June 14, 2016
What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails. I remember this rhyme from my childhood. It suggested that girls are made of nice things (sugar and spice, and everything nice), and boys were made for trouble.

If one were writing the rhyme today, what would it say? Perhaps guns, video games, and violence? Our society has changed in the last 50 years, from the innocence of pranks such as pulling girls’ pigtails to having a handgun tucked in your belt. Children grow up surrounded by violence, and it has had a disastrous effect on our sons.

In her documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores the descent of the male adolescent. In 2015, guns killed over 3,590 children under 18. The statistics do not include other types of violent death. Most of these were boys. Every day mothers cry in the streets over sons who have been gunned down. They are like “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more" (Jeremiah 31:15).

Lack of common sense gun laws is part of the problem, but it is much more complicated than that. Our children are exposed to violence from a very young age. As the documentary shows, society teaches boys that they are weak if they express their feelings in “feminine” ways. They learn to repress their feelings. When they internalize pain, hurt, and anger, they are like time bombs waiting to go off.

Children and teens today do not know the world without the Internet. "Today about 80 percent of teens between 12 and 17 own a cell phone, and about half of those own a smartphone," said John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud at the National Consumers League. "That's about twice the rate from just two years ago." [1] Cell phones can make our lives more convenient and keep us in touch with our children. However, smartphones can also be a child’s gateway into a world of violence and sex. The same is true for any other device that grants unmonitored access to the Internet.

KidsHealth.org reports that

·         two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day

·         kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs

·         kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost two additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games. [2]

What are our children learning from all of this exposure? They see the same things that we see. They can watch the same television programs, view the same pornography, play the same video games. If parents are not supervising their viewing, they are limited only by their curiosity and imaginations.

As a culture, we are infatuated with violence. Even while we decry and mourn mass shootings, we gather in front of our TVs and computers, grab our remote controls and video consoles, and engage in violent behaviors either as active participants or as voyeurs.

Unfortunately, many children experience violence first hand. According to an article in the Juvenile Justice Bulletin, “More than 1 in 9 (11 percent) were exposed to some form of family violence in the past year, including 1 in 15 (6.6 percent) exposed to IPV [intimate partner violence] between parents (or between a parent and that parent’s partner). One in four children (26 percent) were exposed to at least one form of family violence during their lifetimes. Most youth exposed to family violence, including 90 percent of those exposed to IPV, saw the violence, as opposed to hearing it or other indirect forms of exposure. [3]

Our favorite pastimes – sports and games – have become more violent as we seek a bigger thrill and focus on winning at all costs. Children view this form of violence on TV and in person when they attend events. It also occurs on their playing fields. Coaches and teammates criticize, bully, and verbally abuse players. Coaches and parents model behaviors that are aggressive and sometimes completely out of control.

We are out of control.

As Americans mourn yet another senseless tragedy in Orlando, we have to ask ourselves, “Is it time for a paradigm shift?” A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in thought, action, and belief. It is just such a fundamental change that we need in the United States.

Can faith communities be the catalysts for this kind of shift? Can we create spaces and opportunities for conversations, education, and resourcing to help our country end its love affair with violence? Listed below are a few ideas of what we can do. The list is not exhaustive, but a beginning place:

·         Bring communities together to view “The Mask You Live In,” and other such documentaries, followed by discussion.

·         Offer classes and resources for parents and grandparents on raising children without violence. (i.e. Besmartforkids.org and peaceeducationprogram.org) Many denominations and parachurch organizations provide curricula and resources for study.

·         Preach and teach Biblical and theological concepts such as grace, love, peacemaking, non-violence, and mercy.

·         Encourage parents to consider all the consequences of allowing young children cell phones and other Internet-connected devices.

·         Provide information on child-monitoring and blocking apps for media devices.

·         Ask parents and extended families to take a pledge to monitor their children’s exposure to inappropriate media, and refuse to buy video games and movies that contain violent images.

·         Lobby legislators for common sense gun laws.

·         Lobby media companies to offer alternatives to violent and sexual games and programming.

Faith groups want to have a prophetic and relative voice in today’s world. They struggle to find a central focus for their mission and ministry. What if creating this paradigm shift is our calling?

 

 

 

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kids-with-cell-phones-how-young-is-too-young/.

[2] http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tv-affects-child.html.

[3] https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/232272.pdf, October 2011.