..Nightmare on Main Street
are seared forever into all our brains. Because even if you've
only seen coverage of one school shooting on the news, you can
close your eyes and see it all again: Scenes of traumatized kids
and terrified parents, bullet-riddled glass and body bags, SWAT
teams in combat gear and, in the end, investigators sifting the
aftermath, looking for clues to help them understand the unthinkable.
might seem more at home in a teen-scream slasher flick than an
American high school, but they're real, and shaking your head
won't make them go away. If life was a movie, they could call
it Nightmare on Main Street, and the lines would probably stretch
around the block.
The acts that
etch the real images are byproducts of a culture of violence
reduced to its most irrational extreme, replayed so relentlessly
on television that viewers end up familiar with details of the
minutes leading up to the first shots but still fuzzy about the
same fundamental questions:
Who are these
killers? Raised in a culture of booming material prosperity that
still lets its kids learn ethics from "Mortal Kombat,"
they seem indistinguishable from any of 31 million other American
In fact, experts
say that's one of the common themes in the recent wave of school
shootings: All too often, the shooters blend-so well, in fact,
that talk shows are often filled for days with classmates saying,
"He was just like me."
Why do the
shootings happen at school? Because that's the place where kids
live-and hurt each other. And that's where the shooters decide
it has to end.
Who's to blame?
Nobody's sure, but the media points the finger, anyway:
At parents, who are reminded
to spend more "quality time" (as if there's any other
kind) with their kids.
At teachers who let so-called
"throwaway" kids fall through cracks of a too-impersonal
At gun manufacturers and film
makers, gansta rappers and Marilyn Manson, at video games and
In the aftermath,
guards are hired and "zero-tolerance" policies on violence
adopted. Mesh book bags become mandatory. But violence doesn't
go away. It seems as near now as today's evening news or tomorrow's
we've put together this pamphlet.
In it, we'll
look at the roots of violence, both at home and school. We'll
see how issues that trigger violence -- identity, belonging,
and self-control -- are the same ones we all have to resolve
during adolescence. And we'll discuss some things that we can
do to help each other through the rough spots.
fact is, there are things that each of us can do to make the
world a safer, less-toxic place. And we owe it to ourselves --
and each other -- to get busy.
we check our feelings as we check out reports of school violence,
we've all shared a thought that's still the truest one of all:
It isn't supposed to be this way.
It isn't. And
it doesn't have to stay this way.
..Are schools more violent today?
on what you're comparing them against, but for the most part,
the answer to that question is "yes."
It's not that
violence at school is new-far from it. Schoolyard bullies have
been dispensing a violent version of juvenile "justice"
for as long as there have been schoolyards.
intensity's rocketed in recent years, mirroring trends in other
sectors of society.
important to point out that violence comes in many forms-including
verbal threats, psychological intimidation, and racial slurs-and
some forms are a lot more common than we like to admit.
"everyday" forms of violence are destructive, too,
and can lead to big, ugly, explosive outbursts.
everyday violence can be seen in the faces of seniors taunting
freshmen or in fights sparked by a glance at another guy's girlfriend.
It's gang machismo and the whispered menace of "See you
It's so common,
according to the U.S. Department of Education, that every day,
150,000 students miss school because of intimidation and harassment
in the classroom.
..So why are kids more violent today?
A lot of factors
come into play, including such obvious candidates as exposure
to violence in the media and the breakdown of traditional families.
Other, less-visible factors play a role, too, including the trend
towards bigger, more-depersonalized high schools and even early-afternoon
dismissal from school.
factors have in common is that they add to the stress of growing
up, as kids attempt to establish an identity and navigate an
already rushed, blink-and-you'll-miss-it period of childhood
Still, in trying
to untangle the knot of factors that contribute to violence and
other problems, investigators often find a common thread: the
increasing amount of time that kids spend by themselves, and
with other kids.
The hours from
3 to 7 p.m. aren't just prime time for hanging with friends or
surfing the web and cable channels undisturbed, they're also
the time that juvenile crime jumps 300 percent, according to
the U.S. Department of Justice.
reason that, even though violent crime has declined overall during
the past decade, violence among children and teens has gone up.
The United Sates has the highest rate of youth homicide and suicide
among the world's 26 richest nations.
But teens aren't
just committing more acts of violence. They're also more likely
to be victims of violent crime than any other age group, except
those 18-24. Groups most at risk include minorities, immigrants,
and gays or lesbians.
..Isn't violence mostly just a 'guy thing'?
It used to
be, at least, if you're talking about aggressive, violent behavior
aimed at others.
But even this
ancient fact of life is starting to change.
a 1999 report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention, 27 percent of all youth crime is now committed by
one of every five violent crimes involving teens is committed
by a girl.
..Does violence run in families?
Often, it seems
to. But that doesn't mean it's genetic. Because, as much as anything,
violence is learned, and the first people most of us ever learn
anything from is our parents and other members of our immediate
kids who witness or experience abuse in the family are more likely
to be abusive when they grow up.
doesn't have to be physical to be toxic.
world, emotional neglect may be more common. And like physical
forms of abuse, emotional neglect happens everywhere, in every
toll that kids pay for an unstable home life can be massive.
it's worse, as they adopt traits that form the core of the so-called
"antisocial" personality: impulsiveness, isolation,
hostility and a lack of empathy for others.
in childhood are bad enough.
But in adolescence,
as the arbitrary, unofficial (but ruthlessly-enforced) rules
of high school social status emerge -- who's cool and who's a
fool, who's a leader and who's a loser -- the outcome can be
devastating. The effects show up in the form of failing grades,
social isolation, and (for kids who learned to do it this way)
an inclination to prove one's worth by destroying the competition.
And kids who
don't fit into one of today's predefined, set-in-stone high school
cliques (preps, stoners, jocks, goths, gangbangers) are easy
targets for anyone who's got something to prove and needs someone
to prove it on.
..Is there a solution?
Sure -- several.
They're just not always easy or popular.
The most obvious
way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the number of guns (duh!)
and make it tougher for the crazy or criminal to get one. Still,
obvious solutions can be a tough sell in Congress, so don't hold
your breath. But don't hold back from letting elected officials
know how you feel.
antisocial kids, early intervention is vital, since learning
more-effective ways of managing anger and resolving conflict
is almost always easier outside of prison than in. Programs for
helping high-risk kids may cost money, but not helping sooner
can cost a lot more later.
As for the
rest of us, there are plenty of low-cost, high-impact ways to
make a difference. If you check out "Increasing the Peace:
It's Up to You" (below), you may even find one or two that
will make you a better person, in the process.
..Sidebar | Home
Alone: Risky Business
Even in great
families, adolescence can be tough, as kids try on different
identities, cope with peers, and bump up against the bounds of
in school pressures, parental expectations, a constant case of
raging hormones, and set it all against a nonstop backdrop of
pop culture, and you may just conclude that growing up is tougher
today than ever before.
Now add one
more problem, loneliness. In fact, in families where both parents
work, teens spend an average of 3.5 hours alone every day. And
when everybody's home, it doesn't get much better: A recent survey
reports that most kids spend only 7 minutes talking to mom and
5 minutes talking with dad each day.
So, mom and
dad, if you're listening, remember that finding the time to be
a real part of your kids' lives only seems tougher than levitation
But when you
stop to consider what really matters, and what it means to be
a teen in today's over-amped, hyper-charged world, you may be
surprised to find that they've been waiting for you to catch
up all along.
..Sidebar | Increasing
the Peace: It's Up to You
in our schools won't happen because we wish it away. It will
only happen when we finally find the will (and the heart and
soul) to do something about the problems that trigger violence,
and which cause it to persist.
if you're looking for places to start, you don't have to look
far. Consider some of these:
- Entertainment. No matter how hard Hollywood tries
to deny its complicity by arguing that it only reflects the real
world, the fact is that exposure to violence in TV and movies
desensitizes viewers to acts of violence, and increases copycat
behavior. Want to get Hollywood's attention? Stop watching. They'll
see the light.
- Gun Control. It's a hot-button issue on both sides,
but the simple availability of guns increases the risk of gun
violence. That's the reason we have the highest homicide rates
in the world. As for the argument, "Guns don't kill people;
people kill people," we say: People with guns kill way more
people than people without guns. And people with assault weapons
really kill people -- sometimes, in the school cafeteria. Write
your local representatives if you want a safer, less gun-crazy
- Discrimination. We're so used to thinking in terms
of race that it's easy to forget that racial discrimination is
only one, highly visible, ugly form of a problem that injures
us all. Because whether we admit it or not (or even recognize
it when we do it), we're all guilty of discriminating against
others. It's not always -- or even usually-overt. We do it subtly
when we purposely exclude someone from a conversation or play
the "I'm cooler/smarter/richer/better-looking than you are"
game. I'm pretty good at that one, myself. In fact, probably
even better than you. (Hurts a little, even when it's a joke
-- doesn't it?)
So, if you
really want to do something meaningful to increase the peace
in your life and your school, start by working on yourself. That'll
keep you busy for the rest of your life.
And we hope
you have a long, happy one.