The tragedy in Santa Barbara
Last week, we read about another tragedy involving a young adult. A 22 year old in Santa Barbara killed his roommates and then three young women outside of a sorority before killing himself. A month earlier, a teenage boy in Connecticut stabbed and killed a teenage girl in his school.
I know. It’s very upsetting when we hear about these gruesome stories. All parents imagine their child as the victim. It’s terrifying and our hearts go out to the families of the victims. All of us wonder, what can be done to protect our children?
What makes it all very confusing is the differences between these two perpetrators. In the Connecticut story, the 15-year-old boy was a popular athlete who was well liked and admired by his peers. He didn’t fit the stereotype of high school violence. We still don’t know what motivated his lethal attack.
The most recent attack seems more familiar. This youth was angry and resentful over perceived rejection by girls at school. It appears that others were concerned about his potential for violence. Shortly before the attack, the police came to his apartment, but found no reason to detain him or search his room. Sadly, he had collected an arsenal of firearms that he planned to use to exact revenge for his unhappiness. With the Internet, he posted his plans and his manifesto for all to see. But it was too late.
This youngster appears to come closer to the profile of a sociopath—he had a well thought out plan to exact revenge. Yet at the same time, he planned to kill himself too. All of which sounds more like a disturbed, unstable individual.
Columbine occurred 15 years ago, yet we have seen no end to these acts of youth violence. We are still in the dark as to how to identify these youth before they act out their terrible fantasies. Even when we are concerned about the potential for violence in a youngster, we are unable to detain him unless he presents a clear and present danger to himself or others, is gravely disabled, or has committed an illegal act. Sadly, these conditions are often absent even for those youth who worry us.
So what can we do? There are no simple solutions to this multifaceted problem. But, I do believe we can start to untangle some of the underlying threads of this knot.
Here are some of my suggestions.
Encourage your teen to let you know when their friends or acquaintances are expressing strange or unusual ideas. When the lines of communication are wide open with our teenagers, they will let us know when their peers are in trouble. This requires effort on our part to spend more time with our youngsters and to encourage them to talk to us.
Get help for your kids when they are in distress. Don’t be shy about talking to your pediatric health care provider about obtaining a referral to have your youngster see a mental health professional when they are depressed, distressed, or having emotional or behavioral problems. We can meet with your son and daughter and try to determine what help, if any, may be needed. Early identification and treatment of distressed kids can make a big difference.
Limit your children’s exposure to violent video games and movies. Now, I have to get on my soapbox! There is overwhelming evidence, over many years, that exposure to violence in the media increases aggression in children! This kind of exposure is not benign! We would never allow our kids to eat spoiled food. Why would we let them put aggressive and hostile images into their sensitive minds? Shoot-them-up video games, with more and more detailed and life like images can desensitize our children to the real impact of violence.
What do you think might help?