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. Boys are continually saturated with a distorted version of manhood from television, 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.
American children between ages 5 and 18 have watched 20,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television, according to the 2011 study “The Effects of Media Violence,” by Markus Appel and Susanne Jodbauer. And violent media does spur real-life aggression. Research has consistently shown that after watching violent movies, children interact in an aggressive manner, and 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 nonviolent son.
- Don’t tolerate someone shaming your son. Boys are often shamed for expressing gentle, compassionate behavior, but they shouldn’t be. Help your child understand society’s negativity toward gentleness in males and talk to him about all the positive aspects of being a compassionate boy.
- Encourage nonviolent games and safety. There are plenty of nonviolent ways to have fun, so help your child find them. 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 safe and fair rules for “play fighting,” such as wrestling or pretend sword fighting. For example, the foam noodles that are used for swimming, when cut in half, make great fake swords.
- Give him a pet. 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 him meet new people. Interacting with people of different faiths, nationalities, and races helps your child learn the commonality of humanity. Look for cultural events or traditional restaurants in your area that can expose your son to something different than his usual surroundings.
- Embrace beauty. Expose your son to the arts by taking him to an art museum or musical performance. Increase his respect for Mother Nature by gardening, visiting an orchard or nursery, or spending time at a lake, river, or the ocean.
- Talk about what “being a man” means. 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 him 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 celebrated in the media.
- Defend him. 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 he’ll learn how to set boundaries with violent peers and avoid going along with peer pressure.
- Volunteer to help people and the environment. 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 fix up your home, or help a friend or neighbor with theirs.
- Try to make his school more boy-friendly. Assemble a team of at least three parents of boys to meet with the teacher, principal, or your PTA to discuss how to make your son’s class more boy-friendly. Since boys learn differently from girls, ask 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.
- 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 one another. Some things to consider are setting rules for playground games and inclusion, giving rewards to students for kindness and good sportsmanship, and agreeing to a system for in-class discussions and debates.
It’s tough raising an emotionally healthy, respectful, and compassionate boy in a cruel culture that glorifies violence. But by listening to your son, showing him unconditional love and support, and giving him permission to express all his feelings, you can help him transcend the distorted and damaging view of manhood. And by doing so, he will grow into a happy, confident and thoughtful man.
Ted Zeff, Ph.D., has authored seven books, including "Raise an Emotionally Healthy Boy: Save Your Son from the Violent Boy Culture." For more information, visit www.drtedzeff.com.