Why Do Kids Kill?
The Weekly's readers share their thoughts about the Littleton, Colo., school shooting.
Thursday, May 6, 1999
We asked our readers what they believe are the root causes behind violence in our schools. The responses we received were thoughtful and demonstrated concern not just for the immediate situation, but for the overall condition of society.
Many of the responses we received were quite lengthy, and we have edited those responses for length. Unedited, full-text versions of all responses will be posted in the "Public Forum" section of the Weekly online (www.coastweekly.com).
Some writers submitted their writings more or less anonymously and we have respected their wishes.
By Pam Burkes
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
How do we make sense of tragedies like Littleton? I believe we must struggle with and embrace a paradoxical truth that exists. The truth is that there are tangible reasons why this happened and there is no good reason why this happened. There are things we can do to address this problem and there is no way to prevent this from ever occurring again.
We can look at gun control; we can look at the deterioration of the family and the need to be more involved in our children''s lives. We can look at the normalization of violence in our culture, and we can examine the patriarchal structure in which we live that promotes oppression rather than mutual respect and responsibility. All are worthy and crucial endeavors; if we can prevent just one tragedy from becoming a reality by becoming a more conscientious, responsible and loving society, then we will have succeeded. Although we may never know that we have prevented another catastrophe, it does not mean we weren''t successful.
At the same time, we also have to realize there are things that are beyond our control, outside of our dominion. People will always do things we won''t understand.
In his book, How Good Do You Have To Be, Rabbi Harold Kushner presents an intriguing interpretation of the myth of the Garden of Eden. He suggests that rather than being about the punishment of sin, the tale is about how Adam and Eve become more human and less like the other inhabitants of Eden. Kushner proposes it is a story about the development of conscience and learning to struggle with moral issues of right and wrong, good and evil, which separates us from all other animals and brings us closer to God.
Why did Littleton occur? The answer is partly that as a society we failed two boys and their victims. A society where might is right, where power is defined by dominance over rather than responsibility for, and where children are the most oppressed group in a culture of oppression.
We need to ask ourselves how two boys lost their way so drastically. We need to take responsibility where it exists and it exists everywhere, AND we need to realize, sometimes, it happens! Both are true and struggling with that contradiction is what makes us so uniquely human, and in that struggle perhaps we may find God.
By Joseph C. Bianco
The relationship between teenagers and low self-esteem has always caused a problem. Twenty years ago, it carried into cases of suicide. Today, the objective is to hurt many people.
Do we gratify violence? Look to your television screens for that answer.
Do we reward today''s children with tangibles more than intangibles? Meaning that if kids are good, they can get a set of "Power Strangers" and not a hug. What is more important? "Power Strangers" or a hug?
By Ryan Kelly, Chairman, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Central Coast
There is a very simple answer, yet it is unpopular with a few school administrators, teachers and parents: re-implementing voluntary school prayer, posting the Ten Commandments and voluntary Bible study.
When do you ever hear of a parochial or Christian school having extreme social problems with students? Or home-schoolers out from under the liberal social engineering of certain schools?
The opposite is the typical public school in America. Kids carrying guns to school, abortion, socially transmitted diseases, low academic scores, continual discipline problems with students, drug and alcohol abuse, and the negative list goes on.
Violent Objects, Violent Hearts
By David Hess, Retired from the United States Foreign Service (Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, and Kuala Lumpur) and now working in Monterey as a media consultant.
We read about kids wiping out their families and gunning down classmates. Many respected intellectuals say the problem is that too many guns are available...if we just remove the weapons from society, everything will return to normal. There''s something wrong with that equation.
As kids, quite a few of us had rifles and even pistols, but we didn''t turn them on our schoolmates. In fact, we had a shooting range inside the high school as part of our high school ROTC program. We had guns and ammo right there, and nobody was killed or injured. If you add the damage the kids of Davenport High could have done with the weak nitrogen bond [that we learned about from chemistry teacher, Mr. Money], it brings into serious question the theory that weapon availability is a leading cause of the current student violence.
If kids are truly becoming more violent, it''s likely they''ll discover killing devices more efficient than guns. The Oklahoma City bombers (168 dead) used ammonium nitrate, that garden fertilizer Mr. Money taught us about. Before Oklahoma City, the biggest mass murder in America was committed not with an assault rifle, but with a can of gasoline and a match (Happy Land Social Club, The Bronx, March 25, 1990; 93 dead).
But if it''s not weapon availability, what is making this new generation so much more violent? Is it because there''s more bloodshed on TV? Have today''s parents lost touch? Has the bill for removing religion from the schools and much of our public life finally come due? It''s probably all of the above, plus a couple.
Many respected intellectuals do not want to grapple with these real causes of increased violence. The idea that film and TV bloodshed should be curbed flies in the face of their strong support for the First Amendment; they will fight against media restrictions as tenaciously as gun owners fight against gun control.
Many intellectuals are also allergic to the thought that the problem might be with the looseness of the American family. The liberation of women and children from the strictures of patriarchy has been one of their long-term goals, and that necessarily results in the weakening of the traditional family. To return to a stronger family is traveling in reverse for these folks.
And, finally, so many intellectuals have fought so long to remove superstition from American culture that they refuse to embrace the possibility that religion is a useful firewall against violence. In fact, to suggest that media violence, loose families, and weaker religion have led to the current perceived increase in violent youth is so disagreeable to these folks, that they struggle mightily for a scapegoat that will take their pets off the hook. Guns are it.
The stage is set for this intellectual ruse to be reduced to an absurdity. The newly violent will discover the magic of chemistry, because if violence is the objective, chemistry is far superior to firearms. The bombs used by those kids in Colorado were just the beginning.
On July 31, 1998, a Morgantown, West Virginia farm supply company was robbed of more than 25 tons of ammonium nitrate. That''s about 10 times the amount used to take out the courthouse in Oklahoma City. Let us pray that the thief was just a poor farmer hoping to improve his fields.
It''s Our Fault
By Lon Ball
Who in this world could hate so much [as to kill]?
Our children learn from their home, community, society and their world. Looking at what''s happening in all areas of learning for a child, why would we expect anything different from our children? We shouldn''t, and to act shocked when our children act as we do is simply preposterous. We teach our children to fear, not respect. We teach our children to hate, not to love. We teach our children to judge, not to accept. We teach our children that no matter what the action, as long as you can justify it, it can be accepted. We, the human race do this, no one else.
Can we stop it? Yes!
Choose to take a stand. Choose to support those who do. Choose to follow a new way. Choose to help create a new world. This is what will stop our children from judging, hating, fearing and killing one another. It is time for a new, united consciousness filled with acceptance, love, respect and life.
For our children''s sake, are we brave enough, courageous enough, to take the first step?
By Barbara Baldock
I believe that there are many reasons for the increase in the violence of children: easy access to guns and other weapons, feelings of isolation and hopelessness, drugs, the media, books, TV, the Internet, music, and lack of supervision are some of them.
What to do about it? Get serious about gun control and the mass production of guns and other weapons. The United States needs to stop being the largest weapons producer and distributor in the world. Kids need to be taught non-violent conflict resolution like the successful Peacebuilders program. Kids need to be taught tolerance. Parents need to be responsible and held accountable. Turn the TV off. Monitor what movies your children watch. Monitor what your kids are doing on the Internet. Monitor what CDs your kids buy. We need more after-school programs to keep kids involved in safe, healthy activities while parents work.
By Tom Lee, Seaside
However gruesome the recent Colorado killings were, the suggestion that kids are killers comes more from the media than from a sober analysis of the facts. The thought of baby-faced executioners (endlessly referred to as "kids" or "children"), rampaging through classrooms, pumping bullets into innocent students, is used to horrify us again and again. The news media sells us this heartbreak without compunction but never asks us to put these isolated tragedies into perspective. Real damage is done to ordinary teenage boys who are increasingly stereotyped as dangerous by this coverage.
Based on research by the Justice Policy Institute, the evidence suggests that students have a less than one-in-a-million chance of being killed in school every year. The chances that a juvenile will be killed in general during a year''s time is 40 times higher--being a juvenile in this society is a relatively risky business, but school is one of the safest places to be! This does not mean that schools, like every other institution, should not be vigilant about protecting those who attend. However, there is no evidence of any widespread crisis of violence in our schools.
A cruel maze of new laws and regulations is now being inflicted on teenagers to satisfy the media hysteria. First, students often face mandatory expulsion for a variety of non-violent offenses. Such policies take power away from teachers and principles to review infractions on a case by case basis. Second, police are increasingly brought onto campuses without considering the need. Third, after-school programs are often curtailed because of fear of violence. Fourth and perhaps most damaging to young people, is the move toward a more punitive juvenile justice environment. Laws have been introduced to require trying more juveniles as adults. Furthermore, penalties for juvenile offenses are becoming more severe.
Despite the fact that most of the sensationalized "kid killers" have been white, we can be sure that these increased penalties will fall hardest on teenage boys of color. It is they, after all, who tend to be targeted by routine surveillance for minor infractions. After the media has moved on to a new sensation, they are the ones to pay the price for our national hand-wringing over the "killer kids."
There are many causes for the violence we see in society and in kids. I believe television violence is particularly offensive. Shows like "COPS," "America''s Most Wanted," "Walker, Texas Ranger," "Turks," "Murder She Wrote," and on and on, all show murder, killing, shooting and fighting as the way problems are solved. After a while you cannot tell who the "bad guys" are.
A society that condones capital punishment also sends the wrong message to children, that killing is okay for a "good" reason and that some people''s lives have no value.
Mental health and drug/alcohol education and treatment should be a top priority, and available to all children without cost. When a child is belittled, taunted, and teased by his peers and starts acting weird, or gets in over his head with drinking or drugs, the system needs to have in place counselors and education programs.
Teachers must emphasize tolerance and respect. Bullies and those who tease other children should be disciplined immediately by the teachers and principals. Anti-racism should be an everyday part of the school and home experience.
Parents and teachers need to treat children with respect from the get go. No lying. Treat the children as we adults want to be treated. Don''t tell your kids to "shut up" or put them down or hit them. Children should not be given toy guns to "play" with. Don''t have real guns around the house.
When we watch TV with our kids, point out the things we do not approve of, or change the channel when violence or scary programming is on. Tell the kids why we are uncomfortable watching someone shot, killed, beaten up, raped, assaulted, or disrespected. All of us are responsible for conveying our values and this can only be done by voicing our opinions out loud to our children.
Pay attention to what the kids are doing. If they are spending hour after hour in front of the computer, look over their shoulder and see what they are involved with. Check out their "bookmarks" and if you see something that is upsetting, talk to the kids and find out what they are thinking. Don''t buy them violent video games and show your disapproval if you find that they are playing "Street Fighter" or other ultra-violent games.
Everyone needs to be paid a living wage and have educational opportunities, to eliminate poverty and ignorance in our society that are root causes of crime and violence. Government funds need to be channeled in that direction rather than being funneled to more and more prisons, more police, and bigger and better war machines. Teachers should make as much as physicians or professional athletes, to attract the best and brightest to educate the next generations.
Where Were The Parents?
"If your kid is influenced by anything Gene Simmons has to say, then you''re not doing your fucking job as a parent, okay?"
What I want to know, is, where the FUCK were these guys'' parents? How much time had they been spending with their kids lately?
I think parents of this world are forgetting that they, too, are teachers, by both example and instruction. Parents have to assume many roles, and it is up them to choose which is the most important.
Alexander Mitscherlich, a renowned German social psychologist, wrote about his country in the ''60s in his book, Society Without the Father:
"Adults in speaking of their youth often say they never really knew their father or their mother, or both. The father may represent stern or mild authority to the child, but his ideas, anxieties, or failures, the temptations he succumbs to or resists, are practically never discussed between parents and children, because such subjects are ''unsuitable'' for the latter, and their discussion is regarded as inconsistent with the parental role. Instead the model held out for the fallible individual is of a mythical, idealized father, immune to error, temptation, anxiety, etc., with a resultant loss of contact, or at any rate silence where there should be speech, and loss of knowledge which the individual needs for self-orientation"
The work I quoted is dated somewhat--I know that the mother is just as crucial in the fight against hate--but it''s still relevant.
What I see happening with these kids is a loss of contact. They were not guided into any creative, socially responsible roles, so they chose their own.
Misguided Educational System
By Gordon Bell, Gbell@iex.net
There are a great many reasons that factor into the reason kids have come to kill but there is one reason that''s seldom, if ever, mentioned by the media or those pondering this difficult question. It is the method by which we force our kids to acquire knowledge: the American educational system.
Many years ago, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, offered a system of study to the world, which was likely developed by a team of his associates. I am no promoter of Scientology or any other religion. I am a researcher who seeks out viable concepts no matter their source. I have used Hubbard''s concepts and have provided them to industry as a consultant, with incredible results.
More recently, Frank Wilson, a neurologist and author of The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, states: "Once children get into school, this sort of learning machine [the hand] that was given to us by biology is a sort of preempted culture that says, well, we would like our sons and daughters to go to Harvard, and we would like them to become aeronautical engineers, so, well, we''ll take that over, and we will fill the child with the information that the child needs." Unfortunately this does violence psychologically to the child, and it also, unfortunately, divorces that child from the physical world at a time when that child has to know what the world is about. Hubbard''s study, Technology, cuts to the core of this problem and brings back the hand to work with the mind, preserving the sanity of the child, and future adult.
The private institutions that have adopted this technology do not have the problem of killing by kids. They don''t have disciplinary problems, per se. They don''t violate the child. They do what nature seems to have intended, not the contrary.
The number one reason that enables all the other factors in today''s environment to penetrate the kids mind is the violence we perpetrate on our kids by forcing them to become robots to a very obsolete system of education.
Talk and Listen
By Marilyn Stowell
Parents have to communicate with their kids; parents have to listen to their kids in what they have to say.
Families should do things together; parents should find out who their kids hang out with, who their friends are. If your kid looks and acts funny, find out what the problem is, and seek help for him or her.
Parents should monitor what kind of movies and TV programs their kids watch. Parents should not teach hatred in the home because a person is different than they are, and the kids should be taught not to make fun of other kids, it isn''t nice and feelings get hurt very easily.
Learn It At Home
By Nancy Biddle
Coach operator, MST-Salinas
I am a coach operator for MST. Unfortunately, I see a lot of children and teenagers spending their nights just hanging out. I deal with a lot of teenagers. The majority of them are basically good kids. The part that scares me, though, about some of these kids is the lack of guidance. Do their parents know where they are? Why are they out at 10 or 11 on a school night?
At times, I feel like a babysitter to these kids. Some of them get on the bus, cussing and rough housing. I have to tell them, "Excuse me, you are in a public place." Why should I have to do that? Don''t they learn this at home? It seems there is a lack of basic courtesy and thought for others.
As I said, most of the teens I see are good kids, but working with the public, I do see a few of the others, too. I know you can''t be with your child 24 hours a day, but if they are taught the basics at home, if they are expected to answer for their actions, if they feel loved, they will act accordingly.