Raising Children in a Violent World (Sep-Oct 1999)

By Matt Dabbs

by Kenneth Dye
September – October, 1999

It happened all over again today, and as CNN provided the early information, the details were chilling and sounded as if it were a replay from an earlier recording. “A man with a high-powered gun remained at large several hours after he stormed into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. He sprayed the lobby with 20-30 rounds, wounding three young children, a teenager and an adult.”

Just a few short years ago teachers and administrators in America’s public schools listed their top discipline problems to be talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, and not putting paper in the wastebasekt. Today, the discipline problems being grappled with by those trying to educate grandchildren of the aforementioned gum chewers and litterers prove to be markedly different. Rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, bombins, alcohol abuse, gang warfare, pregnancy, abortion, and venereal disease top the list of concerns expressed by those charged with the teaching of America’s children. In the new millennium, educators face another, almost unimaginable problem – school violence.

Even a cursory reading of the newspaper over the last three or four years is sufficient to expose the magnitude of this growing problem. Some of the more highly publicized incidents include:

February 2, 1996 – Barry Loukaitis, age 14, of Moses Lake, Washington – killed one teacher and two students, wounded a third student.

October 1, 1997 – Luke Woodham, age 16, of Pearl, Mississippi – first killed his mother, then went into his high school and opened fire, killing three and wounding seven.

December 1, 1997 – Michael Carneal, age 14, of West Paducah, Kentucky – shot three students to death, wounded five others before being grabbed by a fellow student while trying to reload.

March 24, 1998 – Mitchell Johnson, age 13, and Andrew Golden, age 11 of Jonesboro, Arkansas – set off a fire alarm in order to draw schoolmates outside and then started shooting, killing four students and a teacher.

May 21, 1988 – Kip Kinkel, age 15, of Springfield, Oregon, killed both his parents, then shot 24 students at school. Two died, and, as he was wrestled to the ground, Kinkel yelled, “Shoot me!”

April 20, 1999 – Dylan Kliebold, age 17, and Eric Harris, age 18, of Littleton, Colorado killed 1 teacher and 12 students wounding 23 other students. They both committed suicide.

Who could have imagined that in just a few short years Americans would move from being concerned over students running in the halls and talking in the classroom to being concerned about the issue of basic safety on school campuses? Has the world become so violent that even childhood no longer provides a safe haven for our offspring?

The answer is a simple yes. The solution to the problem however, is anything but simple. Following the Littleton tragedy, experts of every variety came forward, offering both opinions and prognistications, but few provided any real insights into how to curtail this juvenile reign of terror.

“Things like this are unpredictable,” they said. “Sooner or later human nature under pressure will explode, and no one is able to prdict when or where.”

Peggy Noonan, in a Wall Street Journal article about the Littleton tragedy, said, “The kids who did this are responsible. They did it. They Killed. But they came from a place and time and were yielded forth by a culture. What walked into Columbine High School Tuesday was the culture of death. This time it wore black trench coats. Last time it was children’s hunting gear. Next time it will be some other costume, but it still will be the culture of death. This is the Pope’s phrase: it is how he describes the world in which we live.”

Noonan then begsin to describe modern American culture in these terms: “The boys who did the killing, the famous Trench Coat Mafia, inhaled too deep the ocean in which they swam … Think of it this way. Your child is an intelligent little fish. He swims in deep water. Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisible through that water, like radar; they go through him again and again, from this direction and that. The sound from the television is a wave and the sound from the radio; the headlines on the newsstand, on the magazines, on the ad on the bus as it whizzes by – all are waves. The fish – your child – is bombarded and barely knows it. But the waves contain words like this, which I’ll limit to only one source, the news:

“…was found strangled and is believed to have been sexually molested … took the stand to say the killer was smiling the day the show aired … said the procedure is, in fact, legal infanticide … is thought to be connected to earlier sexual activity among teens … contains songs that call for dominating and even imprisoning women … died of lethal injection … had threatened to kill her children … had asked Kevorkian for help in killing himself … protested the game, which they said has gone beyond violence to sadism … showed no remorse … which is about a wager over whether he could sleep with another student … which is about her attempts to balance three lovers and a watchful fiance …”

“This is the ocean in which our children swim. This is the sound of our culture. It comes from all parts of our culture and reaches all parts of our culture, and all the people in it, which is everybody.

“It is corny to lay it out like this because we all know this. What I’m writing is not news. It is part of the reason that Hollywood people, when discussing these matters, no longer say, ‘If you don’t like it, change the channel.’ They now realize something they didn’t realize 10 years ago. There is no channel to change to. You could sooner remove an ocean than find such a channel.”

What then are we to do? Where, or to whome, are we to go?

My six-year-old granddaughter, Laurel, walked into my den the other afternoon when CNN was live with its coverage of the most recent killings in Atlanta. Mark Barton had killed his wife and two young children with a hammer. Then he gunned down nine people in two brokerage firms in downtown Atlanta.

Suddenly becoming very aware of the ocean in which my son’s eldest fish was swimming, I reached to sweep from her sight my most recent issue of USA TODAY whose headlines screamed ut for all to see, “Killer’s First Victim Buried,” “Atlanta Funerals Continue Today With Children,” “Woodstock ’99 Crimes Online,” and “First Lady on Husband’s Affair: ‘Sin of Weakness.'” I reflected on the problem of fish swimming in such an ocean, of being bombarded from every direction, and quietly turned off the television, folded up the newspaper, and asked Laurel if she would like to play a game.

Once the fishes started to look remarkably like my precious grandchildren, I began an exhaustive investigation into the problem of cleaning up the ocean. Though many authors have contributed to the pool of information from which the rest of this article is drawn, by far the author who impressed me most is Gavin de Backer. First with his book The Gift of Fear and then with his most recent publication, Protecting the Gift, de Becker impacted me with a number of principles which I think should be examined and embraced by all who are concerned with trying to raise healthy children in a violent world.

Americans have to understand that we live in a very violent country. When newscasters reported that 19 children died in the Oklahoma City explosion many were distressed; however, in that week alone 70 children (most of them under five) died at the hands of an abusive parent. The tragedy is that this is a weekly occurrence.

According to de Becker, before we can deal with this whole dilemma of violence, we must begin to acknowledge it, to understand it, and to accept it. Denial is the ultimate mistake, and only when we take off our rose-colored glasses will we be able to see what is happening and, to some extent, to see what is about to occur. de Becker stresses the fact that we are not such private beings that our behavior is unobservable or our patterns undetectable. We can determine what will happen and who will do what by becoming more aware and by making better use of our intuition.

Intuition, according to de Becker, is our first defense mechanism in trying to smell out violence. It knows without knowing why. It knows even when there is no evidence. When our intuition says that there is something out there, curiosity is the way we answer.

Once one’s curiosity is piqued by his intution, the next step in becoming aware is knowing the pre-indicators of teen violence. One of the stronger statements in de Becker’s book comes with the recounting of Robert Ressler’s research on serial killers. According to this 1993 study, 100% of those studied had been abused as children, either with violence, neglect, or humiliation. Pre-indicators of teen violence are:

    • Addiction to media products

 

  • Addiction to alcohol and drugs

 

 

  • Fascination with violence and guns

 

 

  • Feeling ignored

 

 

  • Chronic anger in childhood

 

Even though the content of what one is exposed to via the media matters greatly, an even more important factor is the amount of time one spends at its feet. Listening and watching too much prevents human interaction. The bigger issue arises, de Becker says, when media consumption replaces the rest of life. A friend of mine with grown children, when asked about the effet of the media on her family, replied, “My first two children were quite normal: they played outside and relatd to others well. My third son was fixated on television and never learned to relate to others. He wound up in prison.”

Finally, de Becker contends that RECOGNITION is more meaningful to young people than accomplishment, and RECOGNITION is available through VIOLENCE. Unhealthy families damage children in many ways, but one of the saddest is the destruction of the child’s belief that he has purpose and value. The Governor of Colorado, in response to the Littleton tragedy, said, “So many people knew that this was wrong, that this was going on; but nobody said anything. We were afraid that it would hurt the self-esteem of these kids if we said it was wrong.” Self-esteem, while obviously important to people of all ages, cannot fill the need young people have to be recognized.

Mark Barton, who recently took so many lives in Atlanta, left a written confession in which he wrote these gripping words, “I have been dying since October. I wake up at night so afraid, so terrified that I couldn’t be that afraid while awake. It has taken its toll. I have come to hate this life and this system of things. I have come to have no hope.”

Jesus placed the call before each of us to become “salt” and “light,” and so we must. However, now the stakes are much higher. They are life and death, the life and death of our children and grandchildren. Equipped with the awareness of what is going on, empowered with intuition, and filled with a faith with which we can make a difference, it is now our time to stand and become the purveyors of hope. Of course the challenge will not be easy and we are already swimming in that deep ocean, but we must begin now to teach our children not to inhale too deeply the ocean in which they swim.Wineskins Magazine

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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