, the teenage boys say cool, and dad is interested in exploring it.

I even played once with a kid well below the recommended 14+ age range. At first, I would press the button just a little early to get shocked myself. After 2 rounds he complained that I “wasn’t playing fair.” So, the next round I let the light change color, waited a few seconds, and then pushed the button to see him throw his controller across the room. Immediately he game back, grabbed the controller and started a new round. Mom looked on whimsically. The simple fact is that when I began he realized I wasn’t respecting him but I treated him as a lesser man who needed protection from this minor shock.

Experiences like this lead me to two questions: what are the deeper differences between boys and girls, and how can we adjust our youth ministry to correspond. Before that, I’ll briefly invite women into the man-brain to explain why Xtreme is a cool game. (Men you can skip the next paragraph.)

Men bond by enduring pain together. One shows that he is part of the group by enduring pain with the others. Boot camp, killer sports practices or multi-day hiking are great bonding activities for men. Boys will actually enjoy some pain. Boys punch each other or shoot one another with paintball guns to bond with each other as real men. Men get an adrenaline boost out of pain. I know this sounds absolutely crazy to you ladies since you get sick at the thought, but it’s true. This can be twisted into hazing rituals but is healthy at a certain level.

The differences in psychology and pain tolerance must lead us to a deeper difference between the sexes. Being a man or woman goes way beyond the mere physical differences or different responses. These are just signs of a deeper reality of being a man or woman. Being a man or woman is essential to who we are, it indicates how we express the gift which is essential to being human according to John Paul II. This internal reality must be expressed physically, through our body.

I think it follows quite logically from Theology of the Body (and even from the externally observable differences) we need to treat teenage boys and girls differently in youth ministry. Personally, I’ve worked a lot in youth ministry that is completely gender-separated with Conquest and Challenge clubs. I think that is a good way to respond to different needs but it need not be universal. If you run a co-ed group, I don’t think you need to split it up but when you do small groups, those almost always work better if gender-separated (at least that’s my experience). As well, boys and girls will be attracted to different activities; I bet if you organizing paintball and hairdressing one weekend, you’ll get two gender-separated groups even if you don’t require it. Realizing these differences can also help us build something that has both because if one gender or the other predominates, they will tend to organize all their own type of activities.

God made us man and woman. God did not make us generic humans and then add gender as an “extra” but he built it into the essence of who we are. Catholic youth ministry must respond to this. Our practice must follow our theology. Do you have some concrete ideas to help out other youth ministers? How do you respond different to guys and girls in your youth ministry?

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