Babes ‘n’ arms
The New York Times now has a running series of articles as a category, focusing on guns and the NRA. I happened to notice two of them this week that are particularly concerning and both have to do with the fact that children are being targeted for gun sales and are also killing each other with guns.
Other countries, many of them poor and violent, occasionally see teens, mostly boys, going on killing sprees under some quasi-military guise, as we just saw in the mall shootings by Al Shabaab, the Somalian offshoot of Al Qaeda in Kenya. I think the movie Blood Diamond also showed this trend in Africa for gangs of teenagers armed with assault rifles to roam their countries, killing whomever the moneyed interests funding them see fit to eliminate. This problem abounds in Africa so I want to make sure I mention it because it is both atypical of other countries and yet illustrative of the heart of the problem here in this country (arming young people with assault weapons and encouraging them to use them indiscriminately).
Here are links to the NYT articles to which I am referring:
The .45-caliber pistol that killed Lucas Heagren, 3, on Memorial Day last year at his Ohio home had been temporarily hidden under the couch by his father. But Lucas found it and shot himself through the right eye. “It’s bad,” his mother told the 911 dispatcher. “It’s really bad.”
Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a broad campaign to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children.
Now, the subject of gun violence, restrictions, the NRA, mass killings, mental health and our particular society and its governing bodies is not what I want to focus on here, necessarily. There has been a lot of attention to the gun issue over the past couple of years and I know the kind of wrath I can provoke simply by reiterating my long-held position that nothing good comes from guns. Not one good thing, ever, for any reason, under any circumstance, on any occasion.
That said, what I have thought for years is that something society has done to boys and men might in part be responsible for this obsession with shooting, hurting, and killing.
In no way do I want to absolve either gun manufacturers, their aggressive lobbies or individual gun owners and shooters themselves of their responsibility to society to keep guns limited to genuine self-defense (not ‘stand your ground’) and governmentally authorized military engagement. Nor can parents avoid their responsibility to keep guns locked and out of reach of children (in my opinion they should not be in the home at all). But we have to ask ourselves why even small boys want to take up a symbolic or toy gun substitute and pretend they are intimidating, shooting, hurting and killing other creatures, including other children, and sometimes their parents and grandparents.
I don’t need to remind anyone about the tragic anecdotes we have heard over the past year, including a child who shot and killed his grandmother, while she was taking care of him. The George Zimmerman case stands out as an example of how disturbing and disturbed men can be when they are empowered by a concealed weapon – what a hair’s trigger some men are on all the time, apparently. I know why and how our society has enabled this high gun ownership percentage to come about and the legislative battles that have protected gun rights in this country. We are all too familiar with this subject in the wake of the monthly mass shootings that have taken place since 2009 and have come to be accepted as the new normal.
What I wonder is — and I have not yet done a lot of research to support my inquiry — can we draw a significant correlation between the increasing inhibiting of male behavior in boys and men and the rise in gun (among other forms) violence? This is not a revolutionary idea, I am certain, but I still think we give it too little attention.
If we look at man from the perspective of his early roots, we know that at one time — in fact for the longest period in our early hominid development — man was essentially a hunter-gatherer, males doing the hunting, females the gathering. Before man settled into agrarian communities, men would roam the landscape in groups killing for food, at a time when high protein was instrumental in developing the human brain and body. As we know, the kills provided a variety of materials, including bone marrow that was particularly key to the evolution of the human brain and thus the basis on which modern man was established. Once human beings could farm, other foods supplemented, and I would argue, even supplanted the role of animal products in the optimal human diet. If we study what early man’s diet consisted of, it was largely vegetal – berries, tubers, greens, small quantities of fresh meat (or carrion), leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Interestingly, seeds were the earliest source of protein (predating the consumption of animal- or insect-based foods) and concentrated nutrition in the human diet and continuously played a key role in nourishment.
But it isn’t the diet that is of interest. It is the foray and the release that running through the savannahs and tracking/killing animals gave the male of the species at that time. For millions of years (billions if you consider man’s animal predecessors) males have evolved a hormonal system and musculoskeletal body plan that fosters this kind of activity. For all we know, its expression may be key to mental and emotional as well as physical health.
I do not want to stretch this point too far. The old Desmond Morris, ‘territorial animal’ theory of violent human beings has been thoroughly discredited among social scientists. Man is not by nature simply an aggressor, as convenient as that explanation would be. But I have to believe that a certain amount of expression of forceful energy may go hand in hand with the rise of testosterone and androgen in men.
For the past 100 years, men have had to curb enough of these physically driven urges in order to function in an increasingly crowded, urban-concentrated, civilized social network. We just don’t have many frontiers where the hyper-masculine male can go and wantonly express these drives. Thankfully, hunting animals for pleasure has been more restricted (and I would like to see it outlawed altogether).
This energy could be channeled in other, more positive ways. I won’t consider what adult males need to do to live in society and still be men. The issue needs to be addressed early in childhood.
I am not recommending gender bias here. I believe little girls, for example, should be given the same toys (excluding simulated weapons for both genders) as boys. Like blocks, trucks, Erector sets, science kits, balls (not footballs though or hockey sticks), electricity sets, etc. Boys can and should be offered dolls and stuffed animals, age appropriately. Dolls recreate the human beings with whom children are most familiar – themselves, family members and friends. I would omit toy soldiers and all the paraphernalia that accompanies war and combat play.
My advice would be get them moving. I would give them physically demanding chores inside and out of the house from the minute they can walk. Tasks with concrete goals that they can achieve and be rewarded for achieving, again age appropriate. Most parents are working outside the home – let your kids help you with house and yard chores! A win all around.
There should be as much physical activity during a little boy’s day as there is any other kind of action, and maybe more. In the past, kindergartens and nursery schools set up their classrooms to mimic the home, which is the most familiar and emotionally comforting (ideally) environment for a very young child (up to age six or seven). Good teachers in those classrooms knew to give the children plenty of physical activity: sweeping, ironing, raking, dusting and cleaning – whatever activities can be devised given the space and equipment available. Likewise, plenty of out-door time or running around chasing balls, throwing and catching, climbing and jumping, dancing, singing and clapping, gymnastics, tumbling, etc. are among the many possibilities.
By the way, I do not advocate young children (and arguably anyone under the age of 18) being pushed into organized sports like football, soccer and hockey. Overwhelmingly, that is for the adults and their egos, not the well-being and happiness of the child. “Oh but he loves it!”, really? He loves it because you want him to love it, it is important to you and children aim to please. As a society we need to get away from streaming children into competitive and dangerous activities too early. Let them swim, shoot hoops, play tennis. Get them into gymnastics classes at the YMCA, which are almost free. Teach them to jump rope in threes and fours — athletes train, jumping rope. Have them join the Cub and Boy Scouts (with all its warts, still a wonderful experience for children). Even better that putting children into group sports activities with each other, get out there with your kid and engage in these physical activities with him (and her). Far better than Little League and Pop Warner, and the like.
I also want to see children out-of-doors, learning to appreciate and venerate the wild, including animals and plant life, not chopping it down or killing it!
Better yet, get involved with them in an Outward Bound wilderness type program where they are learning practical survival skills that challenge mind and body and foster bonding with the group or team in a cooperative instead of a competitive context.
Our children are parked with a laptop or tablet and they sit or recline instead of move around. Is it any wonder that we have a nation of obese children (as well as adults – the only other place I have ever seen so many overweight people, was in Germany).
I was raised in a strict household. I was assigned strenuous and practical tasks to perform every single day of the week, and especially weekends, in addition to my school work. Growing up, I was not released to go out and play with friends until I had completed all my indoor and outdoor work. I had to weed, haul stones, sweep, rake, even push a small lawn mower on the properties my parents owned. Indoors, I had to clear the table, wipe it clean, rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher, dust, scrub the tub — and all this despite the fact that much of my childhood, my parents had housekeepers and gardeners. My father grew up with the Depression and WWII still in recent memory, so he believed in hard work for everyone, girl or boy. I do too. Hey, when I was growing up, kids mowed the neighbors’ lawns to earn money – not with power mowers, either. I myself push a rotary mower around our yard from time to time because it is great exercise and good for my carbon footprint, too!
That brings me to the last point in this overly simplified consideration of ways to keep boys from violence and that is hands-on parenting. You have no business having kids, if you don’t know anything about human and child development. You get this information by reading and taking classes. It is your responsibility not only to your children, but to society, to bring into this world and raise a healthy, happy, productive contributor to society. If you put more time into researching your car than the subject of having and raising kids, you should not be a parent.
Mothers and fathers need to get their small children away from eye-impairing broadcast media and into moving through strenuous physical activity to expel energy and build the brain. There is no lack of research on the benefits of early movement for reading,writing, and almost all intellectually demanding activities and skills all throughout life. This is not something I need to elaborate on: bone, muscle, lung, eye, ear, skin – health are dependent on proper nutrition (another vital topic!), an emotionally supportive home environment, and plenty of physical energy outlets.
Let little boys be little boys and don’t confine them to a chair or couch. Maybe then we will see less interest in picking up weapons, especially ones that parents foolishly keep at home, and a decline in child on child violence and tragedy.
Images: dailymail.uk, webstockpro, nydailynews.com,telegraph.co.uk, freeprintablebehaviorcharts.com, huffingtonpost.com, inhp.com, makajawan.com, istockphoto.com