Teenage Violence

Who can forget that beautiful spring day at Columbine High School in Colorado?  Two outcast boys chose to kill as many of their peers as they could, and then to take their own lives.  Bombs they had set to destroy the school and kill more people failed to explode, or there would have been a worse tragedy. We have seen many similar events happen since that terrible day.  It is therefore important for us to take a look at teenage violence.  Please keep in mind that this is not directed specifically at any particular school or parent.  Teenage violence is a nationwide problem.


Many schools all over the nation have metal detectors in the entrances to buildings.  They are trying to find guns and knives in kids’ book bags.  In some places, only clear plastic book bags are allowed.  Why is this happening?


Talk to any teacher at any school in the nation and they will tell you that there has been a breakdown in authority and respect in schools.  Children seem not to care about old fashioned issues like respecting elders. Sometimes they openly mock their teachers. There are stories of teachers being attacked, fired or even murdered because they tried to establish authority with a rebellious child.  Schools have gone into a super-control mode with things like uniforms, and very strict policies about weapons and fighting. Even all this does not seem to stem the violence.


There is a strong relationship between what children see in video games and on TV, in the movies and on the internet and what they come to believe is acceptable behavior.  Many children spend most of their free time (often 10 to 12 hours a day for years at a time) glued to a video game.  Some of these games are horrifically violent.  Hours and hours of this imagery being pumped into a child brain, beginning at age 4 or 5 could explain why such violence in the real world doesn’t faze them.  For many kids, this is what “normal” has become.


In the Columbine case, those two boys equalized years of torment and bullying with guns.  A gun can make a weak person strong.  There is tremendous power in knowing one can kill one’s oppressor.   There are tales of parents hiring bodyguards for their children so they will be safe in school.  We have all seen and been moved by the story of Rachel who was killed that day at Columbine and how her family has asked that kids sign a pledge not to bully.  This is quite touching, and hopefully it has helped children understand the impact of hurting other children.


Then there are gangs.  There has been a tremendous nationwide surge in numbers of kids in gangs, and this is true for this community, as well.  The appeal of a gang is that it gives someone a sense of “belonging” and one knows that their “crew” will watch their back and retaliate if someone hurts them.  Many children are afraid, and this is one way they can deal with their fear.  In return for some safety, they give complete allegiance, and if they try to leave the gang, they are at risk for violence or worse against them.  That is the code of the gang.


So, why is all this happening?  Why the killings, why the lack of respect for authority?  Why are children seeking to connect with their peers in a gang?  One answer is economic.  Face it, these are tough times and even more than ever, both parents need to work.  Mom or Dad are usually not at home when the child gets home from school.  Often, there is only one parent to take care of the family, and some of them have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet. The hours from 3 to 5 PM on school days are considered the “danger hours.”   Children are often not supervised by adults during these times, and it is very common for children to get in trouble then.  The parents come home from work exhausted and for many it is all they can do to throw something in the microwave for dinner (or get fast food) and be unavailable to the child.  The fact is that once a child is out-of-control, it is much harder to reestablish that control.  The problem is often so huge that the parent does not have the energy or time to try and solve it.  I used to joke that if a parent does not have control of a child by the time they are 18 months old, they might never get it.  I wonder.


What would I say to a parent with a child who is showing some of these behaviors?  Firstly I would advise the parent to pay attention.  Know what your kids are doing and who their friends are, how they are doing in school, how they are eating and sleeping. What are they doing with media like cell phones, computers and video games?  If all those things seem to be OK, then think about giving the child a little freedom.  If there are issues with those things, a parent needs to sit with their child and make a plan to improve that.  Don’t let the little things slide.  Be sure you are at least talking with your child about their negative behaviors so that they feel you are involved and care.  Yes, this requires time and energy, but unless a parent is involved, there is little hope that someone else will be able to do much with the child.  Live your values before the child, values like respect for others, willingness to forego immediate wants for long term needs.   How much freedom are you willing to give them with media like cell phones (that text message), Facebook, internet access etc.  Be aware of your own violence and make changes that model a more non-violent way of living.


Remember, the goal of parenting is to produce a self sufficient adult who is able to go out in the world and care for themselves.  Be sure that everything you do as a parent is focused on that goal.  A child needs an education.  He needs to develop a good work ethic.  He needs to understand that respect for others must be there to succeed.  He must learn life’s most difficult lesson: he will not always get what he wants when he wants it.