If Only – Mass Shootings and the Needs of our Boys

Dr. Mark Schillinger
Special Guest Commentator

EDITOR’S NOTE: On this Father’s Day 2022, we publish a piece by Dr. Mark Schillinger, founder of the Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend, as he covers the impact of dad-deprived homes, an impact we may not truly comprehend, just as society may not comprehend the value fathers bring to the home.

After hearing about the shootings of children and teachers on May 24 in Texas by a young man, the first thought I had was, “If only that young man had gone to a rite of passage event.”

I know that may sound simplistic and like wishful thinking, but the devoted men and women around the world who host rite of passage events know that it isn’t.

Young men who commit these crimes are usually troubled by someone or something in the world. My friends, Warren Farrell and John Gray, who wrote the book, “Boy Crisis”, offer this insight: “School shooters often come from dad-deprived homes. With the frequent background of dad-deprivation, perhaps school shootings are a Caucasian boy’s way of acting out his anger at the at the school that couldn’t adequately replace his dad, and at the peers who rejected him for his lack of social and emotional intelligence” (“Boy Crisis”, pg. 107).

If young men don’t have a place to safely release all of their fears, angers and frustrations, there’s always the possibility that they’ll do it in a way that harms or insults innocent people. This is equally true of young men who commit violent crimes as it is for young men who come from stable homes and express their emotions by acting over-empowering to their parents or by becoming overly withdrawn from their parents.

How a Rite of Passage Can Prevent Shootings

There are men, including myself, who have been volunteering at the Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend (YMUW) for many years. They’ve now been in front of thousands of young men, putting them though physical, mental and emotional challenges. They would agree with me about just a few of the reasons I’m about to tell you that could prevent mass shootings.

  • They Are Not Alone – If I had a dollar for every time a young man told me that one of the main benefits of going to YMUW was that he didn’t feel alone anymore, I’d be rich. Simply put, when young men hear that other young men suffer from the same things that they do, they relax. A huge weight is lifted off of their shoulders because they are heard and accepted.
  • They Are Supported to Talk About It – Regardless of the many events a young man is participating in at the YMUW, as soon as he becomes sad, emotional or chooses not to participate, the mentors and the young man’s teammates stop what they’re doing. One of the trained mentors will use that time to allow the young man to open up to what’s bothering him. If he needs extra time, that mentor will sit with him while the rest of the young men carry on with the event. Whether or not the young man fully reveals his deeper underlying stressful issues, the mentor is developing the necessary rapport to make it safe for the young man to explore his pain at any time during the YMUW. 
  • They Grieve About It – On Saturday night, after we’ve had 24 hours to earn the trust of the young men, we give them a safe opportunity to let go of their past emotional wounds using an ancestral tribal custom. This technique is powerful and effective. Doing this allows them to experience a deep catharsis so that they can stop acting out their unhappiness in immature and dangerous ways. 
  • They Don’t Do the Rite of Passage Alone – Many young men choose to avoid participating in events with their families at home. This is partly a result of all of the digital distractions this culture continually feeds them. Their isolation prevents them from developing the virtue of cooperation. Worse, when their parents ask them to help out, some young men behave disrespectfully to their parents and siblings, without remorse.

The YMUW helps young men practice these two virtues of cooperation and remorse because all weekend long, they have to work in teams in order to accomplish shared goals. They get to practice remorse when they offend others or don’t complete a task by having to face accountability for their misdeed. 

Two Key Ingredients for The Success of YMUW

One of the defining features of YMUW is that most of our mentors have undergone their own rite of passage event either as young men, as adult men, or both. Therefore, these mentors understand what it takes to have the desire, stamina and maturity to help young men discover what it’s going to take to become happy, responsible and resilient.

Another benefit at the YMUW, is that we operate as a tribe that uses a shared “way,” or method, so that all of our mentors are teaching and modeling the same values and codes of conduct. It’s been our experience that almost every young man who attends the YMUW has some kind of adolescent developmental issue or disorder. However, by sticking to our way, which promotes the virtue of respect, we avoid making the young man feel deficient. By skillfully mentoring him to overcome his shortcomings, he responds by getting accountable, taking more responsibility, and becoming grateful.

Trained mentors can make all of the difference for a young man who is experiencing childhood trauma or the usual anxieties about facing the challenges of the adult world. At some stage in their young lives, adolescent young men need to be around healthy, mature adult men – other than their father – who can point them in the right direction.

My Vision for Rite of Passage Events

In our ancestral past, parents once had the help of community mentors to challenge their sons and daughters to discover their healthy masculine and feminine wisdom. This process was often initiated through the rite of passage. This life-changing event taught young adults how to channel their energy into important physical and mental skills that were necessary for their family and their tribe to survive and thrive.  

I would love to be alive when there’s a world-wide rite of passage season. Each nation would encourage organizations that are experts in the production of these events to host rite of passages for young men and for young women. 

In this way, the young adults would be highly respected by their families and communities. Young people who are recognized for their talents naturally want to cooperate in their homes and in their communities in order to help make the world a healthier and safer place.

As much as ever in the history of humankind, we need this tradition brought back into prominence. 

Dr. Mark Schillinger is a public speaker, community leader and a chiropractor specializing in mind-body wellness. An expert in stress management and family dynamics, he’s the founder of the 
Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend, a rite of passage initiation for teens and men ages 13-20 that is profiled in Sunday’s episode of “This Is Life with Lisa Ling.” The views expressed here are his own.

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