Monday, May 4, 2009

Pugilistic Parenting

I’m a horrible father.

I know this because my 14-year-old son tells me so on a regular basis. At times, he’s probably right. I have a tendency to “get loud” when really I should listen. Sometimes I jump to conclusions, when I should give him a chance to explain his side of the story.

I really thought I was ready for these troublesome years. I remember my middle-school years only too well. They were rough. I was never particularly popular. The fact that I was an Army brat meant that I was often the new kid in school. But I recall making my way through the pitfalls of early adolescence. So I honestly thought I was ready to help shepherd my son, guiding him away from the problems I once faced at his age.

Fat chance.

The problem that vexes me most is the volatile mix of excess testosterone and other hormones. Throw in the competitive nature of our society and you’ve got a recipe for violence.

My son has had his share of run-ins with classmates. Unlike his father, he’s limited it so far to some jawing back and forth and a couple of shoving matches. Within a few days of showing up at my new school in the 6th grade, I’d gotten into two honest-to-goodness, knock-down, drag-out brawls. Lost ’em both. The funny thing is, I ended up becoming friends with both of the guys I fought.

So when I got the call from the school principal that my son was in detention for almost coming to blows, I struggled to find the right response. Part of me wanted to chew him out. But I didn’t take that road. Instead, I started wondering if perhaps letting the boys go at it wasn’t such a bad idea.

This issue has had some exposure lately. South Oak Cliff High School was exposed for the practice of ushering kids into a steel cage to settle their differences MMA-style. Right idea? Maybe. Poor execution? Doubtless.

You see, I can understand the feeling these young men get when they want to test their mettle against their peers. Around this age, they’re beginning to grow into their bodies, while still trying to figure out how to control their emotions. Coordination starts to catch up with growth spurts. Strength increases to new proportions. Meanwhile, they’re put into competitive, often physical, situations with sports like football, basketball, wrestling and soccer. Maybe we should be shocked if fights didn’t break out now and then.

I’d much rather see these adolescent pugilists find an outlet for their aggression in a controlled environment than in the alley on the way home from school. Set up a ring. Strap on some over-padded gloves and head gear and let ’em go. A couple of those experiences, and I’d bet the desire to “settle things like men” would quickly fade. Certainly there would have to be limits as to how the matches were organized. And most definitely all parties — kids and parents — would have to agree this was the right course.

I’m sure I’ll be painted by some as a Neanderthal-thug with no sensitivity. But I do know that young men — and even older ones — are wired by nature with a certain amount of aggressiveness. Trying to bottle that up is kind of like sticking your finger in a hole and hoping the dyke doesn’t crumble. Instead, let’s find a controlled outlet for these feelings and perhaps we’ll raise a healthier generation of adults.

As published in the Dallas Morning News, Saturday, May 2nd, 2009. Link

No comments: