Posted by: JDM..... | October 11, 2014

Boys will be boys…

they must be taught to be men….

The media thrives on unpleasantries, which isn’t necessarily bad. After all, bandage makers thrive on injuries, but just as there are good bandages and there are cheap knockoffs that aren’t worth a toot, there’s good journalism and tabloid garbage. When a story is “reported” instead of just mined for the dirt, I’ll read it.

Today, I ran across a news item regarding seven teenage football players who are in serious trouble because of allegations of hazing and significant sexual assault and other charges that have been occurring within their team culture. Their school cancelled the football season, and it has not yet been determined which, if any, of the young men will be released to the custody of their families and which will remain incarcerated for the time being.

It would seem that anyone who has been at least moderately socialized would find this story disturbing. Being a male, I have observed and experienced some of the more unsavory residual behaviors that somehow have been passed down from generation to generation since the first of us stood upright. Adolescence is the Marine boot camp of life, and very few reach their thirties without some nicks and dings. For most, these nicks and dings are learning experiences, and the manner in which some engage and adapt to the challenges sometimes contributes to the development of desirable character traits. For others, those experiences are traumatic and significantly impact how they will navigate the ensuing sixty years or so.

No longer being among the primitive fauna where brutishness , or at least the capacity for it, may be necessary to survival, human beings have largely suppressed and redirected such energies towards competitions like sports and other positive creative outlets. But, the potential has not been bred out of our species, regardless of our self-serving claims to the contrary. Human beings can be, and frequently are, violent members of the animal kingdom. Like it or not, it is part of our underlying nature, and without it we would probably have to be downgraded to join the mosses and lichens.

All of that being said, the other aspect of our nature is to strive for nonviolence and peaceful interactions. We are “civilized”, yet like other species, we tend to congregate with or nearby our own kind. Being out of one’s element engenders anxiety and hyper-alertness. Having “outsiders” enter our “space” creates similar responses while the intruder is assessed and identified as friend or foe. That particular behavior has not been bred out of our species either, and outlawing it doesn’t make it magically go away.

Adolescence as a whole, and Teen sports in particular, is a time when these human characteristics are identified and the current socially preferred adaptations and expressions of them are learned and practiced. Mistakes are made, and while we normally don’t respond to teen transgressions the same as we would with an adult perpetrator, the intervention is equally important, perhaps even more so.

The investigations will produce knowledge regarding the alleged hazing and sexual misconduct. It is crucial that two things occur as part of whatever interventions are applied.

First of all, as the story reports, those harmed must be healed.

Second of all, those responsible for the harm must be corrected and redirected. The interventions for 15 to 17 year olds must not be formulated from a 40, 50, or 60 year old perspective, though the ultimate goal is to teach them to adopt those adult social and cultural standards. There is no life experience to draw on for the adolescent to “see” through that lens, but adults may be able to remember how to at least access some recollection of the teen view. Look at this way: if you want to teach American literature to a Spaniard, you had better learn to teach it in Spanish.

During my 25 years in the behavioral health field, I specialized in working with adults and adolescents referred by the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Services because of problems with substance abuse, and later as a part of the support staff for a residential psychiatric facility. According to my peers and supervisors, one of my strong points apparently was a knack for “meeting them where they’re at.” Whether that was a compliment or a zinger depends upon one’s viewpoint; I choose to stick with the former. Finding that turf could be an interesting prospect when trying to establish a connection with a street wise sixteen year old who doesn’t trust anybody and probably with good reason.

It is vitally important that the young men who committed the illegal and immoral behaviors be engaged in a way that facilitates them being redirected and corrected without condemning them to association with the Dark Side of the adult world to which they will likely gravitate if nothing is done at all. Those responding to them must ask what kind of men do they want these errant teenagers to become. Just writing them off as “bad” eggs may vindicate the adults, but it doesn’t do much to help them make course corrections toward productive citizenship in the future. Consequences for unacceptable behavior are important, but if the message is just negative, expecting positive behaviors to follow is misguided. Just threatening or beating someone into compliance is not “change”, absolves the subject of responsibility for making internal changes, and is only appropriate for the unapproachable cases.

Of course, positive redirection and creative consequences may not work with all of them. There are some who, for any one of a number of reasons, may already be firmly on a path of self-destruction. In fact, in my field, there were more non-successes than successes. In those cases, “containment” and control may be the only realistic options. After all, the victims must be healed, and future potential victims must be protected.

I’m retired now, but I couldn’t help but think while reading the story, if I was a part of the response team and was given a choice of which kids to work with, I’d choose the ones who are probably rightfully scared, rightfully in very deep shit, and most certainly in need of a guide who knows how to peel an onion to its core without ruining it.


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  1. …Thank you….wow….

  2. Reblogged this on goddessofglitter and commented:
    Too often we want to just punish people for their behavior and wash our hands of them. If we want our youth to turn into better human beings, then we have to remember that showing and teaching appropriate behavior is just as vital as the consequences of their bad behavior.

  3. This is why you were so very good at what you did. I believe it WAS a compliment that you were so good at meeting someone where they are at, that’s the only chance you have of getting through to them, if it’s possible in the first place. I hope they have some good onion peelers for these boys, because it’s one thing to tell them what they did was wrong and punish them for it, but you also have to show them correct behavior before they can learn how to emulate it. Brilliant post!

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