Not just Newton, Connecticut, not just the USA, but the whole world is grieving right now over the loss of innocents, both adults and children. My town’s paper had the headline about the elementary school mass killing. I could barely see the print through my tears as I read about the grizzly tragic incident and President Obama’s first response.
Just one response has been to focus on the instrument of destruction, the semi-automatic weapons in the hands of the “deranged.” The statistics are certainly telling and compelling. There are over 10,000 shootings in America a year and only a few dozen in other modern industrial countries combined.
Police reports don’t begin to “explain” the causes of such extreme behavior. And they should not be expected to. In one print story, there were brief references to 20-year-old Adam Alanza being on medication, that he was smart but socially awkward and that there had been some tension in his family background.
Millions are on medications; some experiencing serious side effects and others for whom there are serious consequences for withdrawal. Many people are socially awkward and experience major family relationship shake-ups or estrangement.
One place most may not yet be looking for answers and I contend it is a place where we are still hiding our heads like ostriches in the sand, is what is happening to boys and young men in the US.
There is a new book out by one of the world’s most famous social psychologists and someone whose studies I was tested on in my undergraduate years.
They write that by the time an American boy hits the age of 21 years, he has probably played an average of about 10,000 hours of video games, which equals 14 months of his entire life, day and night, mostly by himself. The book also points out that the typical U.S. teen boy also watches an average of about 50 pornography video clips every week these days. The effects of those activities are not good, says Zimbardo, who puts forth that “the boys' brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement, and constant arousal. Video games and porn are categorized as arousal addictions where variety and the surprise factor constantly feed the attraction.
Boys are 30 percent more likely to drop out of high school than girls, two-thirds of current special-ed students are male, and girls outperform boys’ at all educational levels, from grade school to graduate school. Other studies show U.S. college males also display rising levels of the fear of intimacy with the females in their lives.
Zimbardo says the real problem is that American boys are “flaming out academically and wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women."
Video games impair the users' ability to deal with reality, and porn creates “a cycle of isolation and indulging in it correlates with depression and poor physical health.” (e.g. obesity and associated health problems continue to rise for boys age 6-19 while leveling off for the rest of the population)
Though gamers and porn fans in the U.S. today might take exception to these conclusions most people would agree with Zimbardo’s premise that “spending one's time making fake love and fake war does not produce a real man.”
Zimbardo does outline ways that we can begin to remediate this social epidemic for boys and young men.
There are others who have made it their life’s work to help boys out of isolation and into a genuine manhood that connects boys to their best and highest selves and to everyone else. In the simplest terms, from isolation to connection.
Earl Hipp, author of Man Making: Men Helping Boys On Their Journey to Manhood,
has provided a realistic guide on how to get involved with groups or create one-on one relationships. He talks about both the psychological barriers around that involvement and ways to overcome those to enjoy the considerable benefits of being more involved in boy’s and young men’s lives. He also has a blog that is thoughtful and informative. http://journeytomanhood.blogspot.com
It may be that if we are to help protect the innocents, we must lose our widespread innocence about the deeper problems that no amount of security apparatus and measures or even removal of semi-automatic weapons from our society will cure.
Are there boys and young men in your family or circle that need more human contact and the sense they are cared for and belong to everyone one of us in the human family? This may be a first step for all of us to deal with the problems of boys trying to become men in Everytown. Young men who do not shoot because we asked a lot of questions first.
Randy Crutcher was director of a state-funded men's center and founded the 22 year old Northcoast Men's Gathering for men and boys. He has seen first hand what a difference a village makes in helping to raise its boys.