Since the 1999 Columbine shooting, there have been 31 school shootings in the U.S. Violence and violent images permeate our society. Boys are constantly bombarded with the false information that real men must always be strong, aggressive, tough, in control, and repress their feelings. Boys are continually saturated with this distorted version of manhood from television and movies, video games, the Internet, peers, coaches and other adults.
Over the past 15 years, the violent video games and movies children have been exposed to have become more graphic. And now the ubiquitous Internet allows our boys to be constantly brainwashed with stereotypical images of how a man is supposed to behave. Many boys are taught from an early age to act tough and repress their emotions. It’s important to understand that violent male behavior may stem from the perpetrator’s fear that he isn’t behaving aggressively enough. However, the behavior that is associated with girls (actions that demonstrate empathy, sensitivity and compassion) are also natural male traits. They are simply not recognized as such in many societies. Boys need to be taught that sensitivity and compassion are natural male traits.
Combat the Culture of Violence
Never tolerate anyone shaming your son when he expresses gentle, compassionate behavior. Help your son understand the causes for society’s negativity toward gentleness in males and talk with your son about all of the positive aspects of being a compassionate boy.
Monitor your son’s exposure to violence as much as possible and provide nonviolent games and activities. Encourage your son to hang out with friends who enjoy less-violent games. Frequently discuss the harmful effects that exposure to violence can have on him.
Taking care of a pet not only teaches a boy responsibility, but through cuddling a kitten, for example, he will learn about the sanctity of all life. Caring for a pet will make him less likely to mistreat an animal.
Have your son interact with people of different faiths, nationalities, and races, to learn the commonality of humanity.
Expose your son to the arts and increase your son’s respect for Mother Nature by visiting an orchard, or nursery, spending time at a lake, river, or the ocean, or gardening.
For dads, talk often with your boy about what it really means to be a man. Reassure him that he doesn’t need the approval of aggressive boys, star athletes, or the alpha male to feel good about himself. Let your son know that it’s OK for him to express fear and sadness and ask for help. Discuss with your son the detrimental consequences of violent males being so frequently extolled in the media. Read books or watch movies with your son about the lives of great spiritual men — Jesus, Moses, Buddha — and discuss how they have created peace on Earth through righteous behavior.
Make sure you always defend your boy if others shame him when he expresses his feelings. Teach your son how to respond to aggressive children by role-playing with him. Model setting limits with others so that your son will learn how to set boundaries with violent peers. Let your son know that it’s OK to set personal boundaries with others rather than going along with peer pressure.
To increase your son’s compassionate nature, it would be good sometimes to do activities with your son that help people, animals, and the environment, such as planting trees or cleaning up trash in your community. Volunteer to help out in a hospital, nursing home, or animal shelter. If you have carpentry skills, you and your son could help a neighbor, friend or relative fix up their house or your own house.
Since boys learn differently from girls, encourage your son’s teacher to incorporate more movement during instruction and take physical breaks between subjects, incorporating active learning games and more outdoor learning. Creating goals and using games will create motivation. Assemble a team of at least three parents of boys to meet with your son’s teacher and/or principal (or your PTA) to discuss how to make your son’s class more boy-friendly.
Encourage your son’s teacher to create a class constitution with the help of the students, detailing how they should treat one another, and ask the teacher and students to sign it. Suggest that your son’s teacher give rewards to students for kindness and good sportsmanship. Ask your son’s teachers to read and discuss exciting tales that promote noble and brave qualities of heroes who help others. You and your son’s teacher should let him know that everyone has different abilities and interests and that those differences need to be respected.
Once this generation learns that love and compassion for all living beings is the most important value, there will be a veritable leap in consciousness on the planet. Wars and conflicts will become a thing of the past because wars begin in the minds of people. And there is no room for human or environmental destruction in the political or corporate leader with a consciousness saturated with love and compassion for all human beings and Mother Earth.
Ted Zeff, Ph.D., is the author of Raise an Emotionally Healthy Boy: Save Your Son from the Violent Boy Culture. Visit www.drtedzeff.comto learn more.