There are so many things to love about Peter Brown Hoffmeister's recent piece that was banned from the Huffington Post that I don't even know where to start. He is saying things that need to be said and forcing us to confront a very deep fissure in our culture. In many ways, he speaks to the heart of the problem with young men in this country and how a few of them end up going on shooting sprees.
He should know. He was one of those young men and he made it out and became mentor and teacher himself. Correctly, he identifies the ingredients that get these young men to the point of shooting people and it's not just the guns.
Now I am not anti-video game crusader Jack Thompson. I’m not suggesting that everyone who plays a video game will act out that video game in reality. But I am saying that it is very dangerous to allow troubled, angry, teenage boys access to killing practice, even if that access is only virtual killing practice. The military uses video games to train soldiers to kill, yet we don’t consider “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ training for addicted teenage players? A high school boy who plays that game 30 hours per week isn’t training to kill somebody?
Now combine that with a mom who buys into the whole "live free or die" horse hockey and decides to allow their son access to a large quantity of weaponry and you have a disaster. Why is that the parents of these shooters never have their feet held to the fire? In the final analysis, it's primarily their responsibility. Nancy Lanza was a complete and total failure as a parent and her incompetence resulted in the deaths of 26 people. There are thousands more like her out there and they truly, truly suck. They need to stop sucking. Yesterday.
Where are the parents in this situation or others like this one?
I was walking behind two teenage boys in the hall at my high school the other day and I heard one talking about slitting someone’s throat. He said, “I just came up behind him, pulled out my knife so quietly and cut his throat.”
The other boy said, “Yeah, then I killed everyone else in less than, like, 10 seconds. Just slaughtered them.”
I looked at these two boys: Tall and awkward. Unathletic. I knew that they weren’t tied-in socially, that they both struggled in classes and with peers. Yet they were capable of incredible and sudden violence on screen. Together, they could slit throats and shoot everyone. I asked one of them later, and he said that he played Call of Duty “an average of 40 hours per week, at least.”
Is this what we want angry, adolescent boys to do? Do we want to give them this practice? Do we want them to glorify violent actions, to brag about violence in the school’s hallways? Or even worse, given the perfect equation of frustration + opportunity + practice, do we want them to do as Weise, Roberts, and Lanza did, and act out these fantasies in real life? Do we want them to yell, “I am the shooter” as they enter a crowded mall – as Roberts did? Or dress like video-game shooters – as Lanza and Roberts were – before heading into a murder spree?
When I was an awkward teenager, all I thought about was sex. All my friends were the same. We smoked pot, listened to music and were obsessed with progressing around the bases in terms of carnal escapades. That is definitely not the case today. Sex is very verboten subject with teenagers and they are much less sexual active than they were in my generation. There are drugs, of course, but they are viewed so negatively by our culture that the deviance takes on a truly ugly hue for the kids that do them...even marijuana. I can't help but think that if some of these kids just smoked some pot and made out with their girlfriends or boyfriends, they might be more at peace.
Hoffmeister closes the piece with a direct appeal to parents. I agree with it completely and I will close with it as well.
Get kids outside. Take them out and let them wander around in the woods. Let them canoe across a lake. Let them backpack through a mountain range. Give them a map and compass assignment. Give frustrated youth an opportunity to challenge themselves in the natural world.
Have you ever heard of a school shooter who’s hobbies are kayaking, rock climbing, and fly-fishing? If that seems absurd – and it does seem absurd to me – we might be onto something. I don’t think that those hobbies can create a school shooter. There’s just something abut the natural world that defuses anger.
I know this because the outdoors helped saved my life. An outdoor diversion program for troubled teens started the process when I was sixteen. Camping and hiking and climbing helped me mature further as a nineteen and twenty year old. And now, as the director of a high school outdoor program, one of my student leaders said recently that “the outdoor program saves lives.”
That’s not me. That’s nature. Kids need the outdoors.
Help the young people. Get them outside.