Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve see the news about the senseless mass shootings in our country. Whether its on a college campus, at a church, in a movie theatre, or if its white cops shooting black citizens, there is one theme that is only sometimes mentioned, but needs to be addressed in order to stop the violence. Most of the people doing the shooting are male. I am especially concerned about this issue, not just because it is horrible what these people have done, but also because I am the parent of two small (white) boys.
I’ve been working hard to teach my sons (currently ages 3 and 6) that hurting others is bad and to have empathy for others, even when they are different from themselves. We don’t allow them to play with weapons and we teach them that people only use those to hurt others and that is not something we believe in doing. We give them emotional support and when they are feeling sad or mad I ask them to tell me why and help them talk it out. Part of the problem is that boys in general aren’t expected to process their emotions, but instead are told they shouldn’t have any (ex: “Suck it up”; “Be a man”). Well, all humans have them, including males, so denying their feelings and not processing them can lead to pent up anger. When you add that anger to a culture that promotes violence as “fun” (ex: video games and “action” movies) or a solution to a problem and something males are expected to do and “not have control over”, then violence ensues.
Males definitely have the capacity to control themselves and this whole “boys will be boys” culture that we’ve been living in for so long is bullshit. That gives males carte blanche to act as bad as they want to without having any repercussions. We need to stop giving them a pass when they commit violence and start teaching them from a very young age to value and process their emotions. This pretending that their emotions don’t exist or that having them makes them less manly needs to stop. It’s hurting us all.
Just think, if those boys/men who have been committing this senseless violence had instead been raised to value and have empathy towards others, process their emotions and not value violence as a way to deal with conflict, none of these shootings would have happened.
There’s another piece that needs to be highlighted and that is sexism. Several of the shooters committed their violence because they were rejected by females. Their ego was built up so high by this patriarchal culture that they assumed that girls should return their interest or affections. When they didn’t, their solution was violence. This devaluing of girls and women as human being deserving respect is part of the problem. Women are not objects for male pleasure, but subjects with their own lives and interests and they have the right to make their own choices just like males do. Females are socialized to talk about and process their emotion, and you know what, they aren’t the ones committing the majority of the violence in this country. So why not try raising boys to have empathy and process their emotions? It certainly won’t lead to more violence and might stop the senseless violence.
Most of these mass shootings have also been committed by white males. Their sense of privilege added to a culture that supports and values their violence in addition to denying their feelings and devaluing (and hating) those different from themselves has lead to more killings. We see this especially lately with the killing of black citizens by white cops. I talk with my oldest son (age 6) about this in terms that he can understand. I tell him that all people are valuable and deserving of kindness and respect, even if they don’t look like us. I tell him that our country has a history of treating people with black skin badly and that we as people with white skin need to check our privilege and help change that culture. I know its a privilege to be able to spoon feed my sons information about the violence against black citizens, but I’m hoping that with time to understand and process what is going on in the world around him he will be able to grow up to be a good man who helps instead of hurts others.
So whether the violence committed mostly by white men is against women or black people, it needs to stop and that starts with teaching empathy and emotional processing to our boys. I took my oldest son to see the movie Inside Out and I think that is a great way to start teaching kids about their emotions. That’s not the only way to start the conversation with your kids. You have to find something that works with their interest to get them invested and interested in a very important conversation.
A friend of mine has recently started “Mylemarks“, a website promoting emotional intelligence and anti-bullying for kids. He has some great workbooks available if you’re looking for something to get you started teaching your kids these skills.
I recently read “A Campaign to Raise Healthy Sons”. It was comforting to know that I’m not the only one out here trying to raise boys to be good men and to avoid using violence to solve problems.
Are you raising boys? Have you had conversations with your kids about valuing others, ending violence and processing their emotions?