Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Are We Failing Our Boys?

You all know I've made a conscious decision to carve out a clear separation between current events and my blog, but offline I'm just as surrounded by the coverage of school shootings as you are.

There are lots of voices saying what we should do about school shootings, but the ones that resonate with me most are the ones like this article. Teaching our kids empathy, it says, is the answer to preventing similar tragedies.

I've also been aware that all the school shootings are perpetrated by boys, and I keep being nagged by the sad sense that we, as a society, are failing our boys.

These two thoughts  thoughts about failing our boys and about empathy being the answer  have been swirling around my head for the last few weeks and finally collided this week.

Raising compassionate sons is harder — and more important — than ever.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

My 9-year-old son asked my permission to download an iPad game about a sausage escaping from a sausage factory, which he'd seen a friend from his class playing, and I said "sure" because it sounded pretty innocuous.

As it was downloading, he showed me the game trailer. Frankly, I was expecting something annoying and harmless, like the silly YouTube video about the duck and the lemonade stand kids love so much, but it was darker than I anticipated.

On the screen there was a cute little sausage with a cute little cartoon face, running across a conveyor belt attempting to dodge burners and moving butcher knives. After a few seconds he made a wrong move and got sliced in half. Little sausage pieces went flying everywhere and he fell motionless on the ground.

I cried out "That's awful! Turn it off!" and told my son that nope, nope, NOPE, that game was being deleted from the iPad and we weren't playing it in our house.

It wasn't bloody. It wasn't graphic. It wasn't even a human; it was just a sausage (albeit with human features.) But that's not the point.

Years before my son was even born, I read a book called So Sexy, So Soon. I'd gotten it with his older sisters in mind. The focus of the book was the cultural glorification of sexiness for our girls, but it mentioned the same thing happens with boys, but for them it's violence instead of sex appeal. Little girls play Barbies and graduate to sexy selfies; little boys play with action figures and graduate to Grand Theft Auto.

Once everyone was in bed and I had a quiet minute to think about the sausage game incident and why it made me feel so uncomfortable inside, I realized that was it. That's why it upset me so deeply.

It's happening. It's happening to my precious boy.

At 9 years old, a big chunk of what he does when he gets together with his friends is play games on the iPad. As he gets older, I'm realizing that some of these games are too close to the edge for my comfort. Not exactly wildly inappropriate, but they're darker. Older.

A few weeks ago, my son's friend introduced him to a new game that involves driving a cartoon vehicle through an obstacle course of sorts. Up until now I didn't give it much thought, but in light of the sausage incident and the fact that this game is also on our iPad, I figured it was time to pay attention and check it out.

There's a lot of fun to be had with this game, but it was also violent. The violence was of course, bloodless and non-realistic, but still violence. When the car crashes the driver is either crumpled under the weight of the car or thrown off the vehicle and his limp body ricochets off the ground. I think you even get extra points for whiplash.

I want to raise compassionate kids just like you do, but it seems especially important for my boys to understand empathy and kindness. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin, but his video games seem like a good place to start. #raisingkids #boys

My heart sank into my shoes when I looked at this game, and not just because my 9-year-old had been playing it.

I know his 4-year-old brother has also picked it up on occasion because heck yes he's interested if there are moving vehicles. I can only hope he was so enamored with the vehicles that he didn't notice the cartoon violence.

I deleted that game, too, and when my son comes home from school we're going to talk about empathy. He needs to know that watching anyone get hurt isn't funny or okay, and it certainly isn't a good way to spend your leisure time.

And then I worry.

I worry it'll cause him not to fit in. What will be do with his friends now, and what will happens as they get older?

Just as I've struggled with dressing my girls modestly in a world that thinks it's cool to look like Beyoncé , I worry about the difficulties in raising a compassionate boy in a world filled with violence that's just for fun.

But the bottom line is that I can't bear to let his 9-year-old brain be desensitized to suffering. Not even if it's just a game. Not even if it's cartoon violence. Not even if it's supposed to be funny. Especially not in light of all that's going on in the world right now.

Our boys deserve better.

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Amanda Bumgarner said...

Thinking about navigating this type of thing makes me feel anxious about raising my kids. Hopefully I will just "know" when something feels off or not and work on learning how to address it. It feels overwhelming to think about this with my oldest being only 2.5, not that I don't think I shouldn't start thinking about it yet, but I also feel like I need to take issues that come up one at a time, or I'll just get super stressed out. If that makes sense :) I actually was thinking about how these large school shootings have all been by boys and what research, etc. would say about why that is. It is a daunting and important task to raise children! You are doing a fantastic job!

Unknown said...

You are so very, very right about this. Desensitizing kids to violence is the first step in compromising their empathy for other humans (and animals, when it comes to that). I've been trying to figure out why this sort of thing -- these video games where people get crunched in cars or fall off bridges or blasted with lasers or whatever -- is worse than what we watched growing up. I grew up with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd shooting each other with shotguns and getting up and going about their business. I think it's because the games are so much more realistic. Even as a little kid I knew that a rabbit couldn't talk or shoot a gun; the people in the games look like real people and it gets realer all the time. It's bound to affect them and I salute you for recognizing that and working to eliminate it from their lives before it takes hold. (PS my name is Julie; it will only let me comment as unknown because I don't have a website or anything)

Anonymous said...

I don’t like Mondays the song from the late 70s by the boomtown rats was inspired by a news story of a girl who took a gun into school with tragic consequences.
Lynne Nicholson UK

Ellen said...

My thoughts are similar. It is so easy to let garbage into our kids' imaginations especially when we are so tired. It's work to police everything. But so necessary.

I usually just read your quick takes, so I'm glad you told us about this. It was a great dinner

Diana Dye said...

I've got a nearly 7 year old boy who I wish had more empathy. He's all about being funny and teasing and getting out of trouble. But I've been thinking a lot after reading this that I'm not very empathetic to him when I think he's over reacting and he probably thinks he's just reacting. I'm going to practice emphathizing better towards him; that's the only way to teach empathy.

AnneMarie said...

Oh my, that car game sounds a little freaky-when I was little and played a car computer game, it was all about rocket engines and special effects on a car, not actually about people getting getting crumpled.
I think part of this whole issue is that there is a definite struggle as parents figure out 1.) What IS masculinity/boyhood supposed to look like? and 2.) How do we exhibit that understanding in our lives? I find it rather disheartening that oftentimes, it seems like boys who dabble in more artsy-poetic-feeling oriented stuff are given derogatory labels, while the "manly boy" is upheld as being someone who thrives off of violence.

Kelly M. said...

My older kids and I have had similar conversations regarding 'fail videos' on YouTube. I grew up watching America's Funniest Home Videos, but now there's large reels of videos featuring absolutely awful things happening to people as comedy. I could see that watching these videos was making my kids view misfortune (and serious injury) as something only to laugh at, rather than sympathize with the person who may have been recorded without consent and now has to watch their 'fail' online forever. When we discussed violence in games, it seemed more clear cut, but these types of videos definitely forced me to more clearly articulate empathy.

PurpleSlob said...

Wow, Jenny, you hit it right on the nose. Why all these shootings happen is a huge fail by society. All the boys were bullied, and marginalized. Then, depression sets in.
And they are preconditioned to the violence. It all melds together. Plus, so many children do not grow up grounded in Jesus Christ!! That's the biggest factor, I think.
Good for you for policing the games, and deleting them. All parents should be aware of what their kids are watching, and doing.
When PP was only 3, I was appalled what her mom was letting her watch on "kid's cartoons". I would take it out of her hands and turn it off!
Too much screen time, especially video games actually alter their brains, in a bad way.