(This article contains extreme profanity, please be advised)
“if the bullet-scarred American psyche has an archetype for a school gunman, it looks very little like Jaylen Ray Fryberg. He was not a loner or a known misanthrope — far from it. He was a football player with a million-dollar smile, popular enough to be elected homecoming prince of his freshman class.”
In the search for motive and reason, undue and politically biased attention will be paid to the Fryberg family’s love of guns and hunting, while avoiding, if not ignoring, something I consider far more troubling and perhaps indicative –the fourteen-year-old’s unhealthy obsession with girls and sex and his family’s disregard for it.
“Jaylen’s social media posts were rife with juvenile profanity, anguish, frank sexuality and even pornographic images.”
“Rife” and “frank” are profound understatements and it’s telling these posts are considered merely “juvenile”. This implies certain assumptions. The phrasing suggests it’s normal, even understandable, for teenage boys to use social media as a bullhorn for crude language, blatant sexual references, and porn. Whether the belief is arrived at through surrender or acceptance, the message seems clear, such behavior is anticipated and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm or anxiety.
But as the father of a tween boy, that is one of the most telling aspects of this fateful incident and rests as the very heart of what it means to be a dad.
I’ve been a teenager and while much has changed in thirty years, when it comes to girls and sex, absolutely nothing has changed in thirty years. Regardless of its exponential rise in movies, music, and media, sexuality remains a deep mystery, as it should, for the typical fourteen-year-old boy. It is a riddle to be solved provoking ample distress, frequent despair, and unending confusion.
This inevitably leads to the battle every boy must fight; how to best manage and position this new reality in his life. Tragically, both from observation and experience, too many boys fight that enemy alone and are left to decipher the dilemma in whatever way they can. This is dangerous since the reality is that lacking a northern star to guide him, namely a father, the boy will gravitate towards the easiest solution he can find – that adopted by his friends or the poison spoon-fed by popular culture. Can it be any wonder, given our infatuation with sex, most notably by the loudest of adolescent microphones – the entertainment industry – that female discrimination, harassment, and objectification aren’t getting better?
We can’t delude ourselves into thinking this is merely a “juvenile” problem, a phase that will pass. Such inattention and a lack of guidance is often felt decades later. The solution a boy arrives at in those formative teen years will stay with him well into adulthood. If he determines that girls are something to be conquered and controlled through sex or attaches his identity and self-worth to having a ‘girlfriend’ while at fourteen, it is unlikely those feelings will be much different when he turns forty-one.
Understanding all of this, I felt a deep sorrow reading through Jaylen Fryberg’s Twitter feed. Because there may be no clearer evidence showing that he was not just missing this necessary masculine guidance, it became obvious he was without parental direction at even the most basic level.
This evidence certainly isn’t the most shocking to be found. But sadly, the greatest attention will be paid to the most flagrant displays of “anguish” so nauseatingly common at that age. They will be ruthlessly latched onto as clear, but missed, indicators that something was wrong with Jaylen Fryberg. Innuendos and accusations will ensue. But I must ask, what about the rest? Or are the posts polluted with profanity, sexuality, and porn to be ignored as being merely “juvenile”?
Is this now what we should expect from our sons navigating the hazardous teen years? Are we simply to excuse such behavior with the mantra, boys will be boys!” What parent would entrust a teenage daughter to someone who looks on femininity and sex in this way? Yet, why are so many teens, and most notably teen boys, acting like this? And why are we letting our daughters believe such behavior is acceptable (he did have a girlfriend). Because no one should be naive enough to think this is an isolated problem.
As more details emerge, more questions will arise searching for the answer ‘why’. Inevitably those questions will be asked of the parents. Can they be expected to offer meaningful insight into the heart and mind of their son when, like so many other parents , there were so oblivious to what was happening right in front of them?
As with all school shootings, this is a tragedy at every conceivable level. And as time moves forward and wounds begin to heal, those closest to Jaylen inevitably will reflect and ask what they could have done differently. While their family may have been “close” and Jaylen and his father had a “good relationship”, they will begin to realize there is a chasm of difference between a family that is “close” and family that is “connected”.
And while those of us watching pray for that community and the families involved, we must not allow the omitted facts of this horrific catastrophe to go unnoticed. It is our responsibility, as parents, to pay close attention and learn from it with the hope of preventing such a thing from ever happening again.
Parenting in our digital age brings with it many challenges, far more than our parents could ever have imagined. Most importantly, parenting today demands we be all the way plugged into our children’s lives – not just on the surface or wherever the neighbors and teachers will notice. It means that we are intentionally peering into every corner, not just assuming that if one area looks OK the rest must also – his Facebook page was rated PG. We can’t take anything for granted. We can’t flatter ourselves believing “my kid would never do that” or “they should already know better”. This doesn’t mean we eclipse our kid’s growth and independence – one extreme is no better than the other. It’s a tightrope act every parent must walk, a balancing between total control and virtual abandonment.
Nor should this imply that had Jaylen’s parents been more fully engaged things would have been different, or that teens who cuss on social media are more likely to shoot up a school. But we simply can’t ignore that our kids are best served during the uncomfortable and often dangerous teen years when they have parents who choose to be all the way plugged in.