Monday, March 30, 1998

Week of 03/30/1998

Target: Adolescence
- by David Matthews 2

You know, there was once a commercial by certain fast food franchise... I won’t say which one, but sufficient to say they think they’re "royalty" … that suggested that teen-age years were the best years of a person’s life. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would agree with that statement. For some folks, their teenage years were the best ones, mostly because they didn’t have the kind of burdens adulthood foisted on them.

But for a lot of folks, their teenage years were far from the fun and frolic televised commercials and sitcoms wanted us to believe them to be. Certainly those who suffered from abusive family members, or found themselves addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling, didn’t enjoy the same kind of luxury as.. say, the most popular students, who seemingly has everything handed to them.

Unfortunately, there is another group of young men and young women whose teenage lives have been anything but pleasant. These folks who considered school to be a source of torment and dread. I should know - I was one of them. Oh sure, there were some pleasant times.. but those were few and far between, and they certainly didn’t involve school.

The reason why I bring this up is because there seems to be a common thread between suspects in the recent shootings at schools in the south. In Arkansas, two young boys ages 11 and 13 are suspected of pulling a fire alarm and then opening sniper-style fire at fellow classmates as they exited the building. And just like the shooting in Kentucky last year, dozens of talking heads gave their usual spin on why they think this trend is on the increase..

The worst spin, however, comes from the talking heads who rant and rave about how SOCIETY is to be blamed for these tragedies. You know, it’s easy to point at the vaguest and most ambiguous things and demonize them for everything from bad breath to mass murder. The magical, mystical, catch-all "society" gets blamed for it all. And if you HAVE to pin them down on a name, they’ll usually say "Hollywood" or "television" or "guns." Something vague, and certainly something that isn’t human. Humans, after all, can hire lawyers, and have this rather peculiar trait of taking accusations personally. They lack the gumption.. nay, the BALLS.. to come out and point fingers at an actual, living human being and say "YOU failed to do your job!"

Following this tragedy, the best example of this kind of eunuch has to be that walking colostomy bag that calls himself the governor of Arkansas. Listening to him give off this shopping list of perceived evils that seem to come straight out of the religious wrong playbook, I was utterly amazed as to how such an individual got to where he was in public life without being branded a kook. Word of advise, governor: follow the example of your scandal-ridden predecessor in the White House and keep your words of shock and horror simple! Don’t use it as a vehicle for your own re-election campaign!

Make no mistake, this tragedy in Arkansas was horrible, but making the matters worse is having all these talking heads rush into the limelight offering their own little slant on the issue mixed with their own pet causes like gun control or censorship.

Following last year’s shooting of an informal prayer group in Kentucky, a reader responded to my rant on the issue by putting the blame on the availability of guns. True, guns play a role in these tragedies, but the simple fact that guns are available do not make for a bloodbath. Guns have been available in these communities years before people even heard the words "gun control." There haven’t been any sniper firings in schoolyards then. Why now?

Why now has to do with factors other than just guns. Guns are the simply means to the end, not the cause.

The biggest, and certainly the most dominant factor, is adolescence itself. The teenage years are actually a social development that really didn’t manifest itself until the rise of the Industrial Society. Before then, you were either a child or an adult. Now, those in the years of 11-17 live in a nether-world where they’re treated as both adult and child, and yet as neither. Parents, who seemingly suffer from temporal myopia, only want to consider their son or daughter "their little baby," even when that baby has gone on a killing spree. Meanwhile, we have a general public so frustrated with the failure of the juvenile justice system that they’re almost willing to send 10 and 11-year olds to the electric chair, and are demanding an eye for an eye.

On top of that, there are personal demands of the would-be young man to be treated as an adult. There are expectations that sometimes cannot be met, social rules that no matter how hard he tries he’ll never succeed in, rewards that will never be given to him. That’s life, but you’ll never be able to explain that to a 13-year old boy who wants to be treated like he’s 21. He still thinks the world revolves around himself.

Unable to get what he wants through social pleasantries, he might explore different means to get the respect he feels he deserves.

Here in Atlanta, a 13-year old boy was convicted for the cold-blooded murder of a father of two. Why, you ask? Because while the father of two was sitting in the car with his children at a grocery store, he refused to turn off his headlights for the 13-year old. He "disrespected" the boy, so the boy shot this stranger in front of his own children. He’s now in prison, and will be spending the rest of his life there getting the "respect" he’s deserving.

Complicating this issue are socialistic mentalities that try to convince people that this magical, mythical "society" can do everything the parent cannot or will not do. The "it takes a whole village to raise a child" mentality that Hillary Clinton loves to preach about has actually resulted in the degradation of individual responsibility.

One caller to a news channel said he believed that raising children is a "contract between the parents and society." Gee, how wonderful he brought society into his family! I wonder if he and his wife sought society’s permission to have kids? And if so, which government office did they go to? Did they have to get a permit? And was society present when their kids were conceived?

The truth is that society does not "enter into a contract" with parents to have kids. Parents thrust their kids into the lap of society without a care as to the repercussions, and then demand that society take care of those kids for them. You want to know where the "Big Babysitter" mentality of the Clinton Administration came from? Here’s the source!

In a vicious downward spiral of shifting responsibilities, we have parents who shove the burden of their kids to government. The government responds by demanding more taxes to pay for these programs. This means everybody (not just the parents) gets to have more money taken from their paychecks to pay for taxes. More money in taxes means less money for family. Parents have to work longer and harder, maybe even picking up a second or third job. This means less time for the family, which the parents once again shove the burden on the government.

Then, when their precious little Johnny Dimple or Suzy Purebred become teenagers and do something wrong, the parents are mortified. And they wonder how this could have happened. And they ask out loud "Whatever happened to personal responsibility?" Of course, the answer sits right in front of them.

First and foremost, we need to remember that parents have the burden of raising their kids. They decided to bring the kids into the world, and it is up to them to raise their kids to become adults. Not the schools, not the church, not government, not Hollywood, not the media, and certainly not this magical, mythical "society." While these institutions and organizations can provide some of the tools needed, the crux of the responsibility is on the parents.

Second, we need to recognize that teenagers are entering a phase in their lives where they are becoming adults, but aren’t there yet. In my experience, kids usually have at least a vague understanding of what is right and wrong by age 12. It’s not like a switch being flipped, one minute you’re a kid, the next you’re and adult. This is a gradual process.

Third, we need to recognize that, yes, kids CAN be quite brutal if left to their own devices. Not all kids are instant angels from birth. Without a personal mechanism to contain and properly utilize a child’s anger, rage, and frustration, they will use the first means available - violence. As a former practitioner of the martial arts, I have seen how children who train in some form of formalized budoka become better people not only physically but also mentally. Rage knows no age, but fortunately neither does the mechanisms to control that rage.

The tragedies in Mississippi, Kansas, and in Arkansas are horrific, but we need to realize these were powder kegs waiting to explode. Their causes are more complex than the sound-bite mentality of the media can handle, but the solutions don’t have to be.

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