Amidst the shock, horror, grief, and fury over school shootings, we all look for the cause of the violence, and the solution to stopping the next attack.
Some reason we need more guns — armed schoolteachers and guards.
Others argue for fewer guns, regulated by stricter legislation.
Mental health professionals maintain that we need better treatment and medication of troubled kids.
Others blame allegedly reckless antidepressant overmedication by mental health professionals.
The ferocious debate overlooks one simple fact. Almost all of the school shooters are boys.
Why are some young men in our culture so angry, so isolated, so filled with rage that they plot and execute plans to kill their peers, without asking for help from adults, and without anyone in their lives noticing or being able to intervene?
Professor Niobe Way from New York University and the author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, has studied boys and young men in our culture as her life’s work (she started early, with her brother Lucan as her first subject). Dr. Way offers insights and answers that every parent, politician, teacher and coach should absorb – or ignore at our own peril.
“At the age of 15 to 16 years old…boys begin to lose their close male friendships [and] the suicide rate for boys in the United States increases dramatically — to five times the rate for girls. Similar to girls and women, boys want and need close friendships and strong social networks to thrive.”
“We tell our children not to worry about what others think or feel, to rely on themselves and not trust others. We encourage them to separate from their loved ones in the name of maturity and, for boys, in the name of manhood. We implore our boys not to be ‘like a girl,’ which is ironic, of course, because when boys do indeed ‘act like girls,’ they often have close male friendships and are less likely to pick up a gun and shoot people.”
“The hundreds of adolescent boys in my research over the past 20 years make the direct link between not having close friendships — friendships in which ‘deep secrets’ are shared — and going ‘wacko,’ committing suicide, doing drugs and ‘taking it out on others.’”
“Our culture…devalues and even discourages close friendships, particularly among boys and men. And our definitions of manhood emphasize aggression, toughness and rugged individualism at the expense of girls, women and relationships.”
“Isolation, boys report, makes them feel inadequate, envious of others with better connections, and angry. This, in turn, leads them to thoughts of self- and other-directed violence.”
I have nothing to add – I’m just nodding in agreement. I have seen this pressure directed toward boys ever since my son entered 8th grade. Anyone who is raising a boy, coaching a boy, teaching a boy, trying to help a boy grow up – pay close attention. Reaching out to, and connecting with, boys – and encouraging them to do the same with each other – may be the best way each one of us can help end school shootings.