Males, Minds, Meds and Media
What Fosters School Violence Like the Sandy Hook School Tragedy
It seems everyone’s talking about it, and perhaps millions have blogged about it. The shooter that took the lives of 27 people (twenty kids and seven adults) has captured the imagination and the hearts of America. We grieve over the loss.
So, here’s my big question: where do we go from here? How can we reduce this?
Let’s consider what we can learn from this tragedy, as it compares to other shooting incidents over the past fifteen years. Did you know we’ve experienced 59 shooting incidents in the U.S. alone that have involved multiple victims, just since 1997? These include big ones like Littleton, CO (Columbine High School), Richmond, VA, Santee, CA, Blacksburg, VA (VA Tech), Conyers, GA, Tucson, AZ, Aurora, CO (the cinema) and this one. Consider the common patterns in most of these cases:
1. It was perpetrated by a young male.
Our boys are especially at-risk today. While I believe in investing in all students, males are falling behind in school at a faster rate than ever; more college students are female now than male, which likely means women will be the primary bread-winner in fifteen years. A full one-third of males between 22-35 years old still live with their parents. And three-fourths of them don’t even qualify for the military, due to a criminal record, failure to graduate high school or obesity. We have to figure out a way to engage our guys in school, in culture, and in activities that challenge them to use their gifts and skills in a redemptive way. (There’s got to be something better than doing target practice alone).
2. He had become isolated from mainstream culture.
Nearly every incident we’ve grieved over was committed by a guy who lost his way and removed himself from a supportive and accountable community. To be sure, males are more prone to be loners than females, but these crimes weren’t merely committed by an independent spirit. It was a renegade spirit. Leading psychologists report this is far more prevalent in males, especially after the age of 17. Crime—or anti-social behavior—is often committed by guys who are silent; defiant; distant; cold, marked by avoidance and afraid of being controlled or violated. We must find ways to gently include them in projects that involve community and accountability but allow them to work independently. Healthy relationships mark healthy people.
3. He was on some form of drug for mental or emotional illness.
Prescription drugs are everywhere. Most of us—including me—are glad they’re around. Many young males need them to navigate their lives. I fear, today, however, we have over-medicated our boys. If they were around today, Charlie Brown would be on Prozac and Dennis the Menace would be on Ritalin. The U.S. makes up 5% of the world’s population, but we consume 90% of the prescription drugs for ADHD and depression. Boys are taking 30 times more drugs today than we were in 1987. Are the males really that much worse? That much more needy? Certainly, a kid with ADHD can benefit from proper drugs and even reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior. But for many, boys continue to take meds after their bodies have matured and as a young adult, drugs have aided in the reduction of his coping skills. We must figure out a way to balance prescription drug use with healthy mentoring so males can self-regulate and enter adulthood as healthy young men.
4. He’d been impacted by some example of violence, either real or virtual.
The media gives attention to all kinds of cultural heroes who are violent. It’s normal and appealing to males. I know—I’m a guy. I love Jason Bourne movies. I love James Bond movies. But the strong, distant, “unfeeling” stereotype has to be modified. After researching this issue, it appears that nearly all criminal activity like we’ve described above began with a loner in front of a screen, virtually experiencing the crime he would later commit. For example, extensive use of video games provides input to our minds that may actually influence our behavior. Technology is changing the way we think and act. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine produced landmark findings drawing a direct correlation between violent input on a screen and activation of the “reasoning and emotional control area of the brain.”
A statistical analysis of 130,000 students (elementary school through college) published by the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University “strongly suggests” playing violent video games increases violent and aggressive thoughts and decreases empathy. The truth is, images on a screen do affect us. If they didn’t no retailers would advertise on TV.
The problem with violence in video games (or TV for that matter) is that we can interact in the virtual experience with no consequences. Think about it. In Halo or Grand Theft Auto, you act violently—but the only ramification is your point score.
We all know the term: Garbage In, Garbage Out. GIGO. This works with technology, but it also works in life. As a rule, you only get output, based on the input you have provided. Our minds are like personal laptops. Do you lead young men? I suggest:
- Let’s GUARD what we allow our boys and adolescents to consume mentally.
- Let’s GUIDE them into meaningful work and activity that engages them.
- Let’s GAUGE how connected they are with real face-to-face relationships.