Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Boys, Guns, and the Stress of School

One of my favorite toys growing up was a Dick Tracy (tm) cap gun. It was bigger than a derringer but smaller than a Wild West "six-gun." It fit neatly into the pocket of my jacket or my pants, which was quite handy when I was running around the neighborhood with the rest of the kids, robbing banks or catching bad guys. Or playing Army in the jungles of our backyards.

Of course, that was before the enlightenment of 1970's child-rearing, where "experts" declared that children should not be raised with "war toys". War toys taught impressionable youngsters that violence was the only way to solve problems.

My parents, by then veterans of raising both boys and girls, merely commented that boys would then use their thumbs and first fingers to make guns and shoot people.

But, when DS#1 was born, Hubs and I tried to "do the right thing," so war toys were not encouraged.

Did I mention that Hubs was a fan of Hopalong Cassidy and had a complete Western set, including two cap guns, complete with holsters? Didn't think so.

What we discovered was... my parents were right. DS#1 made "guns" using his thumb and first finger. Or with Legos. Or by eating a right-angle into a piece of toast. By the time he was old enough for Cub Scout Day Camp, he had a set of cap guns. At Day Camp, he learned to shoot a BB gun.

So did DD#1 and DS#2 (DD#2 wasn't interested at the time).

They all discovered they were pretty decent shots, just like Dear Old Dad.

Both boys have their Rifle Merit Badge.

DS#2 loves to go "paintballing" with his buddies. This weekend he went with a group of friends and came back boasting he doubled his "kill rate" and that one guy he managed to hit was a ranked player.

He is also one of the most mellow, laid-back kids I know.

I mentioned this on our commute to school this morning--despite a long campaign against toy gun violence, it seems that there is actually more real gun violence than when I was growing up and I wondered if there was a connection.

DS#2 mentioned he had read that school has become increasingly stressful for most teens. You have to do well in school in order to have a chance at a good job. The cost of failure is too high. Boys, especially, seem to feel the competitive pressure and need a form of release--be it Scouts (his words, I swear!) or sports or paintball.

I think he's on to something. I think that boys, especially, need some kind of physical release: running, jumping, shouting. Or, conversely, being still and quiet when they need to. A friend of mine always kept a woodpile and would send her teen sons out to chop wood when she felt they need to blow off some energy. Midnight basketball was a similar, physical outlet in the flats of Berkeley and Richmond. Gave the young men something to do that burned off some of their energy.

This could also explain why males--at least, most of the ones I know--can't sit still while playing a video game or while watching a sporting event. They're up, down, shouting, gesticulating. Their entire body is involved.

Would the number of mass shootings decrease if we encouraged more males to take up shooting sports, paintballing, fencing, martial arts?

I don't know. But it seems like outlawing toys isn't the answer, either.

See also: The Anchoress, La Shawn Barber's Corner