By Mariann M. Main
A startling Monday morning jolt of reality greeted me as I powered-on the television earlier this week to ABC, just prior to the 9 a.m. airing of “Live with Kelly and Michael.” Across the bottom of the screen, during the last few minutes of “Good Morning America,” scrolled the news banner headline for May 5, 2014. “Ohio Wesleyan University class president stabbed while sleeping in fraternity house.” “Excuse me, am I reading this correctly?” was a yet-caffeinated first thought. My hometown had ascended to national news prominence, but not for something extraordinary, but instead another apparent act of violence by one of our troubled youth.
For a stabbing to happen on idyllic North Franklin Street in Delaware, Ohio still remains beyond belief to me, especially in an off-campus residential area. An occurrence at a fraternity house on Ohio State’s campus would not be surprising. That locale has remained of questionable safety since I was a naïve sorority girl there many years ago. Improvements have remained sluggish to the 15th Avenue area, versus the revitalization of other university urban sectors. Violence to Ohio Wesleyan’s campus, especially a stabbing of the sleeping senior class president in a secured fraternity house, is still astonishing to me several days later.
Less than a week prior to Delaware’s nationally publicized incident, a 19-year-old disgruntled FedEx employee ended his life and nearly a few others at the company’s package handling facility in Kennesaw, Georgia. Several co-workers described the gunman’s 6 a.m. appearance, dressed not in normal FedEx attire, but instead as the “Rambo” movie personae made famous by Sylvester Stallone.
One of the hospitalized FedEx co-workers, Brandyn Stonebraker, also 19, who was shot by the same-aged assailant, has a mother able to eloquently summarize the grim circumstances of that April 29, now often-repeated scenario of workplace violence. “Something has gone wrong with the coping skills of our youth,” was Theresia Sutton’s approximate and astute quote for national television reporters.
As a Licensed Ohio Counselor, who works with troubled adolescents, primarily all of them male, I agree with Sutton’s opinion. The coping skills of our country’s youth seem to have evaporated. My question is whether we can restore some semblance of sanity and engage young men to become more communicative and mature as productive societal contributors versus the “sofa slugs” I frequently encounter as a counselor.
The book “Boys Adrift,” by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., is a riveting commentary of the mentality shift for our young American males. His premise, and one that I agree completely, is that video games are toxic to the communication and coping skills of the still-developing male brain. Per Dr. Sax, “researchers have found that playing violent video games has a substantially more toxic effect than watching equally violent television program, probably because when a boy is watching a violent TV program, he’s watching someone else commit the violent act, but when he’s playing Doom or Grand Theft Auto or Halo, he’s inflicting the death and destruction himself.”
Dr. Sax also mentions that the “new pastimes” of young males less likely involve communal activities such as hunting or fishing with an older adult. “Boys who go fishing with an experienced fisherman soon learn that a good fisherman has to be able to wait patiently. But video games do not teach that kind of patience,” per Dr. Sax. “In most video games, the best way to deal with difficult people is to vaporize them with photon torpedoes. In the real world, what you need is not high-tech virtual weaponry, but patience,” states Dr. Sax.
The lack of both coping skills and patience are two aspects of young males that I encounter frequently with my clientele. Most want immediate gratification without effort, and if they do not “get their way” the anger outburst can be both astonishing and sometimes frightening as a counselor. Usually the parent pacifies the boy with promises of a new video game or other incentive for them to briefly behave during my encounter with their son. This reinforcement of bad behavior creates a near impossibility that I will have success counseling the client.
Parents attempting to guide a teenage boy into becoming a self-sufficient adult, will find Dr. Sax’s book essential. Should your son be increasingly immersed into the fantasy world of video games, pull-the-plug on the gaming device, immediately. Send him outside, give him chores to accomplish, make him interact with others through earning his own money via neighborhood jobs, such as mowing grass, or determine a deadline for securing other employment. Get him off of the couch and out into the world. Allowing a young man to hibernate in his bedroom or elsewhere in the house as a successful “gamer” accomplishes nothing but instilling immaturity and a warped sense of reality.
When I purchased my first home 25 years ago, most of the houses with manicured lawns had teenage sons who resided there and cared for that yard and others in the neighborhood. Now, the homes with the most embarrassing, overgrown, weed-abundant lawns are those where teenage boys reside. When the yards are finally mowed at these eyesore dwellings, an outsider comes to do the work, versus having the able-bodied boys living there contribute to the upkeep. It is a sad reflection on American parenting of how entitled we have allowed our children to become, especially our young men.
Reflecting upon a happier topic, this Sunday, May 11, is Mother’s Day. Please be appreciative and loving to the mothers who influenced all of us and for what they have done and sacrificed to raise their offspring. Even though we might not necessarily agree with everything our mothers have tried to instill or the decisions they made during their lifetimes, they still deserve a “thank you,” along with a meaningful hug.
Mariann M. Main is an Ohio-Licensed Counselor and Delaware, Ohio native. You can reach her directly with commentary or questions via MariannMain@GMail.com.