THE ALTLANTA JOURNAL/THE ATLANTA CONSTITUTION
FROM MOVIE HOUSES TO PLAYING FIELDS, AMERICA IS. . .
BREEDING VIOLENT BOYS
FINDING A CURE: TO LOWER THE CRIME RATE, WE MUST
STOP PROMOTING ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR IN YOUNG MALES
By Myriam Miedzian
Ways to reduce male violence
- Require child-rearing classes in all elementary schools.
- Encourage young boys to think of themselves as future nurturant, responsible fathers.
- Strengthen movie regulations to prevent children from seeing violence-ridden films.
- Put lock boxes on.TV sets; so parents can control what their children watch.
- Regulate youth sports programs, removing coaches who encourage violence on the field.
In the affluent town of Roswell, Ga., a man leaves work and walks into the parking garage to get his car and go home to his family. Two young men who want. his Honda are waiting for him. They force him into the car, drive around for-a while and eventually beat him to death with the stock of a gun.
In a working-class neighborhood in Waterbury, Conn., five teenage boys invite friends over to watch "a prank" they have pulled before. They order Chinese takeout food to be delivered to an abandoned house. When the delivery boy asks for payment, they point a gun at him and tell him to get lost. This time he insists on being paid, so they shoot and kill him.
Thirty years ago, stories like these would have stayed on the front page for months. Today they are almost routine.
In the past 15 years, more than 326,000 Americans have been murdered - more than six times as many as have been killed in combat in all our military actions since and including the Vietnam war.
We are suffering from a a domestic national security crisis far more serious than any international threat, yet we are doing very little about it. It is nothing short of tragic that while medical research findings are applied regularly to prevent physical illness, the huge amount of research done on the causes of violent behavior is largely ignored.
Can our epidemic of violence be stemmed? Yes - provided we start paying attention to the findings of current social science research and applying them usefully.
From research in sociology and anthropology, we know that boys raised without a nurturant, involved father in the home are at greater risk for anti-social behavior and violence. In the past 30 years, there has been a 350 percent increase in births to single (often teenage) mothers and divorce rates have soared, with close to half the divorced fathers not taking emotional or financial responsibility for their children. During the same time span, we have experienced a 100 percent increase in violent crime.
Teach child-rearing early on
The most effective way to ensure that these disastrous trends do not continue is to teach child-rearing in our schools - by fifth grade at the latest.
Children are extraordinarily malleable. The message that most 10-year old boys get today is that child-rearing, nurturance, caring and empathy are "girl's stuff." Real boys are tough, cool, detached and ready to fight. In our inner cities, many boys are also learning that impregnating girls is a proof of manhood.
When I visited child-rearing classes in inner-city public schools and in upper-class private schools, I learned that When given permission - boys of all socioeconomic classes become enthusiastic about interacting with very young children and interested in learning about them.
Besides encouraging boys to view themselves as future nurturant and responsible fathers, these classes discourage teenage pregnancy. Once children understand what an enormous responsibility it is to rear a child, they me strongly inclined to wait until they are financially and emotionally ready.
Studies indicate that children who are battered are at higher risk for violent behavior. One of the major goals of these child-rearing classes is to discourage child-battering. Non-violent ways of disciplining children are discussed at length.
The start-up cost of such a program is about $35 per student, a minuscule amount compared with the cost of putting an abused child in foster care or maintaining a "violent criminal in jail. I urge parents to work for the introduction of child-rearing classes at their child's school.
Negative role models abound
For all parents, the task of raising responsible sons with pro-social values and attitudes is rendered more difficult by the role models that surround boys on the TV and movie screens.
For divorced and single mothers, the situation can be disastrous. Instead of helping them by providing their sons with positive male role models, the media churn out films and programs filled with anti-social, reckless, violent "heroes."
Many parents are unaware of how bad these films are for their children. While our government alerts the public to the dangers of cigarette smoking and the risks of a high-fat diet, no comparable effort has been made to inform parents that raising their children, especially their sons, on a diet of constant media violence puts them at higher risk for violent behavior. Yet more than 235 studies on the effects of viewing violence on the screen have been carried out in the past 40 years, with a vast majority showing that viewing violence encourages violence.
By the age of 18, American children have watched about 26,000 murders on TV and have seen endless so-called adventure films of the Terminator and Rambo variety. Horror/slasher films such as the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" series, in which people are chopped up, dismembered, burned alive and skinned, are extremely popular with young boys.
Even parents who are deeply aware of the negative effects of media violence find it an overwhelming and often impossible task to protect their sons from the culture of violence.
We must begin to create a society that helps rather than hinders parents in the extremely important and difficult task of child-rearing.
Instead of treating our children as a precious natural resource, we have allowed the entertainment business, whose major goal is financial profit, to encourage and exploit their basest tendencies.
In many European countries, children are given much more protection through strictly enforced regulations. For example, in Germany the movie “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” was declared unsuitable for children younger than 12. In the United States, the movie industry has a voluntary rating system that is hardly even enforced.
We have a long history of regulations for the protection of children. We must extend them now to make it as impossible for a 10-year-old boy to see a violence-ridden film as it is for him to see a porno film. Isn't it at least as inappropriate and harmful for a child to watch people being burned alive and sadistically maimed or murdered on the screen as to watch them have sexual intercourse?
When it comes to TV, parents should call their cable company or go to their local TV store and ask for a lock box. These devices, which are available in some parts of the country, permit parents to program TV sets so that they can control what their children watch. If enough parents express an interest in renting or purchasing them, they will become readily available.
Parents should also write letters to their members of Congress, demanding the creation of a Children's Public Television Network dedicated to quality programming that is both entertaining and pro-social.
Another area in which parents need to demand changes is sports. While there are some excellent youth and high school sports programs, far too many teach boys that "winning is the only thing" and encourage contempt for girls.
As early as Little League, the worst insult is to be called a girl or a sissy. In high school football, coaches often encourage the dehumanization of players from the opposing team and teach boys to "take out" opponents - to injure them so badly that they have to leave the game. These attitudes can only encourage callousness, lack of empathy, contempt toward women, and the notion that anything goes in order to achieve your goal.
Parents should make sure that their sons' coaches do not encourage such values. They should also demand some state regulation of youth sports. For example, coaches should be required to take a class in child development and physiology - and should be penalized and eventually removed if they encourage boys to "take out" opposing players.
In a society that promotes anti-social, reckless and violent behavior in males, parents of boys have cause to be concerned both about their son's safety and about the kind of man he will grow up to be.
Until our nation begins to deal with violence as a social disease urgently requiring preventive measures, we all have reason to be concerned. For regardless of age, race or gender, we are all potential victims.
Myriam Miedzian, who holds a doctorate in philosophy and a masters degree in social work, is the author of “Boys will be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence” (Doubleday), on which this article is based.