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Are We Raising Dangerous Boys?

By: Veronica Henderson, Attorney

Between 1982 and November of 2018, out of 105 mass shootings in the United States, 102 were committed by males, three were committed by females. Although mass shooters come from many different ages, income categories, and regions of the United States, one factor remains constant: their gender. Why are some males prone to such violent behavior, whereas females virtually never commit such heinous acts? A few realities of American life have been offered to explain.

First of all, although mental illness can affect a person of any gender, it’s manifestations in boys and men may include violent conduct. Depression, paranoia, resentfulness, and narcissism are conditions that seem to be commonly found among mass shooters. These are not necessarily diagnosable or treatable.

Having a history of domestic violence also appears to be common. The factors that would lead someone to commit violence within the family are similar to those that would lead someone to mass killings, research has found, and perpetrators of domestic violence are more often male. As one psychologist has explained, having a history of violence might help neutralize the natural barriers to committing further, worse acts of violence.

A sense of personal grievance, or having been “wronged,” and a desire for notoriety have also been suggested as reasons that males commit such horrific acts. The rationale is that males are more likely to feel entitled and thus more likely to experience a feeling of having been aggrieved than females do. Likewise, males may seek notoriety due to differences in gender roles. For example, females look to having a successful family as a measure of success, whereas males still focus on recognition in their workplaces. Males are more likely to look for something larger than their own lives, to be seen as a hero standing up for a cause. Females are focusing more on their families and personal accomplishments as indications of success.

So what does all of this say about how we are raising boys in American society? Should we change how we raise them to be adult men? Are we ignoring the warning signs, and even encouraging this behavior, even without meaning to do so?

With mental illness, women are diagnosed with depression more than men, but many mass murderers have displayed signs of depression that were ignored. When women are isolated, angry, or lethargic, it seems more out of character, and people notice it. Males who display these symptoms are ignored, or the behavior is minimized. Offering young men more help for mental illness and paying attention to warning signs of violent tendencies may be the answer.

Changing gender norms may be helpful also. Women and young girls are often seen as fragile and needy, thus we intervene or come to their assistance quicker. As a culture, we are less tolerant to women outside the norm of acceptable behavior. Males, on the other hand, are expected to be strong and simply “get over it.”

As we raise our children and want them to be healthy and happy adults, we must pay attention to any signs of distress. Only then will we stop this wave of extreme violence that has become an epidemic in this country.

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