We Are Ruining Our Sons, But We Don’t Have To

By Melissa Stefanec

These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the problem of gun violence in America, especially mass shootings. 

Mass shootings are complex; there isn’t a single solution or group to blame for this societal ill. 

No single law, politician, regulation, guidance counselor or good guy with a gun is going to decrease the incidence of mass shootings. But that doesn’t mean we should all throw up our hands while innocent people die, sometimes on the floor of their classrooms.

Gun violence and mass shootings are examples of wicked problems. So-called wicked problems are policy and social issues that are often thought to be unsolvable (think of climate change or global poverty). Wicked problems have so many real-world constraints, that solving them comes with undesirable consequences. These consequences mean there will always be losses. And the threat of those losses often keep people from taking action.

Mass shootings may be a wicked problem, but that won’t stop me from doing my small part to chip away at it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be given a public platform. I’ve said a lot of unpopular things over the years, but I simply cannot hold this column back any longer.

• One way to decrease gun violence in America is to talk about how we raise our boys.

Because our boys are the ones responsible for these mass shootings. According to the National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) —  the research, development and evaluation agency of the United States Department of Justice — from 1966 to 2019, men have been responsible for almost all of the mass shootings in America. Of the 172 individuals who engaged in public mass shootings covered in the NIJ’s database, 97.7% were men.

In this nation, we indoctrinate every citizen into the ideals of male elevation and forced masculinity. We reinforce that men are better, smarter and more deserving of pleasure than the rest of us. We teach boys that kindness is weakness and power is theirs to lose. This societal norm is rotting us from the inside out.

• If we love our sons, we need to change the way we parent them.

If you’re raising a son, I implore you to try to teach him the following things:

Teach your son he is exactly as special as every other human on this Earth.

Teach your son to stop at “no,” no matter who says it or when they say it.

Teach your son how to handle rejection. It’s a parent’s job to help our children navigate painful feelings.

Don’t let your son be the default leader. Teach him good leaders know when to follow.

Don’t let your son be the default talker. Teach him to let others’ voices take up equal space to his own.

Teach your son that this world owes him exactly as much as it owes everybody else, and nothing more than that.

Talk to your son about inner beauty. Be mindful that what you say and how you treat others teaches him about beauty standards.

Teach your son to cry. Let him cry over physical pain. Let him cry about emotional pain. Support him every time he cries.

Don’t let your son always have his way, whether that’s on the playground or in a high school club.

Praise your son when he does something that breaks the patriarchal mold. Teach him to see strength in going against the grain.

Teach your son to talk about his feelings. When he reveals his feelings, show him all the love you have to give.

Teach him there is more to being a man than getting girls and playing sports.

Teach your son the value of his word.

Teach your son the value of others’ hearts. Help him see the consequences of being reckless with others.

Teach your son to be a friend instead of an excluder, especially when it will be unpopular to do so.

Encourage your son to not talk about other people’s appearances, unless what he has to say is wholly positive.

Teach your son that it’s OK to be unpopular. Popularity isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Teach your son that doing the right thing may mean breaking from the pack, but that when he breaks from the pack, he will attract a stronger and happier pack.

Teach your son to spot warning signs from his friends, and give him a safe place to confide his concerns.

What I’m trying to say is, love your son in a way that won’t destroy him. Raise your son so he doesn’t think he has a right to destroy others. This will take courage. It will hurt. It will take immense amounts of energy. It won’t make you popular. But, it will be worth it, for your son and everyone else he interacts with.

Our boys deserve to live in a world where they don’t have to learn one way to be a man and then unlearn it later in life. We all deserve to live in a world where men aren’t people to fear. Men deserve more and parents have the power to give it to them. We need to find the courage to change the way we raise our boys.