It’s always fascinating when you come across a study that advocates the “boys will be boys” mentality. In a world where the majority of mass killers are men, and a culture that still has yet to see that, oh, wow, rape is a bad thing, one would think that to raise a son deprived of toy guys and swords would be an ideal way to go.
Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute of Play believes that in allowing boys to play roughly, we are preventing them from future aggression and violence that may lead to some of the horrors we’ve seen in the past several years. In researching such killers like the University of Texas Tower mass murderer Charles Whitman, Brown has found a link between lack of “play” fighting and homicidal tendencies. In play fighting, kids are allowed to experience “pleasurable, purposeless activity” that “prevents violence and promotes trust, empathy, and adaptability to life’s complication,” explains the doctor.
Would Adam Lanza have killed all those children at Sandy Hook if he didn’t have a penchant for guns and violent video games? And the same goes for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine High School Massacre. It was in their love for violence from early on, combined with bullying that is, in itself violence, that the two came to the decision to murder 12 of their classmates and one teacher before taking their own lives. They may not have been physically playing rough and acting out on this aggression, but to not get your kicks or to release some sort of satisfaction thanks to a violent video game or playing with real guns in the yard would be impossible if that’s your craving.
These may seem like extreme cases, but if Dr. Brown is using Charles Whitman as an example, then referencing these killers as well, follows suit. Although, if we’re to be realistic, we have to admit that in most cases of murder there is a mental deficiency, and in that being so, how can any theory on the topic hold water?
Experiments meant to back this up included the research of baby rats that were given the opportunity to play roughly with their buddies or were not. It was in the latter group, the ones denied such expenditure of energy, that grew up to be more violent. Apparently, the “play” fighting as youngsters teaches them how to process the difference between real hurt and play hurt. But is there ever “play” hurt? If you take your Nerf sword to your brother just to see how far you can push him before he cries (yes, those things hurt A LOT on bare legs!), is there no creation for a thirst for blood? To see the effect your actions have on someone else, positively or negatively, can be intoxicating. (I know this because I’ve watched more documentaries on serial killers than I will ever admit.)
As someone who doesn’t have children, I feel that I’m not entirely in the right to comment on such a discussion. But as someone who does adamantly loathe the “boys will be boys” excuse, and strongly feels that violence, in most if not all forms, begets violence, it’s hard not to ponder that maybe the ticket to ending rape and killing on all levels is to raise boys without access to that world that coddles what seems to be inherently connected to the male gender. You punch your brother or classmate, you should get serious reprimanding and not a smile from mom that eludes to a silent, “Oh, you two!”
While Dr. Brown may feel we’re doing a disservice to our sons by denying them their rough and tumble ways, it’s hard not to feel otherwise. People learn from their surroundings and daily interaction; even if it’s all done in “fun,” at some point the lines are blurred and you may just end up with another “Steubenville Rape Crew” or Ted Bundy. But the only little boys I know are drag queens in the making, so maybe I just don’t get it.