As 12 people senselessly died and scores of others are wounded in the aftermath of the Colorado theater shooting, some say the lesson we should glean is to treasure every moment with our loved ones because this fragile life is fleeting. Debates have, once again, surfaced about gun control. Some wonder whether the gunman, 24-year-old James Holmes, is clinically insane or just plain evil.
Lawsuits have already been filed against the movie theater and there are sure to be more. Extra security measures moving forward are already being discussed — someday future generations will marvel that there was a time when theaters didn’t include metal detectors or pat downs.
These legislative band aids won’t cure our deeper crisis, though. As families and communities break down more young people feel lonely and troubled than ever before. It was recently reported that antibiotics prescriptions for children are down, but they are being prescribed more chemicals for mood disorders like ADHD. I recently read about a 9-year-old Detroit boy who jumped to his death yet the headline was that no ambulance could come to collect his body due to the city’s drastic budget woes. The headline in my mind kept screaming, 9 years old?!
I am not justifying the Colorado shooter’s actions or placing blame on anyone but himself. I hope swift justice is served in his case.
Yet as a society we can look for troubling signs and understand young people’s depression before it escalates. Holmes now joins the ranks of the teen Columbine killers, the Norway shooter of last summer, even Hitler. Not only have they all inflicted great atrocities on their fellow man, capturing the world’s attention by resorting to shocking violence that’s rattled us into shocked wonder and sorrow, they are also all males who showed signs throughout their lives that their silent depression was manifesting into rage, which then finally ended in violent, attention-seeking action.
Over a decade ago I read a book I think of often called “Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood” by Dr. William Pollack. It’s touted as a must-read for anyone who lives or works with boys and men (which would be all of us). Pollack’s argument is that we must understand the myths that shape our young boys into men and the crises these societal rules of conduct cause, starting with depression. The last resort for depressed boys, and later men, Pollack argues, is violence against themselves or others.
Girls don’t normally reach the same levels of depression as boys because they talk to one another. The new anti-bullying talk presentations cropping up at schools are perfectly suited for girls, but how well are they helping boys?
Pollack notes males are taught at a very young age to pull their negative feelings inward, but they must be released at some point — just like a simmering pot of water will eventually overflow if left unattended. As parents we can help. The best way for boys to feel connected is to build healthy relationships with us. Instead of flat out asking the boy in your life how his day was, try shooting hoops or watch the news together instead. Activities with you will get him to open up.
Most movies and television shows today aren’t helping; they depict wimpy men who have lost the John Wayne toughness of yesterday, while villains are glorified. Details have emerged that Holmes dyed his hair (albeit the wrong color) and called himself “The Joker,” the villain in this most-recent Batman franchise’s second movie, “The Dark Knight.”
I recently talked with several other mothers about how numb as a society we’ve become to the skewed representations in movies and television today, not to mention more sex and violence. Most of them shrugged their shoulders in resignation and said, “There’s just no getting away from what kids are exposed to — it’s everywhere.”
In the end, more laws, regulations or even censorship can’t replace what kids really need — consistent adult role models who help them navigate this increasingly busy, colorful and complex world.
Julie Samrick is the mother of four children and a resident of El Dorado Hills. She is also the founder of KidFocused.com.