Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Boys & Violence

Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr
By now, you've surely heard about (& mourned) the tragedy at Sandy Hook. You've seen countless news stories about the shooting, as well as comparisons to other mass shootings, and probably realized that in virtually every case, the shooter was a young male. A boy, or boy-turned-man.

You may have even seen some of the articles exploring this link, such as USA Today's provocative piece, "Guns Don't Kill People -- Our Sons Do."

It's a scary title. And as a divorced mom, I particularly cringed when the author suggested 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.

Recently, while researching a story, I interviewed Michael Gurian, author of The Purpose of Boys. Part of boys' problems today, Gurian said, stem 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.


  1. I think it starts in kindergarten, where all kids are expected to sit for long periods of time and listen and contribute. That's especially hard for boys, who need to run around. I know, I have two, and I coach 15 of them in soccer.

    While I don't believe that divorce had anything to do with the Newtown shootings, I do think that positive male models in the form of teachers (how many do you know?), coaches, Scout leaders, etc. in addition to fathers are essential to a boy's development.