In the wake of the February 9, 2018, mass shooting at a Florida high school, it has become abundantly clear that society is failing young men, especially those who are most at risk of causing harm to themselves and others. This tragic state of affairs stems largely from the fact that society has, over the last four decades, ignored issues that affect our boys and young men. While gun legislation is being considered, we must begin to adapt our education and mental health systems to compensate for our complex modern-day problems that are contributing to the escalation of gun violence and mass shootings.
Increasingly in our society, young boys and men are dropping out or, in other ways, slipping through the cracks in the educational system and resorting to violence. Making matters worse, a drumbeat of complaints and criticism has emerged from the very institutions within our society that should be finding solutions to the problem. This barrage of criticism has been focused on young men, seemingly seeking to have them bear the responsibility for everything that is wrong in our world and reinforcing a downward spiral that has left many feeling utterly lost and with nowhere to turn. Additionally, there exists no safety net for those who are often in urgent need of behavioral health assistance. Instead, they are criminalized.
Following these violent tragedies, reports invariably surface that those involved had exhibited “red flags” – they had suffered from depression, relationship problems, or other mental health problems. They were frequently disruptive or moody, acted out violently at home, or demonstrated aberrant or antisocial behaviors. Often the police would be called, and at school, the offender often spent time in detention or were, in many instances, expelled. Teachers, police and school counselors, who should have been on top of things, were either overwhelmed or unprepared.
Young men who behave badly are telling us they can’t navigate through a stressful dilemma and are looking for a close mentor such as an older brother or father who can help them navigate the issue and find acceptable solutions. Instead, every time these young men act out they experience being treated as an outcast, or are scolded, punished or met with disrespect.
Unfortunately, the lack of an adequate connection with a support system often serves to make many young men feel more isolated and unsettled than they already are. As a result, small hassles fester into depression, suicide, and violence toward others. In essence, young men are being ignored and allowed, perhaps, some might argue, even driven, to fall through the cracks, leading many to a dark abyss of crime and other dangerous behaviors.
A Re-engineered Behavioral Health System
As matters reach an alarming state it is becoming apparent that we can no longer wait for our legislators to enact long-overdue firearms legislation. It’s time to step back and reevaluate the social structures that are currently in place. Voices have cried, begged, and pleaded, but now it’s time for a revolution. Mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers are taking a vow and standing as one. They demand our leaders take action. Our highest angels are telling us that the current delivery, reimbursement, and intervention of behavioral health support must be tossed out, destroyed and revamped in favor of a new methodology.
First off, we must innovate in ways that allow for rapid and stigma-free access to behavioral health resources. Instead of waiting for red flags, and then, as all too commonly occurs, ignoring them, we should raise boys in supportive environments with mentors and coaches to guide them and with therapy readily available at the earliest signs of need. Many experts believe that young men desire to live good and productive lives but often cannot work through social and personal concerns without resorting to violence, in part because their decision-making abilities have been impaired. When faced with problems or challenges they become confused and frustrated and act out impulsively or reflexively.
Rework Cost Reimbursement
Needless to say, it is imperative that any new support system be properly funded from the outset. The reimbursement mechanism for behavior-related problems needs to be proactive, not reactive, ensuring that young men can get coaching or therapy even if they do not have insurance or other financial resources. We know many crimes are committed by boys who come from fatherless homes. Some of these families have little in the way of insurance, financial savings or other reserves, while those in the upper echelons can afford the best psychologists and other assistance, most cannot.
The methods we use to pay for mental health care should be overhauled. Mental health care needs to take a proactive rather than reactive approach, with prevention as its cornerstone. Mental health concerns must be addressed early on, even when they are not readily apparent, and must be dealt with as quickly as possible to prevent them from becoming septic. It serves no one to disregard mental health issues until an emergency arises, as if by accident, particularly when that emergency could and should have been prevented long ago. Such emergency mental health services, which are generally quite costly in terms of dollars spent and health and lives impacted, are billed and paid for after the fact, often by health or other insurance providers.
The time is long overdue for us to face up to the fact that, as far as our nation’s behavioral and mental health services are concerned, we do not have a viable delivery and cost reimbursement system in place. Surely, women’s groups would donate freely.
Other sources could also be tapped. The gun lobby, for example, oversees substantial resources that are intended, it asserts, to help preserve our rights under the Constitution. However, if their goal is to foster a vision of America that is consistent with what our founders imagined, wouldn’t they be interested in using some of their resources to ensure that our boys and men have access to the assistance they need in order to keep the social fabric of our country intact so that we can move the country forward in strength and unity?
A New and More Enlightened Approach
Let’s turn the world upside down! Let’s create a society that encourages each boy’s uniqueness and individual path and provides every one of our boys with the opportunity to soar. With adequate support, boys and young men will be able to weather any number of challenges and evolve through difficult times, situations, and rites of passage. They can succeed in their efforts to socialize with others, establish their identities, and mature into the kinds of individuals our society and our future demands.
It is not easy for boys in today’s world, where a growing number of young men now see themselves as “outsiders,” especially on school grounds. As a result, they need coaches or mentors who can help them navigate, cope, and thrive. They should not be scolded or shamed or told how to act – or how not to behave.
Among the methods that have proven successful in helping young men learn coping skills is to provide them with weekly visits to mentors or coaches during which they can discuss relationships, school, and work situations. Mentors in turn, provide invaluable guidance informed by competent training and real-life experiences. In many respects, these sessions are akin to working with personal work-out trainers, who track strengths, goals, and weaknesses and help clients make the most of who they are and the directions they want to go in their lives.
Experience suggests that men benefit from approaches that are outside the typical face-to-face sit-down counseling model; an innovative, activity-based program would likely produce the best results. It should be designed and implemented in a way that builds trust, communication, decision-making capabilities, self-worth and confidence. These sessions should be supplemented with initiatives that promote physical activity and teamwork, such as the Mankind Project, the Ropes Course Experience and the Men’s Shed Movement, and should involve individual life coaches and mentors who are attuned to the particular nature and needs of men and specialize in addressing those needs. Regardless of which approach is used, the goal must be to ensure that those who are most vulnerable – our boys and young men – are educated and empowered to make choices that ensure they and society come out ahead.
It’s time to reverse the recklessly misguided policies that ignore our boys in these modern complicated times. All of us must step back for a moment and engage in a broad examination of where we are, including our own lack of social awareness. We must delve as deeply as we can, reach further than we have, and innovate a transformation away from the criminal perversion that has become a part of our collective consciousness. By so doing, we can turn this problem into a cultural leap forward for all of humanity.
Contrary to what some believe, it is possible to end the alarming trend of predominantly white males committing acts of mass murder at schools, churches, movie theaters and concerts. If we want to end the mayhem and suffering that stem from men being cast adrift by a society that somehow decided they didn’t matter, we need to make changes, and we need to make them now. In this way, we can move toward a brighter and more promising future than ever before.
About the Author
Tim Patten is the author of popular books and articles on male empowerment. The article above is excerpted from his groundbreaking self-help book, Masculinity Is Our Future, which is not about male superiority or authority, but about achieving growth, taking responsibility, and gaining respect for yourself and others.
How to Keep Young Men from Becoming Mass Killers
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