An Open Letter To the Young Men Of America
Dear Young Man,
I understand young males have many issues. Your world is filled with conflicts: teachers, friends, parents -- all of those who care for you can appear to lack sympathy for the problems you face. You must realize your own emotions can betray you, and you may be confused at times. Believe me, there are people who realize the stress of growing up and who do love you.
The teen years can be troublesome times when others view you as a child one minute and as an adult the next when, in truth, you are neither. With one foot in both worlds, you must learn to face new experiences, gain people's trust, and extend your independence while you tend to your "dependent independence."
General Lewis B. Hershey once said, "A boy becomes an adult three years before his parents think he does, and about two years after he thinks he does."
You are caught in the impossible bind of living up to society's conception of the new male -- someone caring and yet physically and mentally tough. This puts you in the dilemma of being very sensitive while subscribing to traditional ideas about needing to be macho.
One teen boy's complaint was typical. "When I try to be sensitive and caring, girls ignore me," he said. "They want to go out with the jocks. When I play the tough, dominant guy, they complain that I'm harassing them. How can I win?" The answers come only through time and experience, and if you are like most young people, patience is not one of your strong points.
So, it is natural that you may feel downright insecure in your skin. Some of you lack support at home and struggle to gain essential privileges with a lack of resources. Everyone wants to gain power and control during their teen years, and without much help, you may find yourself feeling alone and vulnerable to others you conceive as a threat.
This frustration with life my lead you to cover up your insecurities with strategies that seem to work to eliminate these threats. One such teen said he felt as if he was at "an intersection of a feverish and all-encompassing desire to appear worldly and an absolute lack of worldliness." It may be hard to conceive a proper direction to take when you are overwhelmed with simply being acknowledged and being appreciated.
Indeed, people should extend you a hand. But, what if few, or even none, do? This is why some young men intimidate other peers: they find attacking others before they get attacked is a good way to hide their fears of self-doubt. The problem with this behavior is that these pushy teens begin to feel powerful, and, therefore, they continue to try to exert control over others to gain more attention.
I understand these young men are not necessarily "bad people" when they do some teasing and minor manipulation to get their way, but when they feel others around them are "bad people deserving of their bullying," their brains often become intoxicated with power. They become reckless and unemphatic toward others. They don't just tease or have a little fun, rather they act with aggression in order to increase their own status.
Young man, if you choose to gain friends by intimidating people, sooner or later everyone is going to get hurt. You will be hurt because you will eventually find that domination only feeds your own sense of receiving warped recognition. In other words, people just pretend to like you because they fear you -- actually, they dread being around you. And, naturally, pushing others around only leads to your own personal problems with authorities at home and at school.
Even more horrifying, bullying others may traumatize them, causing them severe psychological damage. Some of those you think are "weird" or worthy of your disgust are lonely just like you. The difference is that these lonely souls lack a positive outlet for escape. As you attempt to crush them into submission, you, instead, break their will. Your control can make them feel that their lives are empty and tedious, and feeling powerless to resist, they believe existence is futile. I don't have to tell you what some of these helpless youth will do -- let's understand harm will certainly follow.
And, young man, just because you have excellent self-esteem, you must not use others to be the big man on campus. It has been discovered that bullies usually have a strong sense of entitlement and superiority over others while they lack compassion, impulse control and social skills. These dominant males cast blame for the bad things in their lives upon others, so they often lash out with violence and aggression as they seek attention. They can become villains with uncontrollable masochistic tendencies.
It frightens me to learn that some research studies have found that according to their peers “bullies are, by far, the coolest kids. And the victims, in turn, are very uncool.” This is especially true in middle schools -- both in male and female populations. Students said the coolest kids "start fights or push other kids around" and "spread nasty rumors about other kids." (Jaana Juvonen. The Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2013)
In fact, I have read in some cases, the bigger, stronger teens create a social hierarchy and appoint themselves the leaders: the bullies are clearly in charge, gaining power and status that translate to a big-time ego boost. Some schools have become jungles where survival of the fittest is actually practiced and appreciated.
Yes, wicked people in our society have put an ugly premium on the primal tendency to rely on dominance behaviors. I am very sorry you have to mature in these conditions. I promise you love conquers all, and those who practice loving behavior do triumph.
Please, understand there is no such thing as "harmless" name-calling or an "innocent' punch."
I beg you, as a maturing young man, do not become a part of this insane admiration. I ask you to help stop it. Don't reward bullies by being one yourself or by rewarding them with thinking they're "cool."
I challenge you to become active in reporting bullying and cyberbullying to parents, teachers, and school counselors. You can also tell friends about incidents that threaten people. Don't simply ignore bad behavior -- you are not being a "rat" when you are proactive and you stop an aggressive incident from happening.
You can "stand up" in many ways. Just never be a rebel without a cause. Sometimes fighting the power is gut-wrenching and terrifying, yet never bow to evil. Seek help: it is there.
I know you are told over and over "bullying is not tolerated." You may be tired of hearing the directive, but as a loving human being and a growing man, you can help erase harmful behavior that destroys young lives.
You see, the more understanding you develop now about tolerating all decent human beings, no matter how foreign they seem to you, the more you will gain in the future -- that includes respect, friends, and love. And remember, an apology is an act of courage, so when you do become a little too forceful, listen to you conscience and make amends. Don't delay as each minute may be crucial to someone else.
Frank R. Thompson
Father, High School Teacher, Editorial Writer, and Believer in Youth