It is a scary time to be raising children. But boys come with their own narrative of misbehaviors.

Boys are deemed too intense, too loud, too active. They misbehave earlier and more demonstrably than most girls. They have a much higher rate of diagnosis for challenges like ADHD and mood disorders. They spend more time in detention than their female peers. And God help you if you are deemed a “troublemaker” at an early age. It follows little boys like a ghost that just won’t go on to its great reward.

To be honest, the world can feel like it is geared towards really well-behaved girls. Education definitely feels this way. Expecting children to sit for seven hours a day with few breaks in between is how many children in our country do school. And the less resourced the community, the harder school generally is on the boys. Parenting can feel that way too. When I look at my friends who have two or three quiet daughters, I sometimes wonder if we are even doing the same thing.

The world does not trust boys.

And to a certain degree, I understand the mistrust. The male gender has been ruling the roost for as long as anyone can remember. And we are not exactly looking at them to be Kingdom Builders. Mass shootings, sexual violence, and money embezzlement all are generally the crimes of men. But boys are not men yet.

I remember when Olympian Ryan Lochte was called to task for his crime at the Brazilian Olympics, people defended him, claiming that he was “just a boy.” I looked at my then-first-grader and shuddered at this comparison. He did not need to be put into the same category as this misbehaving man. And yet, I think that our need to call men who commit such crimes “boys” says more about the way we think about our boys than the way we think about those men.

I often hear mothers of sons worry deeply about their boy’s future trajectory. They might joke about them being “too much” with a weary look of what the future holds. It’s like we all think we might be actually raising the next Harvey Weinstien or Dylan Klebold. We forget entirely that Jimmy Fallon was probably a real handful.

There are not a lot of places that boys can be themselves anymore. And I write that with hesitancy. People often take that to mean that bad behavior should be condoned. Nope. I just mean, for God’s sake, let them speak in loud, excited voices about dragons and understand that no recess means no one is learning math at 2pm.

Bad is a word that so often gets used with boys. “Bad boy” comes off the tongue with all of the alluring alliteration the devil can offer. But if being a boy’s mom, a scout leader, a Sunday school teacher, and a volunteer has taught me anything, it is that no child wants to be bad. They long to be good. I have met dozens of chronically naughty children. And all of them, every last one, responds to praise and encouragement like a flower trying desperately to find the sunlight. If we want to help boys make it in this already-weary-of-them world, we would do well to know that these are fundamentally the only ways to help them out.

If it makes you comfortable to call it imputation, then go ahead. Impute to boys that they are good even when you do not think they are. But impute that enough to them and you may just realize that, at least in this instance, imputation works both ways. You will begin to love them for all of the energetic, creative, and smelly energy they bring to the world. You will marvel at it and wonder why it ever drove you a little crazy.

I loved Stranger Things for so many reasons. But I loved the way it portrayed boys. They were intense, loud, active, and beautifully funny. They were very into farting and fantasy games. It took them years to be into girls enough to know how to make out with them. They loved each other, because no one told them they were unlovable. No one told them they were bad. In fact, the adults who did not understand those boys were always on the wrong side of the story.

Girls are magical creatures in their own right. But so are boys. We just miss their magic these days because we are so fixated on cleanliness, volume levels, and what the world might think of them. But this means we miss their own beauty. We look past their deep compassion for tiny frogs. Or how they meticulously draw mermaid robots for their little sisters. Or how Pokémon is basically a telenovela for elementary-aged males.

There are so few places where boys can feel like they are not constantly out of place. I hope that home is one of them. And I hope that church can be one too. This week, I took the boys’ table for our elementary Sunday School class. They like to sit together. And they (at least for right now) like for me to sit there too. When our curriculum asked them to draw what God might have been planning for when the sea and sky were created, one of them drew a dog with a clearly seen butthole. We all laughed. One of the youngest at the table got really upset because he wrote his name wrong on his workbook. Another boy at the table wrote his name wrong on purpose to make the littlest feel better. And I got to just sit there and marvel at a God who made these little boys on purpose and that He chose to call them good.