Increased violence by young males is spinning out of control. Since the 1999 Columbine shooting, there have been 31 school shootings in the United States. Violence and violent images permeate our society. Boys are constantly bombarded with the false information that “real” boys must be strong, aggressive, tough, in control, and repress their feelings. They are saturated with this distorted version of manhood through television and movies, video games, the Internet, peers, coaches, and other adults.
In the last 15 years, the video games and movies to which children have been exposed have become increasingly more graphic. And now, the ubiquitous Internet allows boys to be brainwashed 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. Violent media can spur real-life aggression. Research has consistently shown that after watching violent movies, children interact in an aggressive manner. Yet, after watching movies about kindness, children treat one another with gentleness and compassion. With these 10 steps, you can help combat the culture of violence and raise a violent-free son.
- Don’t tolerate someone 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 him about all of the positive aspects of being a compassionate boy.
- Encourage nonviolent games and safety. Monitor your son’s exposure to violence as much as possible and provide nonviolent games and activities. Encourage him 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. For example, establish rules for fair fighting when play wrestling and sword fighting with friends.
- Give him a pet. Taking care of a pet not only teaches a boy responsibility, but also, through cuddling a kitten, for example, the sanctity of all life.
- Have him meet new people. Interacting with people of different faiths, nationalities, and races helps your child learn the commonality of humanity.
- Embrace beauty. Expose your lad to the arts and increase his respect for Mother Nature by visiting an orchard or nursery, spending time at a lake, river or the ocean, or gardening.
- Talk about what “being a man” means. 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, as well as ask for help. Further, discuss 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 or role models and discuss how they have created peace on Earth through their behavior.
- Defend him. Make sure you always defend your son 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 can set boundaries with violent peers.
- Increase his compassionate nature. To foster your son’s compassionate nature, partake in activities that are beneficial to 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 a house.
- Try to make his school more boy friendly. 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 creates motivation. Assemble a team of at least three parents of boys to meet with your son’s teacher, principal, or PTA to discuss how to make your son’s class more boy friendly.
- Create a class constitution. Encourage your son’s teacher to create a class constitution, with the help of the students, detailing how they should treat each other. Once drafted, have the teacher and students sign it. Suggest that your son’s teacher give rewards to students for kindness and good sportsmanship. Further, you can ask the teacher 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.
It’s tough raising an emotionally healthy, respectful, and compassionate boy in a culture that glorifies violence. By listening to your son, showing him unconditional love and support, and giving him permission to express all of his feelings, you can help him transcend a distorted, damaging view of manhood. In doing so, he will grow into a happy, confident and thoughtful man.