Chicago Tribune

Researchers: Boys fashioned for violence

August 21, 1999 9:56 a.m. CDT
Chicago Tribune

BOSTON (AP) -- Raising boys to be strong and silent is promoting the outbreak of mass school shootings and a broader, smoldering climate of despair among male teen-agers, experts suggest.

"I think we have a national crisis of boys in America," said William Pollack, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School.

He and several other researchers on Friday discussed violent boys at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. They were responding partly to public concern over recent mass killings at schools.

In April, two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher before committing suicide at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Other school shootings have struck Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas and Oregon.

The increase in such crimes is statistically small. There were two school homicides with multiple victims in 1992 but six last year -- and they were largely at suburban schools.

The number of victims increased from four to 16.

The psychologists said American boys are still reared largely in keeping with the traditional code of male toughness, which encourages boys to take action but squelches expressions of feeling and gestures of physical affection by and toward boys.

"You can punch one another, but you can't really have an affectionate touch," said Dan Kindlon, a psychologist at Harvard School of Public Health.

The researchers said cross-cultural studies demonstrate a clear link between violent societies and those that treat children with little physical warmth, according to University of Miami researcher Tiffany Field.

"For some boys who are not allowed tears, they will cry with their fists or they will cry with bullets," added Pollack.

The psychologists said such rearing makes it hard for boys to handle adversity and lays the foundation for a spectrum of depression and violence among teen-agers ranging from male bullying to murder.

The psychologists pressed for big changes in how parents and educators treat boys.

They said parents should give physical affection freely to boys, allow them to show their feelings and reject the widespread belief that boys are inherently more violent than girls.

The psychologists urged educators to foster friendlier schools, provide more counseling and -- despite worries about false accusations of sex abuse -- not shirk from physically comforting a hurt child.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press