A mother's sensible, liberty-loving view on recognizing and nourishing the energies of teenage boys. Kate Jimenez is the managing editor of California Homeschool News, published by the California Homeschool Network
Early every weekday morning I take my dogs out for a run behind the high school. There, chaparral, wild sage, rosemary and oak flourish on 30-plus acres of undeveloped property that surrounds a cluster of homes plunked down in its midst. I usually meet several other dogs and their owners on these brief excursions into the brush. The dog owners vary in age from 10 to 75 and the dogs represent many different breeds. Some days there have been as many as 7 dogs out there running around. The dogs get along with each other and are friendly and well adjusted. The owners attribute their good behavior to the exercise and positive doggy socialization they get.
While the dogs are busy romping about, we stand around talking about current events. In 30 minutes we solve world crises, eliminate poverty and curse politicians and political correctness run amuck. When the Littleton tragedy occurred, we had a lot to talk about.
I asked two of the men, both over 65, how they felt about guns. Were guns the cause of the tragedy? Both agreed that they weren't. They'd owned guns as boys. One fellow would take his gun to the dump and shoot rats. The other used his to hunt quail. They'd never experienced the violence so common on school campuses today. I told them my teenage son has a BB gun and that we don't allow him to take it out into the countryside to shoot targets because we know if someone sees him with it they will panic and call the police.
In an article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal (May 9, 1999), written by Vin Suprynowicz, and titled Blame the Government Propaganda Camps, Suprynowicz talks about our "modern and deeply perverted manner of raising young men in sterile rooms full of desks and chairs…" Part of his article reads; "The institutionalization of young males was not a huge problem before 1945, when only a small minority finished high school, based on the sensible recognition that few had the vocation to go on to study Latin, Greek, and philosophy. There was little social stigma attached to a young lad leaving school shortly after reaching puberty to work the family farm or take up a trade, marry his sweetheart, and start a family."
Look at a young boy of 16 or so. He is physically strong and his hormones are in full swing. He does not have the emotional maturity of an adult, but he has the body, the energy and the drive. So what do we do with it? We suppress it as much as possible. Instead of finding an outlet for this energy we lock it up. Like irresponsible dog owners, we put a leash on the problem and try not to trip over the big holes it digs in our own backyards. There are serious repercussions to this suppression of boys. Suprynowicz says they are like "a steam boiler with all the safety valves welded shut." An explosion is bound to happen.
I have two teenage sons. I know something of their energy, their power and the potential for this energy to become destructive. When my oldest son's voice changed, it seemed to happen overnight. I heard him speaking in another part of the house and it startled me. My first thought was "There's a strange man in the house." And that thought was pretty close to the truth. Within a couple of years he was no longer a little boy needing his mother but a young man, a curious mix of vulnerability and brute strength who challenged my authority and pushed the limits. My husband had to remind him of his place in our family with a show of strength.
One evening he was mouthing off more than usual and my husband had had just about all he could take. He called Ben on his challenge. "Let's take it outside," he told him. Ben hesitated. This was different. Dad had never met him on these terms before, man to man. But at his dad's insistence he finally went into the backyard with him. It took every bit of will power I possessed not to interfere, but I knew we'd reached an important junction and I must stay out of it. I didn't watch, I couldn't. A few minutes later, my son came back into the house with tears in his eyes and retreated to his room. My husband looked as if he'd been crying too. Later, when the tension had subsided, I asked Ray what had happened. "Did you hit him?" "No," he said. "I hugged him and told him how much I love him." His father had totally disarmed him and I was very proud of the way he'd done it. Things changed in our family after that. We treated Ben less like a child and he began acting more responsibly. He became protective of his little sister, and me, ready to challenge other males should they get out of line. For Ben, the road to manhood has not been an easy one, but having a strong and loving father has made the trip easier than it could have been. In too many families today there is not an adult male to show a young man appropriate ways to behave around women. This causes problems in those families for the mother who can no longer handle her out of control son, and for the son who isn't taught the way of men, by other men.
Young men challenging the dominant male is old behavior we don't like to acknowledge. Maybe we think we are far to civilized for that sort of thing to exist, but it does and if ignored, further problems will develop. Full blown teenage rebellion, a modern problem, kicks in. Parents wonder what these kids are rebelling about. They have more freedom and more money than any generation before them. So what's the problem? The problem is that teenagers play no useful role in our society; we simply will not allow it. Their lives are placed on hold while they are kept in school for the maximum time possible. To keep them busy we entertain them with movies, video games and sports and leave them alone or in the company of their peers where they look for guidance. We don't need our children, as past generations did, to work with us for the good of the family, and they know it. Imagine, for a moment, how it would feel to be disposable, optional and insignificant.
If we stopped locking kids up in school we'd see many of these problems go away simply because we would no longer be isolating them. Suprynowicz says in his article:
Though the schools endlessly prate about the evils of 'drugs,' those who resist discipline are doped up – chemically castrated – with Prozac, Ritalin, or any of a whole new pharmacopoeia of handy nostrums guaranteed to reduce resistance or aggression.
He is right, of course. Schools are glorified prisons. Drugs, armed police and metal detectors are common methods to keep the inmates (teenagers) in check. We are just beginning to question the drugging of schoolchildren in this country. It's a very small step in the right direction. But the whole approach to solving the trouble with boys continues to be in trying to suppress the inevitable, their growing up. Instead of engaging boys we seek to control them.
The suppression of teenage boys extends beyond the school yard gate and into our communities. We can take them out of school, but we still have to live in our neighborhoods where teenage boys are under suspicion because they are teenage boys. Daytime curfew laws keep the street corners free of them and compulsory attendance laws and child labor laws keep them locked up and out of the work force. A boy seen walking down the street during daylight hours may be pulled over by the police and questioned. Boys on the streets after dark are even more likely to encounter trouble.
In our suburban neighborhood we must watch our boys carefully. One night, my son Robert rounded up his friends for a game of manhunt. Manhunt is hide-and-seek teenage style. The boys dress in dark clothes and armed with flashlights hide around the baseball field where there are lots of bushes. The object of the game is to find each other and capture their opponents. This particular night I heard a helicopter hovering nearby. We live near a prison, so I assumed a prisoner had escaped. It's happened before. But I jokingly turned to my husband and said, "The cops must be after the boys." And that's exactly what happened.
A sheriff's helicopter and a couple of police cars swarmed onto the ball field. With lights sweeping the area, they rounded up the boys, questioned them, took their names and then told them they could go home. No one was hurt, but I had a horrible night wondering what would have happened if one of those officers had thought a flashlight was a gun and had shot one of the boys. Our boys never played manhunt again. Another piece of their boyhood was suppressed.
I can still take my dogs out and let them run, but I'm afraid to let my boys run and play on a dark evening when the thrill of the game is exciting and a little scary. My husband can only take them to work with him on the weekends when his boss won't know they are on the job site. We sneak them what they need in bits and pieces, hoping it will be enough, untying their hands behind the back of a society that wants them restrained. This is a problem for us, for our boys and for countless other boys and their families. No amount of counseling, drugging or schooling will make a difference until we acknowledge the nature of boys and find ways to allow them back into society to become responsible men.
To read the full text of Vin Suprynowicz's article "Blame the Government Propaganda Camps" or some of his other articles, visit the Las Vegas Review-Journal online at http://www.lvrj.com/.
© 1999 Kate Jimenez