July 22, 2017

The Answers To Stopping Violence Start At Home

By Julie Samrick

My sadness about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary has turned to anger. There has to be lessons learned from those poor babies and valiant adults dying so senselessly.  Instead of pointing the finger everywhere except ourselves, we must not move on without looking at how we can improve our own lives.  Until then, more of these tragedies will occur.

 

Yes, evil exists. And there will always be evil people who hurt others for reasons that cannot be comprehended, let alone explained. Yet these school shootings are a relatively recent phenomenon, occurring at a time in history just as our families and communities are breaking down.  This is the real problem, more so than needing tighter gun control or greater access to mental health care. As individuals I am certain we can take stock of our own lives to begin to see the change we want to see.

 

Here are some of the ways we can start to change society starting at home:

 

Recognize that Boys Have Become Marginalized

From school campuses to pop culture, there is a pervasive attitude today that girls are smarter, more responsible, and basically the dominant gender.  For so long it was girls who were the ones left behind so that not many people are speaking up for boys now.  My husband and I have joked about the “dumb male” stereotype that is so prevalent for years, but I’m not laughing anymore. It’s gotten so bad it’s actually disgusting.  Turn on the TV and watch how boys and men are portrayed in sitcoms and in commercials for starters.  Keep a tally of how often a boy or a man lets everyone down or is simply a buffoon.

 

 

Understand That Boys Bottle Their Emotions and We Can Help Without Emasculating Them

Instead of anti-bullying assemblies for entire schools, I’d like to see the genders separated.  Talk to boys separately.  They handle pressure and depression very differently than girls do.

 

More than 15 years ago I read a book that ominously foretold of the coming school shootings. William Pollack’s message in Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood is that we must understand the “myths of boyhood” that are shaping our young boys into men and the crises these societal rules of conduct are causing, starting with depression. And the last resort for depressed boys, and later men, Pollack argues, is violence against themselves or others. 

 

Pollack gives hope that building healthy relationships with trusted adults is one of the best way for boys to feel connected, but they connect much differently than girls do. Boys learn to stuff their emotions at a very young age; complaints or signs of emotional weakness connote shame and invite ridicule. They are taught to “suck it up, to take it like a man,” whereas commiseration is one of the most sacred forms of bonding for girls. They don’t get as depressed because they talk with one another.

 

Pollack notes that the tough guy symbols we see in the movies like Tom Cruise or James Dean jump into a car and race away at high speeds when they’re mad, or belly up to a bar to stew alone when they’re sad.  Boys are taught at a very young age to pull their pain, isolation, anger and depression inwards, but it has to be released at some point, just like a simmering pot of water will eventually overflow if left unattended. As parents and teachers we can help them navigate this.

 

Pollack gives excellent ways to connect with boys and it isn’t by asking them directly how they feel like we would with girls.  Try shooting hoops, or going for a bike ride together, he says.

 

In fact, of all the books I have read, this one ranks right up there as one of the most important. My discussion here only captures a fraction of it.

 

Take a look at the boy in your life.  Here are some signs listed in Real Boys to tell if a boy is depressed:

1. Increased withdrawal from relationships and problems in friendships.

2. Depleted or impulsive mood.

3. Increase in intensity or frequency of angry outbursts.

4. Denial of pain.

5. Increasingly rigid demands for autonomy or acting out.

6. Physical symptoms (concentration, sleep, eating or weight disorders)

7. Inability to cry.

8. Low self-esteem and harsh self-criticism.

9. Academic difficulties.

10. Over-involvement with academic work or sports.

11. Increased aggressiveness.

12. Increased silliness (Under a cheerful exterior may reside deep feelings of pain or desperation. Often these boys are the class clowns, or gladly bear the brunt of jokes).

13. Avoiding the help of others.

14. New or renewed interest in alcohol or drugs.

15. Shift in the interest level of sexual encounters.

16. Increased risk-taking behavior.

17. Discussion of death, dying or suicide.

 

 

I am by no means excusing these male killers’ despicable actions.  I want to see justice in these isolated, extreme occurrences as much as anyone.  But as a society we can look for the signs and understand young males’ depression before it escalates.

 

 

Speaking of Boys, They Need Positive Male Role Models.

Where are they?  Look around.  Worshipping sports heroes doesn’t count. Fathers are just as important in kids’ lives as mothers, and this shouldn’t be discounted. As families break down, with boyfriends, girlfriends, and stepparents flowing in and out of the home, or parents never marrying at all, this seems to be more of an issue than ever before.

 

Be There for Kids

The most meaningful moments and conversations occur when we are present for our kids. And it has to be every day, on a consistent basis, and not just when it’s convenient.  It seems as a society we are becoming more concerned about acquiring things and not giving young people the best gift of our time and attention.

 

Limit Media, Movies, Technology, and Television

After learning basic facts about a tragedy such as Sandy Hook, turn off the TV.

And let’s start seriously taking movie and television ratings to heart. For instance, 10 year olds should not be watching PG-13 movies. Also, remember that almost all alone screen time for kids is isolating and it breeds things like insomnia, anti-social behavior, and as they get older a desensitization to sex and violence. Take how much time they have on these devices very seriously and begin to limit it.

 

Look At Your Own Parenting Style

Be consistent and set boundaries with kids. Do not allow them to talk back to you or disrespect you or your spouse no matter what good excuse for it may be lurking. 

Another trend that’s out there is that more parents than ever are acting like kids themselves, caring about their own social lives and needs more than their children’s. Whatever happened to the self-sacrifice that was so prevalent in every other past generation?

 

Religion

This is a hot button issue.  I am not espousing any particular religion is better or worse or that religion is a cure all.  Yet as less Americans identify as following an organized religion than ever before, and of those who do far less are actually practicing by attending a house of worship regularly, religion teaches all of us to look beyond our own narrow view of things. Whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jew, religion teaches kids they are not the be all and end all in the universe. 

 

 

In the end, if we keep focusing only on stricter gun control, or even banning all weapons, we are missing the larger point. We need to start by taking a critical look at our own lives and homes.  

 

 

A credentialed teacher, Julie Samrick is now a stay-at-home mother of four kids and the founder of Kid Focused.

 

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Related Post: Where Have the Respectable TV Dads Gone? 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Great article Julie! I couldn’t agree with you more! Our society is suffering and it all starts at home!

  2. I agree, great article! In my church, all that you have shared has been discussed and made a very important topic. Thanks for writing this. I hope it reaches every home!

  3. Love this Julie! Great insight.

  4. Great article. I also have been thinking about this. The breakdown of families and the lack of good role models for boys really caught my interest.
    Thanks for bringing this up.

  5. Let’s keep spreading the word!

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m glad to see you focus on the real issues here.

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