In this episode, we’ll visit with Mark Hancock, CEO of Trail Life USA, about:
Townhall Column: Rescuing America’s Boys
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Hey everybody, welcome to the covenant eyes podcast. Karen Potter here and I'm joined with my cohost Brandon Clark. Hey Brandon. Hey Karen. How are we doing today? We're doing awesome. We're actually recording at the NRB conference. This is exciting. Live on location. I know this is great. Face to face for once. This is cool. And we have a really great, um, guest today. So Mark Hancock is joining us, Mark. Hi, welcome to the show. Karen. It's great to be here. Appreciate you guys having me on.
Absolutely. We really appreciate it. Mark is the CEO of Trail Life USA, which really is on a mission to rescue boyhood in America. And so I'm really grateful for this company, for what you're doing and how you're seeking to rescue our boys. And one of the things that we can dive into, of course, is the state of boyhood. But I'm curious to know, how did you get here? How did you end up with Trail Life USA? Yeah, well, that's a crazy story, Brandon, I appreciate you asking it.
You know, back in 2013 it was apparent that the Boy Scouts were heading in a direction that we knew that churches just weren't going to be able to charter Boy Scout troops anymore because they were just abandoning a lot of their traditional biblical values. And so about 300 volunteers across the country started talking about what would it look like for there to be an organization that focused on some of the things the Boy Scouts used to focus on in terms of character and leadership and adventure, but with a specifically unapologetically Christian approach.
and also recognizing that boys and girls are different in keeping that in place. And so these volunteers organized across the country, I was a homeschooled dad and had two sons in Boy Scouts. I wasn't a member of Boy Scouts, I sat in the back of the room. It's funny because they asked at the time, they said, do you wanna be a leader in our troop? I said, no, I don't wanna be a leader in a boys organization.
Fast forward to 2014, we launched Trail of USA with 500 troops in line on our first day and now we've grown to 50,000 members in all 50 states over a thousand churches now with Trail of USA troops. So it's been quite a journey, a lot to that story, but just look back, just amazed at how God has led us along this path. Yeah, certainly. You know, let's talk about the state of boyhood in America. There's a town hall column that you wrote.
And for our listeners, we'll be sure to put the link to that in the show notes for this podcast that talks about the one size fits all mentality of schools. So when boys and girls are in schools together, they run through the same. You call it a corralled through one size fits all shoot. And I just love that because I have the picture of cattle being shoved through, you know, the assembly through the shoots.
So talk a little bit about that and how it really is actually not conducive to a boy and how a boy learns, how a boy grows, things like that. Yeah, well, you know, if you're going to follow the science, it tells us that boys and girls are different. Biologically, sociologically, developmentally, they're just not the same.
that boys and girls develop. And you talk to a parent who has both boys and girls in the home, they'll tell you that's true. Even research in the womb tells us that boys and girls respond differently to stimuli. But somehow in our culture today, there's this idea that it's one size fits all. What works for a girl, work for a boy. And it just doesn't. Just as true, boys develop more slowly. We know that in terms of maturity, brain development, the way their eyes are constructed, the way their ears work, the way their brains are built, what they can do with their hands, motor skills.
All these things are different. So boys aren't ready for things that girls are ready for, especially academically. And so now we have boys in our system that are twice as likely to be in special education, three times more likely to be ADHD. They have fallen behind girls in every single category. There's no category that boys like. Boys used to, as they got into junior high school, they used to excel in science and technology. And it was always the smart math kids were boys.
Or they're not anymore because now by the time they get there, they're so convinced that they don't belong in that system, that they don't fit there. The sit still, be quiet, pay attention just does not work for boys. So by the time they get to the point where developmentally they can catch up intellectually, they've already checked out of the system. So they're like the canaries in the coal mine of our culture. They're paying a price for a culture that doesn't recognize that there are some positive benefits to being a boy. So true.
You know, let's talk a little bit about some of the startling statistics that are out there that just show that our boys are beginning to falter. I have a son, so he's grown now, he's 23, but you know, just watching him go through the public school system and seeing the way that boys were being isolated and treated differently, ADHD, was a common thing. I note that there's also an epidemic of...
fatherlessness in our country. Can you talk a little bit about some of the most startling statistics out there that you were really shocked by? Yeah, you know one in four boys now is in a home without a father figure in that home, which is just shocking when you think about that. 76% of public school teachers are female, over 80% of Sunday school teachers are female. So girls have these tremendous role models of women in leadership. You know, I was a single mom.
you know raising a family that's not easy so girls have these tremendous uh... you know examples of of strong women that they can look to this that that's who i can be like that's what a strong person like me would look like when i get that age boys don't have that you know so the fathers are missing they go to school and the and the teachers are are female they go to Sunday school and the teachers are female so they just don't have these
these godly examples of men in their lives, and they're suffering because of their question is, what does it mean to be a man? Right. When we have a Supreme Court justice nominee who says, can't tell you what a woman is, can you imagine being a seven, eight, nine year old boy who's raised in a culture that for his whole life, marriages had this definition that's very new to the rest of us, but it's been forever for him. And so the confusion that comes along with that, the identity issues that come along with that.
It's challenging to be a boy in today's world. Like I said, it's like boyhood is some kind of social disease that needs to be eradicated instead of acknowledged for the strengths that boys have. These marvelous, wonderful creations who love risking competitions, they're the ones who in past generations...
They got off those boats on the beaches of Normandy and freed the world of tyranny. And then they came home and they invested their lives in going to work and the bullets there were heart disease and stress and they gave their lives there but they did because it was a purpose they believed in. They were helping their families, they were supporting their families. We don't have those sorts of missions for boys anymore. So you have this purpose, this kind of male culture, this failure to launch. There's now more young men living at home than have lived at home since they started counting that in 1960.
They're just confused about their role in society. Who is it that they're supposed to be? You know, it's politically correct to say to girls, and we should be saying to girls, you're strong, you're powerful, you're beautiful, you can do great things. We don't hear that message for boys. It's like we're afraid we're gonna turn them into some kind of monster or something when they really are just these wonderful creatures who thrive in risk and competition and adventure and those kind of things. There's nothing wrong with them. They're designed for that. Our culture needs that. Yes, they do. Yeah.
I love, I have a lot of nieces and nephews and we live out in the country and I love watching my nephews out in the woods and I'll go out and join them just finding whatever sticks they can and building these incredible forts and finding, going through the garbage pile and finding tarps for the roofs of these structures. It just...
It's so beautiful to see, and you can see like the heart of those boys and how they just want to create. They want to go on those adventures, you know, and that'll continue to grow that they'll want to, you know, fight and defend their sisters in Christ, you know, take care of the females in their lives, because that is a natural thing on a woman's heart, or excuse me, on a man's heart as they get older and older. And now you're seeing things like...
Men account for four out of five suicides in America. 75% of juvenile court cases involve boys. They're just starving, Mark. They're starving, one, for attention and to know who they are as beloved sons, right? There's an identity crisis. And they are starving for somebody to lead them in that way. Yeah, and we fall into this thing where when you talk about attention deficit, well, there is an attention deficit for boys.
Because we've come through a time where it's like if a boy is misbehaving, we say, well, he just wants attention. But what's wrong with attention? Yeah. You know, it's like, well, it's like, you know, well, he's just starving. He just wants food. Well, you would give him food. Right. So boys are starving for attention. Somebody know who I am. I am this different, unique creation. I know that I am, but they just give up because no one is meeting them where they are.
And then the statistics, some of those are dreaded, just shocking. You know, one place where they are leading right now is that the fastest growing demographic for suicide is boys 10 to 14 years old. That's shocking. But when you think about it, what are those 10 to 14 year olds lived in? What kind of culture, what has the message been for the last 10 to 14 years to boys? It's not a message of hope. It's not a message that gives them a promise of a strong future. It's just the opposite.
And so that's why on Trail of USA we think we're seeing the kind of success we are because we're a male-centric organization that says boys and girls are different. We create an environment where we let boys be boys. We have risk and adventure. Boys come for the adventure. Parents love the character and leadership elements of Trail of USA. So we know that there's a revenue. We have 17,000 men across the country who are volunteering to bring up this next generation, godly men who say we want to raise godly boys.
and they're pouring their lives. Some don't even have sons in the program, they're just there because they want to see boys impacted. And it's making a difference in Trail of Eocelion. So we know that there's a remnant rising, we know that God knows that boys need somebody who's paying attention to them. So he's using Trail of Eocelion to do that. That's incredible.
How does somebody bring Trail Life into their local church if it's not something that's already in their local church? Is it through your pastor or do we reach out to your organization? Yeah, well that's a great question. All of our troops are outreaches of the local church. We just don't have a troop that meets in the basement of a church. They're an outreach of the church. People ask us, how many boys do you need to have a Trail Life troop? Well, you don't need to have any. You just need to have five adults.
who have a pastor says, yes, we agree with this mission, we think it's important. And if you have those five adults in place, the boys come out of the woods. So you go to trailoffusa.com, there's a find a troop, and you can put in your zip code, it shows you the troops that are nearby, and you can click on that and connect with that troop. And if there's not a troop nearby, there's a starter troop. And it talks to you about this process of how you get these five.
five leaders lined up and in concert with that pastor and the vision of that ministry, the local ministry. See, we're not just an outdoor organization that's having a Christian experience. We are at our core, a Christian ministry that uses the outdoors to turn boys into godly men. If there was a better way of turning boys into godly men, I would be doing that. But we love using the outdoors to do that. And the men, I love that there's also a brotherhood of trailmen across the country, these men who are interested in the next generation. They form bonds and connections.
and friendships that are lifelong. So we really believe that we're onto something. So trailofusa.com and you can find a troop or start a troop there. Awesome, we'll make sure that's in the show notes because that is gonna be super helpful to a lot of, especially parents that are looking for those outlets for their children, so it's great. And one of the things I think is interesting too is, you know, when it looks at boys, it doesn't just, you know, just.
We go out in the wilderness and we're just doing things because, just because, I guess, would be the way I would say that. We're doing things to go out to experiment, to grow, to test, to discover all of the things which are really at a core of a masculine heart, right? So I think about great engineers. If they didn't have an opportunity to tinker at some point in their lives, they wouldn't have developed that desire to want to tinker.
and continue to grow and do things like build bridges or become an architect and design buildings. Now those are two like very big examples, I recognize that, but there has to be an opportunity to get out there and provide this great ability to just be, you know, be a boy, have those encounters with other men who are teaching them and with the wilderness.
because you can learn a lot just by stepping out into the wilderness. Yeah, you really can. There's something about engaging with God's creation and finding Him there and learning things there. And that just speaks to the heart of a boy. You know, that's his world. That's his outdoor world. You know, we find him stuck in front of these video games and things because that world kind of makes sense to him because there's risk there, there's competition, there's score kept. You can...
win, you can lose, you can have a difficult time, you can recover. That all happens in the video game world, which is why it's so attractive to boys. So we use those same elements that we use in the outdoors. Risk and competition, opportunity to challenge yourself, to take a summit or to try rappelling even though you're afraid, or to do a zip line, do some white water rafting, these kind of things to challenge boys because that's what they're looking for.
If we fail this generation, it won't be because we over-challenged them, it will be because we under-challenged them. We didn't give them enough to do. So they're seeking that, and that's why they go to that virtual world where they can have that kind of activity and that experience. But then we criticize them for playing so many video games. So again, no matter where they go. So we've learned some things from those video game designers who have our boys' hearts. And we've learned how to take those same principles and engage the boy in the outdoors. So he's challenged there.
He tries something, he may fail at it, he tries harder and now he can succeed. That's the kind of life lesson that boys aren't gonna get if we don't let them try difficult things. You know, we try to shield them from having their feelings hurt or from doing something really hard, and what we're saying to them subtly, what we're saying to them is we don't think you can be brave. So we're going to keep you from doing this difficult thing because you might fail. When what a boy really wants to hear is, you know, this is really, really hard.
But I think you can do it. And even if you fail at it, let's get up and try harder and try it again. That's a life lesson. And that's why this failure to launch stuff, because boys aren't having the experience of failing and getting up and trying again. The first time they fail as a young adult, they run home again and go down in the basement and start playing the video games. In a world that makes sense. So we have to meet boys where they are, engage their hearts with good opportunities for adventure and stretching their skills and their strengths.
That's great. You know, and we get questions all the time from parents who are trying to find ways to, you know, how do I protect my kids from online dangers and pornography and all the rest? It sounds like our boys could be involved in a program like this, and that keeps them offline. It gets them outside. Like, I think of my own son and just, you know, the engagement of all the activities that you guys provide. That's exactly what they love. That's what they wanna do, so.
For all the parents out there, I just want to say, if you're looking for a way to keep your kids safe online, get them offline and get them outside. That would be my recommendation. No, the outside is a great place to be. There's so many lessons to learn there. There are. Yeah. And it doesn't leave them where they're at either. You talked about meeting them where they're at, but there's an advancement trail as well, growing in knowledge, then understanding, then wisdom. And I love that because it recognizes that we need to continue to grow. Boyhood.
needs to grow into manhood and there's a lot of steps in between to get there. So can you talk a little bit about that? Yeah, and it's a developmental process that makes sense and Proverbs talks to us about that knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. And so we begin our Woodlands Trail program. Our program goes from kindergarten through 18 years of age. So our Woodlands Trail is younger guys, kindergarten through fifth grade. And what they're focusing on is knowledge. They're gaining facts because at that age they have this tremendous ability to memorize and to learn.
just facts, just to learn stuff. I mean, they're learning a complete language growing up. I couldn't learn a language as fast as a baby does. So they're learning a lot of facts at that age. And then we move them into the middle grades where they're taking that knowledge and they're applying understanding. And they're starting to see, okay, I know about knots now, but now I know how they can be useful. Or I know about how to start a fire. Now I know what is a fire can do.
or the principles that they're learning about values or their faith or those sorts of things. Now they're beginning to, as their brains are developing, they're understanding how those facts can be applied. And then the wisdom age is what we're looking at as the high school kids, as the frontal lobe is beginning to develop, they're able to process more complex thoughts and there's some more abstract thinking that's going on. And so they're able to take the knowledge and the understanding and begin to apply wisdom to bring their own thinking into it, to kind of restructure it in a different way. And they're leading the troop.
those high school age boys, they're making the decisions. Where are we gonna camp? What are we gonna do next week? What badge are we gonna work on? Who's in charge? The adults are in the room, but these high school age boys are making the decision about where the troop is going. So they're gaining in leadership experience, which they have nowhere else in the culture, unless they join a gang, they may be able to be in leadership there. But they, or they'll... We're not recommending that, though. No, we're not recommending that. Or we're not recommending video games either, but both video game developers and gangs have figured something out about boys.
They found a weakness and they exploited it. Actually they found their strengths and they're exploring them. Okay, that too. Because gangs answer the question that the boys are always asking. Who's in charge? Who's with me? And what is our mission? And when we can answer that, and that's why as we get in the high school age with the adventurers, as they're working on wisdom, we help them settle those things. Who's in charge? They have a leadership structure. They elect the leader of the patrol. They have assignments. You're making breakfast. You're going to find the next water source. You're going to do this.
So they have these assignments so they know who's in charge, they know who's with them, they have a patrol, they have an identity, which you see in gangs, they have strong identity. They know each patrol has a different name, a different call, a different flag, they belong to something bigger than they are. And they have a mission. And there's so many boys who are missionless and purposeless, but gangs are good at, they get that too, assigning a mission. So that's why gangs are growing so fast, because they answer those three questions for boys. So we answer those questions in Trail Life.
by who's in charge, who's with me, what is our mission? And when you do that, you've got a boy and you've got the energy of a boy. The military does that great too. Who's in charge, who's with me, what is our mission? That's why you see such success in the military. They're able to accomplish great things. But in our general society, in our schools, and the culture, we're not seeing those opportunities for boys to get those questions answered. So sometimes they answer it themselves.
If there's not somebody clearly in charge, I'm gonna be in charge. And if there's not a clear mission, I'm gonna give you a mission. Probably not a mission you want. No. So when we set boys in a male-centric environment and answer those questions for boys, you just see the best of boyhood develop into manhood. Yeah, and the other thing that I thought was really interesting here, and we actually had this conversation at another point on a podcast, was a rite of passage ceremony.
So the Western culture actually is one of the only cultures that doesn't have some sort of a right of passage. Can you talk about the importance of that in a boy's heart as they continue to advance and grow and work towards being a man? Yeah, no, that's huge. And, Brandon, you'd be so shocked, or maybe not, at how many men, when we talk about rights of passage, how many men will come to me if I talk about it in a meeting or something, a couple of them say,
the brotherhood of man. I was never welcomed into that place. I didn't know. It's kinda like when I grew up, you know, the kids sat at one table for Thanksgiving and then there was the adult table. Same here. And there was always this assumption, we were there with our cousins, and one day I'm gonna be at the adult table. It kinda never happened because we all got older together. So now it was the 20-year-old table was the adult table, and then when we were in our 30s, we're still the kids table, but now we're in our 30s.
So there is that missing from our culture. So in Trail of USA we have built in the program these intentional things where boys are stepping up from one program into another and they're being called into that company of men, which is just valuable. Now we issue our awards on something called a standard, which is a walking stick that's harvested in Bavaria, the forest of Bavaria specific for Trail of USA.
and they nail their awards then. I mean, what a masculine award. But when the boy is at the age that he's ready to start with his standard, which is around fifth or sixth grade, some troops will have to do, they'll put these walking sticks in a barrel in the front of the room and the father will go up and select the walking stick for his son. And that becomes the instrument. And that father is saying through that, I am welcoming you into the company of men. It's time for you to earn your awards. It's time for you to.
your medal, it's time for you to achieve, and this is for you to display that on. And that's huge for a boy, for a dad or a dadlike. We have a lot of boys in our program who don't have a dad, and so we have these wonderful Christian dadlikes who are saying, I will stand in the place. And it certainly is not as effective as a natural father who's going to go home with him and live him and continue to train him. But my gosh.
We have single moms who have just cried out to God, can you give me some Christian men to help me raise my son? And here they are. And so many times those men are standing in that place. We had a young man out in California recently, he earned our highest award, the Freedom Award, and he stood in front of that troop, has a single mom, didn't have a dad, was raised without a father, and he stood in front of that room full of men and he said, I wanna thank the men in this room. He said, you taught me how to shave, and you taught me how to love Jesus. And I thought, okay.
That's good. That's amazing. Wow. And for that mom to be sitting there and saying, oh my gosh, Lord, how you have provided for me in this time, powerful stuff, that rite of passage for boys to understand and to have that invitation from men to step up into something. They're not getting that in our culture today, right? No, they're not. No, they're really not. And I think it's interesting, too, to have the men focusing on the troop leaders for a second.
There are men out there who aren't able to have children or who are single and not married But every man is called to fatherhood in some way so you can be a godfather You could be an uncle, you know There are leadership roles that every man listening can play and so it's really important as we talk about Something like this to recognize especially for the men listening right now that
you are a father in one way or another. Can you speak to that just a little bit? Yeah, we really believe that, that any legitimate call to manhood must include a call to be a dad to natural sons or a dad-like to a boy who doesn't have a father because there's so many boys without dads. And so on Trail of F.U.S.A. we have thousands of men who have said, don't have a son on the program. Now it's a great program for fathers and sons and an opportunity for them to get together.
But it's also a great problem for the brotherhood of men, for men to get in there side by side with other men. They find their brotherhood there, and also for them to give back to the next generation and find those boys who don't have dads and to become that dad-like. And you're right, that's part of the circle of life. You know, a troop master recently out in Texas, we were gathered at a thing and he started pointing out boys in the room, and he pointed out four or five, six boys, and each one of us, they say, see that boy? I've connected, he doesn't have a father at home, I've connected him with that man.
That boy would connect with that man. That one would connect with him. And I'm like, who are you? And he said, when I was nine years old, my father passed away. But my mom found these Christian men to help mentor me. That's amazing. I can remember telling myself when I was nine, when I got old enough, I was gonna make sure that I did that for other boys. And the stories from those boys and the relationships with these men, you know, just powerful. And these boys will point back to those men.
for the rest of their lives as a man who was there for them just to listen to them, just to be with them, not necessarily to lecture them or to tell us, but just to be there for them in a really difficult time. Well, Karen, as our listeners are probably hearing, this is a great opportunity for dads and sons, for men who are fathers themselves, who want to father other children, who are
maybe not fathers themselves, but have an opportunity to reach out as a godly man and help father other children because I really believe that every father deserves a mother, excuse me, every child deserves a mother and deserves a father and this is a great opportunity to access that fatherhood and really rescue the boys in our culture today. Absolutely, I would agree with that and I think in our work here at Covenant Eyes we see a lot of the...
repercussions of the fatherless home, you know, kids that grow up without that guidance and are being lured in by pornography and led astray by other, you know, social ills. And this is just an amazing program. And I'm so grateful to you, Mark, for, you know, coming to talk to our listeners about this. And I would encourage all of our listeners to find a way to get involved, you know. This is an amazing opportunity. And for the moms out there, I mean, this is...
this is the Boy Scouts that you wanted that no longer exists. You know, I remember taking my son to Boy Scouts and it was like, wait a minute, this does not share our values. So this would have been a great alternative. We didn't know about it at that time. But thank you for what you're doing. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Yeah. And for all of our listeners, we will have the link to the column, which we mentioned earlier in the show notes. We'll also post the website to Trail Life USA. It's simply that trail life USA dot com.
So be sure to check that out. You know, there's 50,000 members in Trail Life USA, so it continues to grow. And why not bring a troop to your church or your community because it's really a great opportunity. And so needed. For all of our listeners, thanks for tuning in for another episode of the Covenant Eyes podcast. We can't wait to have you join us again. And again, live from the NRB conference, we look forward to talking to you all again soon. God bless.