Yesterday I wrote about the mean girl phenominom and now mean girls negatively affect society. Besides a huge dose of narcicissm, mean girls and women are intolerant and completely lack empathy for anyone outside their cool circle.
Today, I'm heading into boy territory. Last night, because I'm coughing so hard from this damn disease, I sat up most of the night watching PBS. There was a 2-hour special called Raising Cain
, which was based on the book
of the same name. I read the book a long time ago, and liked it, but when I read it my son was young enough for it to be more of a theory than reality. How times have changed. There were several points that were made in this special that got me to thinking. The first was a comparison of Japanese preschools to American preschools. In our preschools, parents expect teachers to intervene whenever a child hits, bites, pushes, or shows any aggression. In Japan, teachers do not intervene and let children take care of their small squabbles on their own. Time and again, the Japanese children learned to walk away from the aggressor while his or her friends came over to show empathy and give advice like "If you play with Yoko, you're going to get hit, so choose another friend." These were 2-4 year olds, and they were practicing conflict resolution beautifully. What was even more remarkable, the aggressors came over to apologize and to make sure that the person he attacked was OK.
This was really impressive to me, because it tends to reinforce the system of parenting I chose when my kids were little. With twins, either you intervene constantly or you let them solve their own small issues by themselves. In our house, there was a strict rule: "If there's no blood, nothing is broken, and there is no fire, solve it yourself." Worked pretty well for us and definately alleviated a lot of the tattling.
My son was extremely aggressive in preschool. He wasn't the worst, there were a couple of boys that easily could have ended up on Superman's list of enemies. But my son has almost no patience, coupled with horrible perfectionism, and that leads to some fairly spectacular outbursts. When things didn't go his way, he was like Mt. Etna. At one point he got so mad at a teacher that he hit her over the head with a large block, and she never returned to the school. I was mortified, but luckily his head teacher was male and understood what had happened, and after a serious discussion, things got back to normal.
In kindergarten, my son was misplaced in a class where he didn't match with the teacher at all, nor did he match with most of the kids. That could have been my fault because I wanted the kids separated, and the Girl's teacher was the best for both of them. Oh well, hindsight. So in kindergarten he spend a lot of time outfoxing the teacher and the other kids in a passive aggressive manner. One event stands out. They did the letter of the day thing, but my son had been reading for 1.5 years and this was so far below his capabilities that he hated to cooperate. That is, until they got to the letter K. He had gone through the dictionary and found every word that began with a silent k, and those were the words he used. The teacher didn't find it amusing.
Low elementary school was a disaster for my kid. He was academically far ahead of the other kids, and the teachers weren't too flexible about finding something to interest him. Instead, he took out his anger and aggression on his sister and the other kids. He was suspended several times, and by the winter break of second grade, he was talking about killing himself. The kid was severely depressed, and he was getting violent.
Violence in young boys is a part of their developmental process. That's just a fact. It doesn't mean that they need to be fed violence on TV or in Movies, but discouraging them from making up pictures or stories just because their is violence in them is not doing a young boy a whit of good. A teacher in Grafton MA found that boys were unable to write coherent stories without a "bad guy getting killed". Trying to dissuade young boys from acting out violence only makes it more exciting as they get older. Allowing your boys to act out violent scenarios like cowboys and indians is appropriate. So are things like Laser Tag and Paintball.
As boys move thru the school system, more and more of them get tagged with ADHD. Nobody knows better than I do that ADHD is a real condition and that for some kids, the only way to deal with it is to medicate. The Boy has been medicated since his first bout of depression in 2nd grade. It has done him a world of good, allowing him to take control of his impulses and to focus more on what is important at that moment, albeit school, chores, or a movie. Over the years we've made many medical adjustments, and of course he's been in therapy and our family has been in family therapy for years. Living with a child with severe ADHD isn't easy, and the impulsivity and aggression that go hand in hand with this disorder can scare a parent shitless.
I do believe in ADHD, but I don't believe that so many kids have it. I do think that taking recess out of elementary schools, and shortening lunch periods to ensure that the school day is all academics isn't doing boys any good at all. When I was in elementary school, we had two recesses per day, plus lunch outdoors. We got all our ya-ya's out and were able to concentrate more easily in school. But that's long gone. By the time my kids hit elementary school, there was one 30 minute recess, and for the Boy, that just wasn't a possible scenario. In third grade I pulled him out of school and homeschooled him until 5th grade, when he was able to return to the classroom.
In middle school, the aggressive posturing begins in earnest. Suburban white boys start flashing gang signs and dressing like they live in the ghetto. This is the media image of a powerful man that they see, and it's exciting for a preteen or young teen to see huge diamonds and gigantic cars and ridiculous houses of their heros. This is what kind of man they aspire to be, and the media encourages it by showing incredibly sexual videos and print media surrounding these hip-hop stars. This is when America begins to be afraid of their boys. They look scary, even if it is posturing. Middle school is all about being the same. Anyone different is horribly teased. And at the same time, this is where the first adult images of themselves as men come into being. What are we doing to our boys?
By high school, the pressure to belong somewhere is overwhelming. You can be a prep, a jock, a burnout, a bandgeek, or a nerd. The categories rarely change over time. But for the boy that wants to play a sport, but is also a science whiz, it's not a comfortable place to be. During these high school years, the aggression comes out in very foolish play. Drunk driving, diving into quarries, alcohol poisoning, jumping off roofs, elevator surfing. The list goes on and on. Even when a boy is 18, he isn't fully adult and he lacks the judgement skills to say 'this is dangerous'. But at 15 or 16, man, a boy will do just about anything to impress his peers. This includes a lot of fighting and illegal activities.
I don't have answers for how we can change this curve towards dangerous and violent behavior. Most people claim that having an involved father is the first step towards reigning in aggression in boys, but the fact is 40% of all families in the US are lead by single women. Mine included. My son has male role models, good male role models. But I worry every day about his involvement when he's out of my sight. So far he's only made good choices, but that hasn't always been true. What I do know is, boys today have no heros other than sports stars, and I find that so sad. Of course, they can't look towards this government for heros, but there needs to be great men again. We need to start thinking about how we can change our boys before they change our society.