How Kozo Hattori is proactively keeping his sons out of jail.
Reading about the locker room abuse in Sayreville reminded me of Steubenville and Saratoga, where seemingly “normal” boys from “good” families have served, are serving, or will be serving time in prison. As the father of two boys, I never want to talk to my son through the bullet proof glass of a jail visiting room, so I’m being proactive. Here are five ways to keep your son out of prison.
1. Get them in touch with their bodies
From an early age boys are told to “toughen up.” Many of our childhood heroes overcome the feelings in their bodies to perform incredible feats. Think of Michael Jordan scoring 38 points with a high fever in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz or Curt Shilling’s “bloody sock” performance in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the NY Yankees.
Unfortunately, disconnecting ourselves from our bodies also alienates us from our hearts. When our bodies get so tough that we cannot even feel sensations, we lose touch with our emotions and our conscience.
Keeping boys in touch with their bodies helps them make sound decisions. In Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Dr. Dan Siegel argues that keeping adolescents in touch with their bodies will guide them through a period of life when the brain is not fully developed. If adolescents can learn to listen to their heart and their guts, they be capable of doing the right thing.
2. Find positive male role models for them
When I interviewed Father Richard Rohr who has been a prison chaplain for over 14 years, he said that the one universal pattern he found with men in prison is “that they did not have a good father.”
Fathers are crucial for raising healthy, moral children, especially boys, but in contemporary society where the divorce rate hovers around 50%, we need a plan B. Finding positive male role models for your sons might be the single most important thing you can do to keep him out of prison.
Male role models come in all shapes and sizes. Athletic coaches (especially the ones concerned about growth rather than winning) come to mind. John Wooden, The Wizard of Westwood, might be known as the greatest basketball coach of all time, but if you talk to his former players, they will tell you how Coach Wooden taught them how to live their lives.
These role models don’t even have to be living or real. Religious figures and fictional characters like Gandhi, Obi Wan Kenobi, or Jesus can all serve as role models of what defines manhood, strength, and courage.
3. Love them no matter what
Perhaps the most powerful lesson I ever learned about raising boys came from a woman in Australia whose daughter was abducted, molested, and murdered. At the sentencing, the media asked this mother what she thought the perpetrator deserved: the electric chair, life imprisonment without parole, etc.
The mother said, “I think he deserves love, because only someone who has not been loved his whole life could have done these things to my daughter.”
If we give our sons unconditional love, will that prevent them from committing crimes that will land them in prison? I don’t know. But the alternative seems obvious–withholding love from our sons doesn’t do anyone a whole lot of good.
According to Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting, the trick is to love unconditionally. We often claim to love our children unconditionally, but Kohn interviewed the children. Many of these children said that their parents only love them when they behave, get good grades, or do well in sports.
Can we love our boys for who they are without reservations, conditions, or requirements?
4. Empathize with them
In his book on emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman emphasizes the importance of empathy in creating well rounded, emotionally intelligent, and successful humans. On the other hand, a lack of emotional intelligence, including empathy, has led many good natured boys down the path to imprisonment.
Empathy is a confusing word. I still don’t know whether someone who has empathy is empathic or empathetic. I couldn’t careless if my sons can define empathy or use it in a sentence. What I’m concerned about is whether they feel empathy.
I’ve found that the best way to teach empathy to children is to empathize with them. Being a boy is hard, especially when no one seems to recognize how hard it is. When my older son hits my younger son, I try to see things from his perspective:
“I understand how frustrating it is to have your little brother play with your toys without asking, Jett, but that doesn’t mean that you can hit him,” I say calmly.
By having someone take their perspective, I’m hoping my sons will learn how good it feels to be understood and start practicing it with others. Developing empathy is a necessary step in treating others with respect, honor, and kindness.
5. Cultivate Compassion
The late Bo Lozaff, author of We’re All Doing Time, who led thousands of meditation workshops in more than 500 prisons for over three decades claims that every inmate he met in prison had one thing in common: “A lack of compassion.”
In my experience, one of the greatest gifts we can give boys is compassion. I want my sons to have compassion for themselves and others. I believe what Thich Nhat Hanh told me, “Compassion protects you more than guns, bombs, and money.”
When I read the manifesto written by Elliot Rodger, the 22 year-old who killed six people near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, I can’t help but wonder how a nudge of compassion might have altered Rodger’s path. The senior football players who molested the freshmen in the locker room at Sayreville must not have been introduced to the power of compassion or they would not have participated and they probably would have stopped the abuse.
If we want to keep our boys out of prison, then we need to change the way we raise them. We need to keep them in touch with the heart wisdom and gut feelings in their bodies, give them positive male role models to emulate, love them unconditionally, empathize with them, and cultivate compassion in them. Not only will this style of parenting keep them out of prison, but it will also give them a chance to be whole-hearted human beings.
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