The recent shooting and killing of 15 people by a teenager in Germany this week brought back haunting memories of the infamous gun shootings at school campuses here in the U.S. Like so many who were alive to experience President Kennedyʼs assassination or the horrifying terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I have vivid recollections of my exact whereabouts when I learned about the shocking school shootings at Columbine, San Diego, and Virginia Tech to name a few of the bigger ones. Living in Austin, I also shudder at the recollections of the 1966 shooting from the University of Texasʼ tower. Then I read a National Crime Survey that reported a whopping three million crimes occur at or near school campuses in the U.S. every year. Two million of these crimes involve violence.
What can be done?
I believe the answer is three-part - It includes biology, family and community.
It has been reported that many of the assailants suffered from some sort of mental health issue. For instance, the teenager in Germany was said to have been treated for depression. While some mental health issue may exist, I want to make note that there is danger in blaming biology as the primary cause for violence. First, it can falsely imply that people who are being treated for a mental health issues like depression or schizophrenia are violent. That is generally not the case in these specific conditions. There are other mental health diagnoses that reveal more anger and violent tendencies, but those werenʼt reported in the media. The key is to get an accurate assessment and proper treatment. Having stated that, while an underlying genetic predisposition can exist, such conditions flourish in certain environments - which brings me to family and community (and what you and I can do).
As parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, we are all modeling behavior in front of children. Children thrive when we listen to their feelings and when we praise them for what they are doing right. One bad apple spoils the barrel and many adults are guilty of heaping a barrel of bad apples onto kids. Try to put your noʼs in check and treat children like you want to be treated. Respect their feelings, their boundaries and try showing more empathy. Be sure to do this with the rest of the family as well because kids will imitate your behavior. Parents that fight, ignore, belittle, and/or treat each other with anything less than love and respect are basically telling kids to treat people the same way (remember - action speaks louder than words).
The reality is we could all do a much better job. When I see rising divorce rates (50% for 1st marriages, 64% for 2nd marriages, and 73% for third or more marriages) along with ugly custody battles and endless blame-gaming between parents, I canʼt help but wonder about the connection to this alarming research finding among high school boys - many boys thought it was okay to hit their girlfriend if she angered him.
Have we just stopped teaching our children about the basics of life? Do we send them off to school, buy them toys and gadgets, plop them in front of televisions and computers, and ignore their basic needs of love and affection? Have we stopped playing and sent them into competitive sports instead? Do we hound them about grades and getting ahead? Have we forgotten the simple pleasures and larger priorities?
We set the priorities at the family and community level. Right now we are undergoing economic turmoil. People have lost jobs, retirement, and savings. Thereʼs a shuffle to figure out what to do. This is an opportunity to readjust our values and priorities. If you are a parent that has been living in the rat race, stop now. Look at your kids. Find a way to focus on their basic needs first. I guarantee that your time and love is far greater that any toy or material item that you could buy them. Perhaps losing a rat race job could be the biggest blessing to rediscovering a real life with your family and finding work that matters. Maybe if you do this, there will be less angst in the world and more peace and love in our childrenʼs schools.