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Antidotes for Male Teenage Sloth

How do we raise our boys to be men of character?

The lazy teenage boy who doesn’t want to do chores is a familiar stereotype in American culture. “Ugh, Mom, I don’t want to take out the trash! Why are you guys always on my case?” It is common enough in movies and television, forming the basic plot conflict for many family dramas.

Like any stereotype, the lazy teen vs. overbearing parent dichotomy is often exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean sloth among teen boys isn’t real. I would argue that slothfulness is a bigger threat to teenage boys today than it ever has been. Digital distractions like video games, social media, the decline of unstructured play among children, and a culture of instant gratification all contribute to building a culture of sloth among our youth. And that appears to affect boys in particular.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, what is sloth exactly?

Sloth is generally defined as laziness. But it is not mere laziness; it is a preference for ease and comfort, a reluctance to do hard things. It can be physical (such as a reluctance to do hard work), or intellectual (aversion to making mental effort to learn new things). It is often accompanied by indifference or boredom. Sloth is a disposition towards whatever is easy and comfortable—it is a habitual preference for the path of least resistance.

Psychologically, a slothful character can be detrimental to full human development simply because the slothful person fails to develop the skills necessary to rouse themselves and overcome the challenges that life presents. This gives rise to people for whom every effort is “too hard” and not worth the energy.

Spiritually, sloth is considered one of the seven cardinal sins. Cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo, “hinge,” or “pivot.” A cardinal sin is a pivot or root of other sins. Laziness, for example, can cause us to neglect our obligations to friends, family, and God. It can also be the occasion for other sins. “Idle hands are the devil’s plaything,” goes the old saying. Many men end up looking at pornography or involving themselves in other sexual sins because they are bored and restless.

Why are teenage boys, in particular, prone to sloth?

Boys are biologically more active than girls; they are energetic, competitive, and aggressive. Historically, boys got their energy out by participating in competitive sports, unstructured play with friends, and manual labor. Modern society, however, has methodically quashed these outlets for masculine aggression. We have school systems that keep them in a chair in front of a screen for six hours a day, less physical and increasingly mind-numbing jobs, and social pressure against free range play. We pump boys’ brains full of digital content, sedate them with drugs for hyperactivity, and tell them their masculine energy is toxic. Is it any wonder they seem crushed, despondent, and apathetic?

We must also look at our own role in our children’s sloth. Do we coddle our boys, pampering them and enabling them to lead a lazy lifestyle?

Thankfully, as parents, we have more influence over our children than anyone else. If our sons are bogged down in a slothy rut, we can help them break free. Here are some suggestions:


Encourage your boys to live lives of intentionality. This means that whatever they are doing, they are doing it with deliberateness and focus. How often do you walk in, see your son laying on the couch scrolling on his phone, ask him what he’s doing and he says, “Nothing”? Encourage him to be doing something. These are opportunities to get him moving and doing something, whether it’s a chore, homework, or just “Go outside and play.”

But intentionality is more than just assigning activities; it’s about inculcating a task-oriented mindset in your son. Teach him to think in terms of “What am I doing right now? What do I need to get done today? What should I be focusing my energy on?” There’s nothing wrong with leisure time by any means, but it needs to be rightly ordered. This is specifically true of social media and gaming; these activities should be set aside for leisure time; they should not be your son’s normative occupation. Leisure is a time of refreshment and rest from our labors; it is not the default setting.


Sloth and boredom go hand in hand. It usually entails a loss of wonder, a sense of not being “impressed” by anything life has to offer. A good counter to this attitude is to get your son out in nature. Go on a family hike. Visit a national park. Tell your son to go explore. Get him outside with the sun’s brightness on his face and firmness of earth beneath his toes. The mental and emotional health benefits of exposure to nature are well-attested, so make sure your son is getting regular time outdoors. If you aren’t in an area that is conducive to romping around outside, you may have to create these opportunities by heading to a nature center or park.

Get Them a Job

The routine and discipline required of a regular job are excellent counter-balances for sloth, not to mention the motivational power of regular paychecks! If your son is old enough, consider getting him a part-time job or apprenticeship outside the home.

The Sweat of the Brow

This is the tried and true antidote for sloth: Hard Work. In the old days, this may have meant chores on the farm. Not everyone has a farm, obviously, but there are other ways to put your son to work. This year, my son and I began waking up every morning and going to the gym together. Besides the bonding and the self-esteem boost of watching our muscles slowly grow, it is disciplining him to get up early and start his day with something difficult. The type of planning and incremental growth that characterizes strength training builds a goal-oriented mindset.

You can also let your son tackle some “man of the house” jobs. I made my son install the radio in my car. He protested that he didn’t begin to know how to do such a thing. I thrust some tools into his hand, gave him my phone and said, “Here’s a ten-minute YouTube tutorial on how to do it.” He returned twenty minutes later, face beaming, with the job done successfully. I then had him replace the faucet in the kitchen the same way.

Men are naturally task-oriented beings. We thrive on getting things done. Get your son involved with projects that nurture his sense of accomplishment.

Manage Your Expectations

Finally, it is essential to manage your expectations. Teenagers’ bodies are going through a lot. Male puberty in particular can come on hard and fast—boys unexpectedly sprout up like weeds, and suddenly they are big, tired, and hungry. Try distinguishing between sloth as a life habit and adolescents’ natural tiredness. Your son rolling out of bed at 10:00 AM and eating five eggs & two sandwiches isn’t necessarily sloth. Laying on the couch for two hours doom-scrolling is a different story.

Try to discern what is due to biology and what is a life choice. Accommodate the former while offering guidance on the latter.

It can be frustrating to see traits of laziness in your boys; we tend to project our frustration into the future, fearing that they will always be that way—and we also take it personally, as a judgment on our parenting. There’s no need to worry though; with a little structure, you can nurture habits of hard work and discipline in your boys so they grow into men who do not shirk from challenges.

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