Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that rates of violent behavior among U.S. teens have been generally on the decrease since 1991, homicide is still the second leading cause of death among teens 15-19 years of age. The U.K., on the other hand, reports a rise in homicides among 10-19-year-olds in 2007 and 2008. Such mixed news begs important questions for parents: How many violent children are too many? Ten children? One child? Perhaps there are no guarantees, but researchers who focus on the interplay between biological and environmental influences on behavior have uncovered several factors associated with youth violence, which are outlined in a recent article titled "Who Am I? The Question of Youth Violence."
The American Psychological Association’s Web site notes that there’s no gene for violence. Research indicates that even when there are biological factors, these can very often be mitigated by environmental factors: particularly through the efforts of family and community. Violence, generally speaking, is a learned behavior.
While the media may certainly be a force for modeling violence to teens, parents must take ultimate responsibility for teaching children what to emulate and supplying them with appropriate models. Unfortunately, parents themselves sometimes model violence—and children may be exposed to violence within their communities as well. In addition to these two important influences, other factors thought to contribute to aggression include poor family, peer and community relationships in general and lower levels of moral and abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills. And of course, mental disorders and biological factors (including brain damage and other abnormalities) also come into play.
However, even though large numbers of teens are exposed to various combinations of any or all of the risk factors for violence, plainly they do not all become violent. The difference between those who do and those who don't seems to boil down to the degree of resilience children have at their disposal.
How can parents build the kind of resilience in their children that can help protect them from responding to others with violence? Research can be distilled to roughly five essential life skills that support resilience: skills best taught by adults with whom children have secure emotional connections.
In other words, the engaged and supportive family relationships that instill a positive identity in children are of critical importance in youth violence prevention.
Conflicting reports surface regarding posting in online chatroom
A chatroom post seemed to suggest that troubled teen Tim Kretschmer had confided his plans to another teen nearly seven hours before killing 15 classmates and bystanders yesterday, but officials are now skeptical of the posting.
A local German official quoted the chatroom message as saying, in part: "I've had enough. Always the same. Everybody's laughing at me. No one sees my potential. I'm serious. I have weapons and I will go to my former school in the morning . . . you will hear of me tomorrow. Remember the place's name: Winnenden."
Whether the apparent message actually came from Kretschmer or was posted after the fact is still under investigation. No record of it is apparent on the gunman's personal computer.
Eight of the nine students killed in the shooting were girls and all three teachers were women, but it is not known whether this circumstance was intentional. After fleeing to the nearby downtown area, Kretschmer shot three adult males before turning his gun on himself.
Some early news reports say Kretschmer was known to have good relationships with his parents and younger sister, while other sources add that he "enjoyed grisly horror movies and violent 'shoot-em-up' computer games."
According to Reuters', Kretschmer had been treated for depression until dropping his treatment in September of last year.
Boston's teen victims triple in five years
The Boston Globe's Milton J. Valencia notes that Boston has seen a significant increase in teen violence in the past half-decade. But the trend isn't confined to Valencia's beat. In fact, the problem is a global one.
Valencia writes that "the brazen shootings Boston is seeing are part of an ugly trend occurring in cities throughout the country." One could substitute "the world." He continues, "This summer, a 6-year-old was caught in gunfire while he played with friends in Baltimore and the spraying of bullets at a parade in Connecticut hit a 7-year-old. Last month, a 14-year-old was killed and a 13-year-old injured when someone opened fire in a crowd in Buffalo."
Why? According to Valencia, "in Boston, teenagers are getting shot for things as petty as looking at someone's girlfriend, crossing the wrong street, or glancing at someone the wrong way, any type of perceived disrespect."
Who is doing the shooting? According to Glenn Pierce, a professor at the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University who is researching gun trafficking and gun violence, the perpetrators are other teens.
"You have kids that actually have access to guns," says Pierce, adding that along with the lack of maturity comes a corresponding lack of responsibility and sensitivity for violence.
But what is the "situation" behind the problem of teen violence? Few problems have simple causes or simple solutions. But as the American Psychological Association (APA) puts it, “the home is the most fertile breeding place for this situation." What a child hears and sees in the home is of critical importance.
Teen violence then, like so many other problems that plague communities worldwide, would seem to beg us to take a closer look at the attitudes of adults and the state of family relationships.
Unfortunately, soccer isn't an important sport in Mississippi
There's not much to say on the subject of teen pregnancy today. Perhaps Jamie Lynn Spears says it best. (Thanks goes to my 15-year-old daughter for bringing this article to my attention).
Of course, it's impossible not to feel compassion for the many less fortunate girls for whom such a mistake means a life very different from the one Jamie Lynn's daughter is likely to have. And it's just as difficult to pin down why young girls might romanticize motherhood as it is to pin down why young boys (or girls) might romanticize violence. But these are topics worthy of at least some thought.
In the spirit of Jack Johnson, no blame is implied.