I turned the television off, my heart heavy, I just can’t anymore today…I just can’t, I just can’t see one more young man destroy the lives of others, but just because I can’t see it on the screen, I know it’s there. I go to wash the dishes and I can see our elementary school out the kitchen window. I can see my twin first-grade boys’ classes playing at recess. I see them and I pray, “Please God, protect them today,” and the prayer is for their physical bodies, but more so for their hearts.

In an age where girl power is everywhere, are we inadvertently pushing our boys to fade into the background? Is telling them girls can do anything and more than they can do, inadvertently making them ask themselves, “Then why should I try?” Is telling our husbands, brothers, sons, friends, or co-workers “move over, I can do it all, I don’t really need you” prodding them to throw in the towel and go online to somewhere they can express a warped-sense of masculinity either through pornography or “social time with” friends in an online video game where you talk about your favorite sports team one minute, and blow your friends’ head off the next on screen? Are they still getting the message that “boys shouldn’t cry” because there’s nothing to cry about they’ve had it so good for hundreds of years in this country? Do we just brush off aggression and label it as “Boys will be boys,” and let them get away with it?

My boys can be aggressive, but also VERY sensitive. They get aggressive when they don’t know how to express their feelings. As a Grief Specialist, maybe I’m a little more aware of how feelings and emotions impact someone, but I feel like it’s one of my most important roles as a “boy mom” to help them understand their feelings are OK and valid. I’m NOT an expert by all means, but sadly my boys have a bit of a handicap in the feelings department having lost their father at a very young age and having to process grief and trauma on top of sensory processing challenges, but not knowing how to verbalize it usually ended up in violent outbursts, rage and aggression. I reached out to other parents, because I knew we could not go on like this, that this aggression was not normal, and comment after comment got brushed off as “violence is normal in boys, boys will be boys.” But I WOULD NOT accept this as a truth. I saw more in my boys than just labeling them and, in fact, helping them fit into a category that’s already been prepared for them. More importantly it’s not anyone else’s responsibility but mine to make them know they are seen, they are loved and their feelings are validated, to teach them that “no” means “no” and “stop” means “stop,” and when needed, making sure consequences are in place for poor choices and disrespecting others.

There’s a dilemma here: on one hand parents today are more aware of their children’s individuality, more nurturing and involved. On the other hand the push for individuality has, I believe, has allowed so much freedom for children that they are left to navigate their feelings on their own, or, live up to social norms outlined for them in their, unmonitored “social media communities”—including YouTube where kids start at such a young age watching other kids live lives on screen. For boys, especially, I believe, this creates its own hurdle, having gratuitous violence and skewed images of femininity at the push of a button. Before technology, “boys will be boys” referred to the adventurous spirit all little boys possess. They were exposed to the reality of death at a young age as the life expectancy wasn’t as high as it is today. If they came from a hunting family, were taught how guns were to be treated. Our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers lived through devastating, destructive wars, and now, they’re just played out on a screen where new lives are always granted if the game is just re-started. I’m not willing to accept that “this is just the way kids are today.” I challenge myself to hold my boys to a higher standard. Oh boy, let me tell you it’s hard work and would be SO much easier to just get a game console or hand them access to YouTube than having a billion and one conversations about compassion, and feelings and how we treat people, especially when it seems like they’re not hearing a word I’m saying (but, they are). It would be SO much easier to just tell my boy who’s having a crying fit, “Just suck it up, there’s nothing to cry about, that didn’t hurt” and walk away. But feelings and emotions aren’t a “boy or a girl” thing, it’s a human thing, and it’s our job, first and foremost as parents, to tap into that.

It’s not that video games or nerf guns are the problem, but honing in on how they are being used and why they are being used is our job. It’s our job not to always be the cool or complacent parent when it comes to our children’s mental and physical health. Maybe I’m mean, maybe I’m squashing my boys’ freedom, but they make a bad choice on the television and watch something they’re not supposed to or I hear “oh it’s not that big of a deal, it’s just pretend” when referring to something violent they saw on a screen, they lose privilege to use the remote. They talk openly about something they saw or heard at a friend’s home, I praise them for telling me, but nix going over to that friend’s home. They shoot a friend point blank with a Nerf Gun with an obvious intent to harm (if you watch, you’ll know the difference between just fun, or pure intent for revenge and harm), sorry all guns are taken to Goodwill. They act out aggressively or use violence to make a point, you better bet they’ll get consequences and lose privileges ( read Why Boys Will Be Boys Doesn’t Work for Kids From Trauma). BUT I’ll continue to ask them how they felt, why they felt that way and give them better options—because after all, thanks to the Disney movies “Moana” and “Inside out, we know that hurt people hurt people, and  when sadness isn’t allowed anger, fear and disgust take over. I can’t and won’t do this alone, ESPECIALLY as a single mother. When I need help, I ask for help. I bring them to counseling, I have a parenting coach, I read a million books, because, darn it, I’m not willing to just accept that this is how boys are and should act.

Not only do I tell my daughter she can do whatever she puts her mind to, be it an astrophysicist, a princess, or a mom, I tell my sons (and yes, my daughter too) I believe in them. I believe they are leaders. I believe they are the good guys. I believe they are good and gentle and kind. I believe they can rise above aggression and it’s OK to ask for help and it’s OK to cry and have hurt feelings, even if it seems silly to me, it might be a really big deal to them in their little world. I believe they can stand up to bullies and not be one themselves. But they can’t figure this out on their own, they need us, their parents to guide them to become who we believe they can be. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch of imagination, and most days it feels like an uphill battle with two very energetic boys, but a battle I’m willing to fight nonetheless.

I’m not writing this to blame, make parents feel guilty. I’m not against gun-reform, I’m not against mental health reform. I’m not even against equality for women. But it’s obvious to see that MOST of the atrocities that have taken place in our schools, theaters, parks, you name it, were played out mainly by young men. I’m not trying take a political jab and I’m not writing this to claim a “side.” I’m writing this because I’m worried about our country’s boys and young men. I’m pleading for us to not forget them.