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Plea to American men: Raise your kids

Rebecca Horvath, Community Voices • Mar 23, 2018 at 8:30 AM

When there is a school shooting, like the recent one in Parkland, Florida, we all scratch our heads and try to understand what could lead a person to commit such a horrific crime.

Blaming the gun is short-sighted and over-simplifies the issue. The gun control debate could go on forever, but focusing on it alone will not change anything, since guns can be obtained illegally and there are many other ways to inflict grave injury in crowds. The problem of mass shootings is multi-faceted, so the solutions must be, too.

Consider the society in which these mass shooters have grown up. In most cases (Las Vegas being a notable exception), the shooter is young and has grown up in a society that doesn’t value life and that glorifies violence and death in all forms of entertainment (music, movies, video games, etc.). People do not respect authority at any level — from little kids who talk back to teachers to adults who toss vulgar insults at elected leaders. People don’t even respect those around them and many children have no discipline at home.

All of these things create a culture where no one is accountable for their own behavior and innocent people pay the ultimate price. The worst part is that none of these problems have an easy fix.

Mental health can factor into violent tendencies and many modern kids are prescribed psychotropic drugs to help curb problems. But it’s important to note that the vast majority of people with mental health issues never turn to violence; in fact, women are more likely to suffer with mental health problems and are also far less likely to commit violent crimes. There can be connections between mental and behavioral issues and violent behavior, but there are typically other underlying factors or a chemical imbalance caused by prescribed drugs.

While mass shooters have a variety of different backgrounds and life stories, there are two threads that tie nearly all of them together: being male and not having grown up with a father. Of the 27 deadliest mass shooters in our history, guess how many were raised by a biological father?

One.

If that’s not a plea to the men of America, I don’t know what is.

It seems like fathers are generally more involved in kids’ day-to-day lives than they were a couple of generations ago, but only in traditional nuclear families. But with 13.6 million single parents in the United States, the lack of present fathers is staggering. The federal government spends well over $100 billion per year providing assistance to fatherless families because 44 percent of them are living in poverty.

Now, it’s important to note that some single parent homes are headed by fathers. It’s also vital to remember that not having a father present is hardly an automatic gateway to a life of crime — millions of children are successfully raised in homes with only their mothers. Also, having a father present doesn’t guarantee success.

But research on fathers is extraordinarily powerful and shows a connection between fatherlessness and nearly every ill plaguing our society. Even folks who aren’t personally living in fatherless homes will be impacted by the overall trend, because of the wide-ranging societal problems. Some examples:

• Adolescent boys who do not have a father present are far more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than boys who live with their fathers.

• Girls without present fathers tend to reach puberty at a younger age and become mothers themselves earlier.

• Fatherless kids are far more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

• Children raised in single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than those who are not.

• 71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless; kids with a father in the home have dramatically higher test scores and grades.

• Kids in two-parent homes are much less likely to witness violence or become victims of sexual abuse.

Fatherlessness disproportionately affects black families, with 57 percent of black children living without their fathers, compared to 31percent of Hispanic kids and 21 percent of whites. Only 68 percent of all American children will spend their entire childhoods living in a home with both biological parents.

Fathers make unique contributions to their kids’ lives and provide different contributions than mothers. While there is no easy fix for the widespread problems caused by absent fathers, communities and individuals can do everything possible to support and encourage dads to be present and involved, to help the younger generation learn the importance of a solid family foundation and to reach out to fatherless kids. It might just help prevent another tragedy.

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