Our country is grieving the loss of the six students killed in the Isla Vista shooting and our politicians are pointing their fingers at tougher gun laws and more funding for mental health services, but I think something bigger is being missed -- the emotional well-being of our boys.
There is no coincidence that school shooters in the last 20 years have been boys. In fact, in my search for female shooters, not one came up. This is too important to be overlooked by our society right now. Our boys need us to wake up to their emotional needs. They have the same emotions as girls but with no safe avenues to express themselves. The "culture of cruelty" as so eloquently and disturbingly outlined in the book Raising Cain, Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys, by Michael Thompson and Dan Kindlon describes it in depth. The authors say it is "cool to be cruel" in a boy's world and the meaner you are, the more respect you get from your peers.
From my experience, this dysfunctional world that a boy is forced into starts in 3rd grade and reaches its pinnacle in high school. My son is 13-years-old and in the thick of it right now. The boys can be mean, angry, impulsive, abusive and cruel to one another as a game to see who can lead the pack. This "Lord of the Flies" mentality is alive and well in every private and public school across America. Ask your son and he will tell you, unless of course he has already stopped talking to you because he doesn't trust you to protect him anymore. He knows you will not or cannot protect him from the taunting, teasing, pushing, harassment and fear. He knows the teachers and school administrators are powerless and ineffective. He knows his father, older brother or uncle will only shrug and say, "a lot worse happen to me, kid."
This culture of cruelty is seen as a rite of passage to toughen boys up and we, as a society, accept it. But it only leaves them demoralized, hurt, ashamed and rejected. Our boys need to feel safe. Safe with their parents, safe at school, safe with their friends. They need the skills and encouragement to express themselves and not be looked upon as sissies or wimps for doing so.
Boys are eager to please, sensitive, creative, kind-hearted and silly. But as long as we allow this culture of cruelty to exist, our boys will suppress their true selves to fit in, be tough, look tough and stop expressing their feeling. Many of our friends have adopted a "don't ask, don't share policy" with regards to the emotional life of their boys after the age of 8. If their sons don't complain or speak up about a troubling situation, then nothing must be wrong and they turn a blind eye. But I see these boys. I hear them talking in my car and in my house. They are frustrated, scared, angry, lonely and disappointed. I see it in their faces and hear the tones of their voices. It's disturbing and alarming to me that no one listens or takes them seriously until it is too late. So ask your son, "How are you feeling?" and then listen. Turn off your phone, your TV, your voice and just listen. Protect your son the same way you would protect your daughter. Keep him physically and emotionally safe at school and at home and be on the lookout for the cruelty that exists. Let's make the safety of all boys our top priority. There is an insidious disease that has infected our boys and is causing their deaths and the deaths of innocent lives around them. As a parent, if you were told your son was sick and then given medicine to help him, would you? Would you save your son's life and the life of someone else's child? I know I would.