Broken Boys: A Cooee! Podcast and reflection on what's happening with boys

Broken Boys: A Cooee! Podcast and reflection on what's happening with boys

It's important we ask ourselves the right questions. Only then might we find the right answers.

Here's "Broken Boys", a food for thought Cooee! Podcast.


Like so many other people, I was deeply disturbed by the recent mass shooting in the US. "Not again?" I anguished with each "Breaking news" alert.

This latest tragedy does seem to have triggered a very different response to past headline shootings and this is hopeful. The unfolding battle between the NRA and its supporters and the surviving students and gun control proponents is heating up. As an Australian obliged to hand my gun in to authorities after the Port Arthur shooting in 1996, controlling people's access to guns makes eminent sense. That said, I'm worried that the vitriolic gun control battle might be getting in the way of a more important discussion around why, yet again, the shooter was white, young and a boy.

It's been mentioned but is quickly brushed aside, "Oh, he was mentally ill". I don't doubt he was but my concern is that few seem to ask why. With the long list of past shootings carried out by young boys, this seems important.

As the father of two young boys, this concerns me very much. As a Movember Foundation Community Ambassador supporting projects around men's mental health and suicide prevention, the question carries extra weight. What are we doing as a society that is leading to so many young boys carrying out these terrible acts?

I was extremely grateful to the New York Times for running an OP-ED by Michael Ian Black on this matter. Entitled "The Boys Are Not All Right" Black makes a compelling case that "America's boys are broken". Black doesn't profess to know why but his piece reassured me that this important, bigger question is at least being asked

Earlier in February I read another fascinating though equally disturbing article about kids - not just boys this time, girls too. NASA researchers learned that our education system dumbs down kids' creative potential. Their test measured the ability to come up with new, different and innovative ideas to problems. Given to 1,600 kids between the ages of 4 and 5, an incredible 98% of participants fell in the genius category of imagination! Extraordinary!

But...the scientists made it a longitudinal study and tested the children five years later. Only 30 percent of the kids now fell in the genius category of imagination. Five years later - 12 percent. And then as adults - 2 percent.

What's happening here?

Dr George Land, one of those who developed the test, suggests that part of the explantation may be that we're asking kids to do two types of thinking at once. 

One is called divergent - that’s imagination, used for generating new possibilities. The other is called convergent - that’s when you’re making a judgement, you’re making a decision, you’re testing something, you’re criticizing, you’re evaluating.

So divergent thinking works like an accelerator and convergent thinking puts a brake on our best efforts.
— Coert Engels

"We found that what happens to these children, as we educate them, we teach them to do both kinds of thinking at the same time", says Land.

When you're asked to come up with a new idea, it's immediately judged, "It won't work", "It's dumb". Land says that we're diminishing the power of the brain because we're constantly judging, criticising and censoring.

"If we operate under fear we use a smaller part of the brain, but when we use creative thinking the brain lights up"

Now...I'm certainly not arguing that there is a link between this dumbing down and mass shootings. What does concern me is this constant judging, criticising and censoring that Land speaks of. We're seeing a lot of judging, criticising and censoring in the subsequent discussion about gun control but it's an ever-present theme in discussions everywhere around the world, on every topic.

We are human, therefore we judge. It's so negative.

I know from my own experience that judgement is a terrible strain that can lead to great feelings of guilt and shame. There are whole studies on shame's terrible effects.

My point is that there is something deeper going on here beyond the lashing out of mentally ill young boys. I believe it's beyond time for us to ask why these boys are mentally ill and to look deeply for the reasons under many stones. I'm grateful to Michael Ian Black for his first efforts to do this and I do think we have to look at that journey we're inviting children, boys especially, to take from those early bursting with imagination years to their emergence from a school system judged, criticised and possibly broken. It may not be by chance that so many of these mass shootings occur in schools, if that's where these boys feel pain.

Why boys might suffer more than girls is beyond me but it needs research, it needs thinking, discussion and I suspect it needs a lot to change.



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