Recently I did some research on the Columbine school shooting for a psychology class, and the parallels between Littleton, Colo., and Princeton, Ill., were chilling. When I read the research by Mai and Alpert regarding the rigid stereotypes of masculinity at Columbine High School, and their huge division between the “jock culture” and the “nerds,” I felt very concerned about our kids in Princeton.
There is no doubt that Princeton is a “sports community.” If you’re not an athlete and you are male, you have two choices: to join the “nerds” or to join the “thugs.” Either way you are going to be ridiculed. The “nerds” are called effeminate and the thugs are called pot heads. The truth is we have just as many “jocks” in Princeton who are drinking or doing drugs, but it tends to be swept under the rug “for the good of the team.”
Our adolescent boys are struggling to find their way as men by watching their fathers. And, it all starts out on the Zearing Park soccer field with our pre-school students. Time and time again I have witnessed parents screaming at small children to be more aggressive, to get in there, to try harder. These parents are teaching our kids that the most important thing in life is to be a winner, at any cost.
My son’s class, for example, has many talented athletes. They should be commended for their dedication and hard work. However, many of these kids have had opportunities in life that our non-athletic boys have not had available to them. These athletic boys have had more positive male role models, more time playing catch in the backyard and greater access to expensive traveling sports teams. Does this mean that they should feel guilty? No, not at all. But perhaps a little understanding passed down from their parents would be helpful. My son’s class, while having an abundance of excellent athletes, also has, in my opinion, the greatest amount of bullying amongst boys. Maybe it is time we took a good look at the correlation here and spent some time teaching our kids about respect and tolerance. The school has done a great job this year of hosting bullying prevention programs to try and prevent physical violence between our boys. As parents, we need to take a look at what we are teaching our boys about being masculine in a violent world.
If becoming a man in this town means being the best, the strongest and the meanest, we have some serious problems facing us in the very near future.