Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

I was jailed two nights ago and shot several times.

As soon as Maya and I walked into the park play area, one of the four year old boys who plays there most days by himself said, “Everyone who comes to the park has to play tag,” which meant I had to be the tagger.

Wuan ran off in one direction, followed by Maya with a beaming smile on her face. They were joined by two more four year-olds, Ryan and Alex, whose mother always walks the family dog, Toby, on the grass outside the play area and has it frolic with our dog, Gigi, and one older guy, Miguel.

I learned a couple of things by chasing four preschool aged children and one not quite teenager up and down the play structure. One, in sprint-like activities, I cannot catch up to Miguel anymore. He has gotten faster and more elusive and I, now 50, have slowed with age. The second thing I learned is boys, especially young boys, can be very aggressive.

I played tag for fifteen or twenty minutes and then decided to take a break. I wanted to talk with Verna and Toby’s owner, Patricia, who were on the edge of the park’s grass. But Wuan had other thoughts. He immediately grabbed me and said, “You’re going to jail.”

“Yeah, you’re going to jail,” added Maya for reinforcement.

“I’m going to jail?” I mockingly protested.

Miguel was either on his bike or not-so-surprisingly watching TV, so the four young ones grabbed me and locked me up near the periscope atop one of the play structures. Wuan and Maya guarded me and Ryan and Alex climbed near the slides. My hands were clasped behind my back around the bars of the structure.

Wuan was clearly the leader, giving orders with the manic energy of a prison guard amped up on steroids.

“You have to stay in jail,” he practically shouted. “And you can’t leave. If you do, I will shoot you.” Then he cocked his fingers like a gun and waved them menacingly in my face. He even made the shooting sound, “Pow, pow.”

Maya, who doesn’t watch any TV unless Miguel sneaks in cartoons on the ION channel while Verna and I are outside with Gigi, pulled out her fingers and imitated Wuan.

Great, I thought, just great, we try to shield Maya from violence and she shoots me anyway. I remember reading about one parent who never let her kids even play with water guns. One morning the kid fashioned a gun out of a piece of whole wheat toast. The real world is so damn opportunistic. It finds ways to seep into our daily lives.

Eventually Wuan’s father rescued me. He basically told Wuan to leave me alone. He’d been sitting on the park bench with Ryan’s father watching me tire myself out as they talked.

But the experience of being jailed and shot by four year olds got me thinking about aggression and boys. Last year, Wuan snatched his great-grandmother’s cane and whacked Maya in the head. I was on the park grass, probably tossing a baseball or football with Miguel, and Verna was with her. I came running after the attack and immediately grabbed Wuan by the shoulders.

“You may never, ever hit Maya or anyone again. Do you understand? What you did is very, very wrong. And if you hit anyone again I am going to make sure you aren’t allowed in the park. I’m going to speak with your father tonight.”

I did go over there, and his father was quite apologetic. He assured me nothing like that would ever happen again after I told him of at least a half dozen incidents where Wuan had terrorized kids at the park.

As I left his doorstep, I wondered if Wuan’s aggressiveness was the result of any abuse he was subjected to at home? Or was it because both of Wuan’s parents worked fulltime and Wuan was left in the care of a nearly crippled great-grandmother who was stooped at a 90-degree angle and shuffled so slowly?

Either way, I had to protect Maya. And after the incident, there were no problems with Wuan. He occasionally throws sand at kids and grabs them, but I have not yet heard of any more violence on his part.

Whenever he gets rambunctious in the park now, I just stop him and say, “Wuan, you know that is not right. You need to stop that now.”

He actually stayed away from the park for several weeks after he hurt Maya. He must’ve been afraid…of me. Good. Nothing like fear to change behavior. The next time he came to the park and we were there, I decided to say hello, which I did. Then he sat alone on the swing as his grandmother rested on the bench.

“Wuan, do you want me to push you?” So I pushed him in one swing and Maya in the one next to him. I figured he deserved Good Steve unless he did anything to upset me.

But Wuan is still aggressive, though he now controls his impulses toward others. He yelled about me being in jail and repeatedly warned me he would “shoot me for real” if I tried to escape from jail. And he kept poking me with a plastic ball casket, similar to the one used in Jai Alai. Even after I asked him to stop, he poked and prodded until his father finally intervened.

So I started wondering about boys and aggression. Why are some boys predisposed to violence and why do others learn how to be physically and emotionally mean?
There have been plenty of books on this subject, so I will not venture into any scholarly, therapeutic, or journalistic areas. I will just share a random thought or two based on my experiences as a father and teacher.

First, I think TV and media saturation in general plays a big role in kids becoming more aggressive. Kids are exposed to massive amounts of TV and video games by the time they reach kindergarten and that is not good.

One time, when Miguel was about four or five, he was at a birthday party for someone in our play group. Most of the kids were at regular preschools, but Miguel and his buddy Zach were at a Waldorf-inspired one. The mother of the birthday boy noticed how calmer Miguel and Zach were compared with the other kids, especially her own son who threw a fit if he didn’t have one of each colored Starburst candies. She reasoned Miguel and Zach were more sedate because of their Waldorf-inspired preschool.

Not that Miguel was immune to being mischievous. One time he convinced Zachary to throw one of their classmates’ necklaces in the toilet. Another time he and two other boys viciously ripped out some freshly potted flowers from the school garden.

But on the whole, Miguel can entertain himself outdoors and in his room, reading and creating his own imaginary worlds, and that is largely because we supported Waldorf ideology when he was younger and deemphasized TV and video games. Miguel didn’t see his first theater movie until he was eight, and only got to use the computer once he entered public school and then only for educational purposes.

I know I sound like some neo-Luddite, but we chose a path that worked for us and we hope it served Miguel. At the very least, he can now mold beeswax, knit, and only babbles incoherently to himself once or twice a week.

So I don’t have the answers. Verna and I made choices based on books we read, lectures we attended, experiences we had, and our intuition. OK, Verna’s intuition, because Mother (at least in Verna’s case) almost always knows best. Therefore, I don’t know how to keep boys from being too aggressive. I can only role model for Miguel (and Maya) and hope they learn from what they see around them. And use the experience they have with Verna and me to guide them during the turbulent times of life outside our home, when they are exposed to a world we can’t always control.

If all else fails, I have brochures for monasteries we might consider once I free myself from jail and can think more clearly. I have gunshot wounds to tend.


  1. I hear you. Jocelyn isn't allowed to play with guns and we don't even "allow" her to make gun shapes and "shoot" people with her hand. But she has 3 boy cousins who are each almost 5. Sure enough, the gun stuff seeps in and she is mildly fascinated.

    Media plays a big role too -- I've made the mistake of letting her watch baseball games on TV (she idolizes Tim Lincecum), never thinking about the commercials until she started talking about how "gas makes cars blow up" and some people "make other people die" when they don't like them. It finally clicked (duh) that she was getting this stuff from primetime commercials during baseball, America's family game. It's amazing the level of violence we're all used to - previews for CSI, NCIS, the Closer, etc., etc. It took a pre-schooler's fresh view to even make me realize it!

  2. wow, your writing is great, I want to be just like you when I grow up. Nice blog!