Increased violence by young males is spinning out of control, especially in the U.S. Since the 1999 Columbine shooting, there have been 31 school shootings. Violence and violent images permeate our society. Boys are constantly bombarded with the false information that real boys 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.
In the last 15 years the violent video games and movies children have been exposed to have become more graphic than ever. And now the ubiquitous Internet allows our boys to be brainwashed constantly with horrific, savage images of what a man is supposed to be like. One study showed that children in America between the ages of 5 and 18 have watched 20,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television. And violent media does spur real-life aggression. Research has consistently shown that after watching violent movies, children interact in an aggressive manner, while after watching movies about kindness, children treat one another with gentleness and compassion.
Why Boys Act AggressivelyMost 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 and may be thought of as feminine. 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.
What Can Parents, Teachers, and Mentors Do?
Mom Can Help Her Son Become CompassionateNever 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.
Your Son and ViolenceMonitor 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. Create safety for your son when he engages in potentially dangerous activities, i.e. establish rules for fair fighting.
Ways to Increase Your Son’s EmpathyTaking 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. 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.
Dad Raising an Empathic BoyTalk 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 okay 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, i.e. Jesus, St. Francis, Moses, the Buddha, and discuss how they have created peace on Earth through righteous behavior.
Help Your Son Navigate the Cruel Boy CultureMake 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 okay to set personal boundaries with others rather than going along with peer pressure.
Father-Son ActivitiesTo 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.
Teachers Creating a Boy-Friendly ClassroomSince 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.
Learning Compassion in the ClassroomEncourage 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.
Dealing with BullyingAsk your son’s principal to institute a school-wide no-bullying policy and have all the teachers trained in a bullying-prevention program. Have your son tell a teacher, principal, or lunchroom personnel who can help to stop the abuse. Encourage your son to enlist the help of a friend or a group that can help him to stand up to bullies. Let your son know that bullies feel worthless and the only way they can feel important is by hurting others.
Create a New, Nonviolent WorldOnce the younger generation learns that love and compassion for all living beings is the most important value every person must imbibe, 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. For more information please visit the Z-Shop or Amazon.com.