Last week, I was treated to a seminar about Shaken Baby Syndrome, otherwise known as non-accidental head trauma. At first I questioned how such a seminar was relevant to my life, but as a self-titled nerd, I knew that I could find some piece of information that I would find useful (Please note I think disseminating information about SBS is critical, but I was already aware of the syndrome and not likely to be having any new babies in my life for a long time). As I listened intently, my take away message became clear.
I learned that the majority of perpetrators of SBS are male. They are most likely between the ages of 17-27. They often are inexperienced caretakers and are often alone when the shaking takes place. Our speakers were very quick to clarify the intensity that a baby must be shaken to cause SBS. SBS does not happen as an accident. It is not a mistake. SBS is a violent, intensive, continued shaking of a baby. The speaker’s demonstration on a gym bag brought gasps from the audience.
These facts and the speaker’s discussion of these facts brought my lesson to light. While I was not likely to be the caretaker of an infant anytime soon and given my background I personally was unlikely to commit such an act, I am the caretaker of two boys who will one day possibly fit this profile unless I change my parenting. The speaker pointed out that the age and inexperience of the men who perpetrate is very relevant. One, boy’s brains do not fully develop until their later 20’s and therefore impulsivity can be an issue past the traditional teenage years; two, our culture discourages boys from taking the care giving role. How can we use these facts to enact a change? We can decrease men’s inexperience as caregivers by increasing their care giving roles as they themselves are raised. The speaker noted that many times not only does our society marginalize men as care givers, they actually demonize it and look on men’s / boy’s interest in care giving with suspicion. These points, I took to heart. This was something that I could work with. I needed to think further about how to encourage my boys in caretaking roles. I needed to make sure that my husband modeled good and involved care giving. I needed to give them the opportunity to develop as care givers and I needed to continue to work with them in thinking about options when impulses are crying for you to do something else.
Ironically due to my attendance at this seminar, my husband at that very moment was taking one of our sons to the pediatrician for the first time ever alone (that particular son is 13). DH had been with me at the pediatrician when the kids were very young, but I don’t believe he had ever actually done it on his own completely. Sometimes, we carry on stereotypes without even meaning to.