The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado is only the most recent occasion of senseless violence to rock the United States. How many school shootings have there been since Columbine? And let’s not forget the DC sniper, and all of the other gun-related tragedies happening every day in communities across the country that don’t make the national news. The motivations behind all of these killings vary as much as the individuals who carried them out, but the one common thread is that they have all been male.
There may be isolated incidents of women and gun violence, but by and large, it’s men – sometimes boys – who go on these murderous rampages. That’s not even touching the issue of sexual violence perpetrated by men every hour of every day. That screams to me that we are failing our boys in this country. We are failing to raise our boys to grow up to be compassionate, decent human beings.
I have a son. I have a responsibility to raise him to be a member of the global community. As a mother, I am pleading with every other parent who has a son to do right by your boys.
Teach Your Boys to Love
There is no single greater responsibility as a parent that to show your child that he is loved so that he will have the capacity and the frame of reference to love in return. If I do nothing else right as a parent, I know that my son loves me. I know that he knows he is loved by me, by my husband, and by all of our extended family. I know that he is in love with life, and he implicitly loves other people. I know that, every day when I meet him at the bus stop, he is going to shout “Mommy!” as the bus driver waves him across the street, and run into my arms to hug me and tell me he loves me.
Your boys may never be as expressive as my son is, especially if they’re older, but do they hear you say, “I love you” on a regular basis? Do they feel loved by your actions, the way you talk to them, the things you do together? If they don’t tell you they love you, do they act like they do? Even a rebellious teen can let that shine through with a heartfelt hug and an unbegrudged “Thanks, Mom” every once in a while.
If your boys know what it is to love and be loved, they will not have the capacity to slaughter innocent people. (I must pause here to make an exception for boys with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, which causes them to break with reality. In such cases, the best thing a parent can do is to make sure their boys get the treatment they need, and if they have to live away from home in a residential facility, to visit regularly and let them know you care.)
There are people out there who don’t love their kids. I have a hard time comprehending this. But here’s the thing…your son? Didn’t ask to be your child. You decided to be a parent - whether by actively trying to get pregnant or by choosing not to terminate an unplanned pregnancy or let a more loving family adopt the child – and therefore, you have a responsibility to that child. My Master’s degree in psychology (a very expensive piece of paper) gives me knowledge of developmental research that shows that sociopathic behavior often develops from a lack of trust in infancy from parents who didn’t attend to basic needs like feeding, and a lack of experiences provided by parental love as the child grows and begins developing a sense of self, particularly up to age 6. Of course, not every child who lacks these things is going to grow up to be a sociopath, but you’d be hard pressed to find a non-psychotic sociopath who grew up in a loving environment. (Again, psychosis is a completely different animal.) So stack the odds in favor of raising a decent human being by at least making an effort at loving your kids. Any effort is better than none.
And if you’re not the parent, you can still bring a little love into a boy’s life. Grandparents, other biological relatively, “aunts” and “uncles” who are adult friends of the family – you can all be loving influences for a boy.
We can show boys how to be loving by the way we treat other people. This means we have to stop being hateful. This means we don’t teach kids to share any of our personal prejudices against people who are different from us. This means we show respect even in disagreement.
We can model healthy relationships for our boys by showing them abuse is not acceptable. Teach them that women deserve respect. Teach them about respecting personal space and not violating another person’s right to say no. Teach them that love is not about control.
In today’s media-intense world, we need to teach our boys the difference between fantasy violence on the screen and the life-altering and irrevocable consequences of real-life violence. If we let them play with toy weapons and violent video games, we need to reinforce that guns should not be pointed at people and that real bullets kill…and real life doesn’t come with a replay button. And if real guns are in your home because of hunting, or any other reason, then your boys need to learn about gun safety and having proper respect for the weapons. Guns are not toys, and accidents can be fatal.
All of these things add up to raising a boy to be a good man. It starts with love, and it results in a basic respect of human life that precludes senseless violence. Love your boys. All of our sons deserve it.
Tags: boys, kids, love, violence