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Are boys predisposed to violence?
I’m not talking about play wrestling. I’m talking about serious violence. Have you noticed that virtually every mass murderer was male? That the school shooting and mass shootings that pop up on our news casts far too often typically feature a young male shooter? You may have even seen some articles exploring the link between gun violence and boys, such as USA Today’s provocative piece, “Guns Don’t Kill People — Our Sons Do.”
It’s a scary title. As a divorced mom, I particularly cringe to see the author suggest that the Sandy Hook killer many have been negatively influenced by his parents’ divorce. But you know what? I think the author is right.
I don’t think divorce makes boys into mass murderers, but I do think that a lack of positive male role models is a problem in our society. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of good men in every community. But too often, the men we celebrate are not men who are living up to their responsibilities or treating others well. Too often, we glorify men who lead lives of selfishness or violence. And too rarely are our boys surrounded by good, loving, compassionate men.
Michael Gurian, author of The Purpose of Boys, once told me that he believes that part of boys’ problems stems from the fact that we as a society have become so attuned to the threat of “bad guys” (especially sexual predators) that we limit boys exposure to men. But the reality, he said, is that most men are not dangerous. They may not be perfect (who is?), but they are perfectly adequate to help boys navigate the road to manhood. Boys, Gurian said, do not need perfect men; they need men who are willing to share their time and experience.
I couldn’t agree more.
I also think that understanding and accepting boys as they are — instead of viewing them as flawed human beings — could go a long way toward decreasing boys’ frustration and anger. Is it ever acceptable to shoot or harm others simply because you’re frustrated or angry? Certainly not, and every day, I work to instill that lesson into my boys. (With mixed success, I must say.)
But beginning at an early age, virtually all American boys begin to get a sense that there’s something wrong with their natural inclinations. When their parents freak out because they point a stick at another kid and say, “bang!”, or when their teachers tell them they must draw their giraffe all over again, simply because they added a labeled pile of poo at the back end of said animal, boys start doubt their instincts. They learn that in order to succeed — in order to be acceptable — they must suppress parts of themselves. They learn that their natural male energy is not welcome. And when the look around, they see that only male energy that seems even vaguely acceptable in our society is violent and brash. (Think football players and action heroes.)
It’s time to enlarge our boys’ notions of masculinity. It’s time to accept our boys as they are. And it’s time to put an end to this era of violence.