One of the items on the RTE News this week caught my eye (one of the advantages of living along the border, we get all the British and Irish Channels).
Apparently, there has been an increase in suicides among young men due to the economic situation here. Figures showed that 38% of these young men were unemployed, while 32% worked in construction, which is the sector suffering most since the downturn. I also read in the New Statesman that suicide rates in Greece have gone up 40% since the austerity crisis.
The high suicide rate relates to men and boys and a few years ago there was a European report which showed that the suicide rate in this part of Ireland was 73% per cent higher than anywhere else in Europe. So, although the present economic situation is partly to blame at the moment, there are also other reasons why young men are suffering so much.
One of these, I believe, is the level of violence aimed at young men. I never knew how bad it was in this country for young men until I had some of my own. Throughout their lives, from they were children until they were grown up, their primary experience of dealing with older men and boys was one of threat, violence, bullying and intimidation. I remember having a conversation with my youngest son many years ago when he was at secondary school and he said to me, ‘Mum, you have no idea what it is like, every day, all you get is, I’m gonna fight you, I’m gonna get you.’
This level of threat has followed them right through their lives, from their teachers to their peer group, to work colleagues. I remember, as a teenager, witnessing a teacher slapping a twelve year old boy on his hands with a leather strap that was a quarter of an inch thick and feeling physically ill. (I was in another classroom that overlooked his). I have seen numerous acts of violence committed against young men throughout my life and, so, it was no surprise to me to read that young men under the age of twenty five were more likely to be victims of violence than any other group.
Here in the North, there is another more sinister side to this violence that comes from a self-appointed Republican paramilitary group RAAD, who are shooting and beating up young men for minor drug offences (the major drug dealers pay protection to other criminal groups so they don’t get touched). They think if they add Republican to their name, this gives them some sort of legitimacy within the Nationalist community. We have had the extraordinary situation of parents bringing their sons to these people to be shot out, of fear that if they didn’t, there would be worse done to the whole family.
There is also the cultural aspect to this, the macho culture that continually supports the ridiculous idea that males need to be toughened up. A few weeks ago, I read a letter in the Observer newspaper from a doctor, (unfortunately the paper went to the recycling) who said that males were the weaker sex, that a premature child was more likely to die if it was male. I was also speaking to a school principal who taught at a girls school for many years before becoming principal of a boys school. She told me that there was a huge difference in them and that girls were smarter, quicker and matured earlier and the boys were more naïve and took a lot longer to mature. I have to say that concurs with my own experience of bringing up boys and girls.
The question I would like to pose is this – what if all this violence was being directed towards young girls? What would we be doing then, society would be in uproar! A friend of mine asked this question at a recent community meeting, he works with and counsels young men. After the meeting, he was taken aside and told not to ask the question again by members of one of our ‘political parties’.
What kind of society have we created which accepts that young men are legitimate targets for violence and do not deserve to be treated with the same gentleness and kindness as young women? Why do boys have to be toughened up and made to repress their emotions?
There are also paradoxes to this here in Ireland and that is in the way young males are ‘mammied’. Where their mother, whether through her own narcissism, or through some warped idea of her role as a parent, mollycoddle young men and do everything for them, indulging them all the time. The outcome of this, is to leave a grown up boy who is incapable of caring for himself, who has never learned how to deal with issues in a mature fashion and who finds himself in adulthood completely unprepared for, and unable to cope with, the realities of life.
A boy is a human being and, as such, has the same emotional range as a girl. He needs to be allowed to freely express his feelings as a child in order to learn how to manage and control them so that they don’t overwhelm him then when faced with crises later in adulthood.
The role of a parent is to prepare your child for life in the real world. To spoil a child is about the worst thing you can do for them and is not a sign of your love for them but a sign of your own emotional immaturity. Most of us love our children and only want the best for them but spoiling a child is the laziest form of parenting because it requires no effort. I watched Rabbi Shmuley Botech on Oprah a few years ago and he drew a great analogy that has always stayed with me. He said that if we thought about it in terms of meat, it would help us to see it more clearly, a piece of meat that is spoiled is rotten and no good to anybody.
This is exactly true of children, the worst people to deal with in life are those who have been spoiled because they expect everything their way, have no empathy for others and have an overbearing sense of their own importance, (the front bench of the Tory party is a fine example of this) and while your child may be important to you, the rest of the world is not so enamoured.
As a society. we need to re-think how we treat our children, boys and girls. Our young men are in crisis and there are not enough grown-up men to help them negotiate their way into adulthood. We all need to take a long hard look at ourselves as parents and human beings because we are failing our children. We try to impose cultural falsehoods on them about how they should act and behave with no regard for the person they are. We allow these levels of violence against them to go unchecked and even believing it is for their own good. Men will not stop being violent until they are brought up without violence, when it is seen as the evil it is and not as something all boys need.
So be kind to your sons and if you want to spoil your child, spoil them with your time and attention. Make an effort and show them their true worth and how to value it. The constant threat of violence only leads to more violence and, inevitably, plays out in the ultimate act of violence against the self, suicide. The job of parenting is probably the hardest job there is, you are responsible for preparing this other human for life, it’s a profound role and it requires effort but it has it’s own rewards when we see our children grow up into happy respectful people.
As a final thought I would like you to think about this, the Lakota word for child is Wakanyeja, it translates as ‘sacred being’. Imagine what kind of world we could create if every child born was treated as a sacred being.