Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Because Sometimes Kids Just Kill

My blog can be heated at times, but death threats? Over blog posts?

One of the reasons I like crime fiction is that it’s a platform for exploring social issues. I’m a self-confessed news junkie. I like to keep an eye on the headlines, and follow stories of interest.

But there are stories out there that pass me by on a daily basis that I’m not even seeing.

Well, obviously, you think. Who has time to read everything from every newspaper, everywhere? Fair point. But when I was doing some research not that long ago, I discovered a blog that opened my eyes to a whole new side of the blogging world.

Oh, I know not everyone who blogs is a writer. Many people have that idea, but it isn’t true, and my recent research led me to one of the blogs out there that has a completely different focus and has earned the creator, Trench, more than one death threat.

Why? Well, read the most recent post and join me in scratching my head.

Now, any of you who read the interview that JB Thompson did with me a few weeks ago know that I was assaulted when I was 14. My jaw was permanently injured. The bullying was so bad that school officials transferred me for my own safety.

But it never occurred to me to go home and get one of our guns to solve my problems. Hell, it never occurred to me to just hit back.

The Trenchcoat Chronicles is a sight dedicated to debunking myths on both sides of the school shooting equation. It’s filled with news articles on teen and children committing violent acts, follows sentencing… In short, it’s a site that automatically fascinated me. I think, in part for me because I never defended myself, and for society, because people are often compelled by the need to make sense of what they don’t understand so they feel less threatened, most people want to understand school shootings.

Maybe we think if we understand, we can stop it from happening here, to our kids.

This is one topic I certainly don’t have all the answers on, but I decided to approach Trench and ask for a short interview, to learn more about the goals and purpose of his blog. If you’re a crime writer, like me, you may find this site to be an excellent resource. And if you’re a parent, you might be surprised at some of the things that are out there that you don’t know about.

Q. Tell me about The Trenchcoat Chronicles. First, when did you launch the blog?

A. The blog was actually launched in April of 2000, a few days after the one-year anniversary of Columbine. It wasn't really a blog then either. It was just a website that I maintained on Tripod where I basically just gave my opinion on different subjects, Columbine included. I did the entire HTML by hand on a Web TV, so you can imagine how primitive that website looked.

Q. Why blog about this topic? What inspired you? Did you have a specific goal in mind, an objective?

A. I didn't originally start out talking about just this topic. At first I talked about politics and current events but within the past two years the news about school shootings and related crimes has skyrocketed. So not until recently did I focus strictly on those issues. Columbine inspired me more or less. You could also say Columbine dragged me into it. I started making websites using TheTrenchcoat name back in 1997. At first it was basically the 1997 version of a MySpace page. Then I started posting my poetry online. My poetry was very dark and my site could have been construed as "goth" even though I was never a true goth.
When Columbine happened in 1999 the Washington Post and other media outlets reported my website as either belonging to or having some connection to the "Trench Coat Mafia". I received e-mail death threats from people who thought my site had something to do with Columbine. I took down the site and laid low for a year. When I came back in April 2000 I started talking about what Columbine on my website and I've been talking about it ever since.
I do have a few specific objectives actually. The first is to dispel the myths on both sides of the argument. Like the myth that bullying causes school shootings and conversely that not all goths are school shooters waiting to happen. Or that videogames and music do not make kids violent. Another one of my objectives is to make parents more aware of what could possibly be going on in their kids' lives and for what behavior to look for. The odds of your kid being a school shooter are almost the same as winning the lottery but that doesn't mean that it can't happen to you. Some parents let their kids go to school wearing Harris and Klebold t-shirts. That would be a good sign that your kid may have a problem. Also some kids have created these online shrines to Harris and Klebold and that parents should monitor their kids' online activities for signs like this. Also there are adults who make what I call "worship sites" of Harris and Klebold and parents should be made aware that sites like these actually exist. Lastly and more importantly my objective is to let kids know that school is just a very short part of their life. It's not worth throwing your life away and someone else’s over something as petty as school. In my experience the bullied kids leave their schools behind and go on to lead fruitful lives while the bullies end up in jail or at some menial job.

Q. What has the response to your blog been like? Do you still get abusive email?

A. The response goes either way. I've gotten positive responses from the families of school shooting victims, the families and friends of two school shooting suspects who I believe are innocent, and even from a Columbine victim, not to mention various other supporters. The hate mail is overwhelming sometimes. I have an entire section of my site dedicated to the best ones. I get it from people who I refer to as "mutants". These are the people who consider Harris and Klebold to be heroes or victims. I've actually had to block an entire ISP from New England from my site because one kid was so obsessed with sending me hate mail that I was worried for his own well being.

Q. Obviously, there have been some disturbing trends in society over the past few decades, and school shootings have been one of them. Do you have any theories about why this is happening?

A. Not to oversimplify things but I think it blew up with Columbine. The media reported that Harris and Klebold shot up the school because they were bullied and that myth still perpetuates today. So some kids who are bullied or are perceived they are bullied think that killing would be a logical step. Also I think parents today are too busy trying to be their kids' best friend instead of trying to be their parents. The public schools aren't helping either. It seems like their scared to actually punish students whether they be bullies or just violent.

Q. Now, I could be wrong about this, not being up on statistics, but I think school shootings are still primarily occurring in the US. Is that so, and why do you think that is?

A. I hate to say this since I support the right to bear arms but it's because guns are too easily accessible in the U.S. But I should point out that in most cases the guns were obtained illegally or were stolen from a parent or guardian. Harris and Klebold got their guns from a friend of theirs who purchased the guns legally. Jeff Weise, the Red Lake shooter, stole his weapons from his grandfather who was a police officer who he then killed. There needs to be harsher penalties for selling illegal firearms and for not keeping a firearm secure when it's not being used.

Q. Some of your recent discussion has centered on video games. What do you think of the controversy surrounding 25 to Life? Do you think the game rating standards are adequate?

A. I think 25 to Life is a non-issue since the game is so incredibly bad. I haven't played it myself but all of my gamer friends have said the game is one of the worst. A lot of politicians gave that game a ton of free publicity before it came out and it couldn't live up to the hype. As a gamer who has kids I think the ratings are more than adequate. If the parents can't read the back of the box they shouldn't be buying games for their kids. No 7th grader is getting 50 bucks and going to the store by themselves to get GTA. The only way these underage kids are getting these games is because they're parents are buying them for them.

Q. What about movies? Are the standards for what youth can watch eroding, and contributing to school violence, in your opinion?

A. I think just like the videogame ratings the movie ratings are pretty cut and dry. Again it's up to parents to enforce those ratings. When my wife and I went to see Sin City last year we saw parents at the movie with really young kids. It was rated 'R' for a reason. It was a great movie but I wouldn't want little kids to see it. I wouldn't say movies influence school shootings but I find it mildly disturbing that in recent years some of these kids, like Jeff Weise, are fans of the movie Elephant which was about a fictional school shooting.

Q. There's been a real push to address bullying in school, in the hopes that it will prevent school shootings or suicides. Do you think that will help? What do you think needs to be done to address these problems?

A. I think addressing the bullying problem would go a long way in helping. Some people thing I'm some kind of pro-bullying activist. I'm not. I just don't see it as an excuse for murder. The problem is what can schools do realistically to stop bullying? Zero tolerance regulations at schools haven't helped. You can bring in as many guest speakers as you want to a school to address bullying but it's not going to stop. I don't have a realistic answer on how to stop bullying but unfortunately neither does anyone else.

Q. Are the sentences for violent crimes enough of a deterrent? Why or why not?

A. No, if they were we wouldn't have crime in the U.S. Kids think they know everything. I thought I knew everything when I was kid. They think they can get away with the perfect crime. They think they have it all figured out. Harris and Klebold's original plan was to blow up the school, pick off people as they ran out of the school and then escape.
Only when confronted with the possibility of going to jail did they kill themselves. A lot of these kids view themselves as beyond the law anyway. In some case they view themselves as gods that are above the laws of man. It's hard for a self-proclaimed god to consider the repercussions of his actions.

43 comments:

JT Ellison said...

This is absolutely fascinating. And frightening.
To bring it all home, Lisa Gardner's book THE THIRD VICTIM deals with a school shooting. She does a great job examining the shooting's impact on the town.
For bizarre trivia -- my brother spent a couple of years at Columbine. Well before this, but it was very hard for him.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Wow JT, I can imagine it must have been hard. I spent a few weeks in Kuta, walked past the club that was bombed there (the Bali bombing) virtually every day, and I took that hard. So, to attend a school and then see what happened, that would be shocking. I think the images in your head are too real then, because it isn't just picture on tv, but you associate sound, smell, people with the place.

Lisa Gardner's book sounds very interesting.

Brett Battles said...

Sandra, fantastic post. Fascinating and distrubing.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Brett. Do you want my address so you can send me $1.25?

Boy Kim said...

Wonderfully thought-provoking post today my dear lady.

Many many interesting points in Mr Trench's interview. Can't say I disagree with much he said, but just a shame it wasn't until the last few sentences that, in my opinion, he got to the crux.

"A lot of these kids view themselves as beyond the law anyway. In some case(s) they view themselves as gods that are above the laws of man. It's hard for a self-proclaimed god to consider the repercussions of his actions."

Answer these questions, and everything else falls into place.

Let's start with parents who couldn't give a flying fuck what their kids get up to, just as long as the kids are not bothering their own parents. ("Oh no, Officer. I had no idea my children were planning on blowing up their school and massacring anyone fortunate enough to not be killed by the blast.")

Let's continue with parents who, by their own examples, actively encourage their children to disregard what the rest of us quite rightly see as respect for others.

Add in the not-insignificant trend of late to believe that it's always "someone else's responsibility". Amazingly, this includes the behaviour of one's own children.

Oh and throw in just a touch of lack of discipline in schools and dimishing authority of the police. I don't blame either the schools or the police for this. I lay this blame firmly at the door of the PC bunch, whose fault it is that the criminal's human rights are respected more than the victims these days. Or so it seems to me.

Obviously, it goes without saying (but I'm gonna say it anyway) that not all children from families like this turn out bad, nor that all children from loving, caring families turn out good.

Oh and one last thing. "It's hard for a self-proclaimed god to consider the repercussions of his actions". This makes them sociopaths, doesn't it? Sociopaths with easy access to weapons designed for mass murder.

Scary as fuck.

JamesO said...

Great post, Sandra. This opens up a whole can of worms...

School shootings represent the extreme in disfunctional child behaviour, and there is an argument that says anyone who takes a gun into a school is functionally insane and should be treated as such. How they get to be that way is the interesting question and a lot can be laid at the door of bad parenting. But why is parenting bad? Where does it go wrong? Is it down to lack of attention forced by both parents having to work full time just to survive? Is it television (and computer game) as surrogate? Is it our consumerist society making us constantly aspire to a lifestyle we can't hope to achieve? Is it all of the above? I don't know.

I do know that I'm glad I don't have kids.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Excellent post and interview.

"Oh and one last thing. "It's hard for a self-proclaimed god to consider the repercussions of his actions". This makes them sociopaths, doesn't it? Sociopaths with easy access to weapons designed for mass murder."

I think one of the things that adults fail to remember is that they were once sociopaths, too. We all start off as big balls of Id. It's only when we get taught values and consequences that we begin to be a part of society, rather than a danger to it. Some kids are just more inclined to it than others.

There is nothing more bloodthirsty than a 2 year old. When that 2 year old grows up and still looks at the world that way, well, then you have a problem.

Blame the parents, blame the schools, blame whoever you like. The fact remains that these kids either aren't being taught, or aren't learning the lessons they need to function in society. School playgrounds have more in common with the island in Lord of The Flies than some shiny happy ideal of institutional learning.

I'm not surprised he's gotten death threats. People get sketchy when you write about true crime. You're naming names. Even if it's just stuff you're commenting on from a news site you still become a target for someone else's ire. After all, it's impossible not to have some kind of spin unless you're just posting the news verbatim with no other commentary. And there will always be people who take exception to that.

Personally, I haven't gotten threats because of LA Noir. The most that's happened is I've been called hateful. Beyond that I get some interesting discussion commentary. It's a little creepy to get email and comments from folks who know the people you're talking about, or were there when whatever happened happened.

I think the most disturbing thing is not knowing who's reading. People come to my site because they've googled someone's name. I get hits from the Department of Justice, Los Angeles County offices and the LAPD. My out-clicks show that some posts are being emailed. By who and to who I have no idea. It's a little creepy.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Kim, in a way, it's great Trench did wait until the end, because it kept you reading!

Stephen, that is creepy! And your site is great. But yeah, real names being googled...

Kim, Stephen, James, you've all touched on a biggie there, with kids being sociopaths. I've been thinking about why it was I never thought of solving my problems with violence. Ultimately, I think the fact that there was tough discipline at home contributed. I was very aware of the consequences of my own actions and knew I wouldn't get away with anything. Not that I really wanted to.

I mean, we all want to see people who've hurt us suffer a bit, but there's a difference between a momentary fantasy and actively pursuing wish fulfillment.

I think it's more than just bad parenting, it's consequences or the lack thereof. Kim hit on this talking about the people who've undermined personal responsibility.

And Stephen, yeah, school playgrounds are a nightmare. I'm glad I don't work with kids anymore. Some days, it was just too much emotionally to cope with.

Trace said...

Excellent interview, Sandra. It's creepy to think about how dangerous kids can be, isn't it? But I went to school with a few who would cut your throat just as soon as look at you, and I knew it even back then. *Shudder*

Trench said...

Sandra, I want to thank you again for this opportunuity. And it's refreshing to see such intelligent comments. It's a far cry for the "You suck, I hope you die" comments that I get. Thanks again.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

I do fall into the camp of "bad parenting" being to blame. I faced a bully or two in my time as a kid, but my parents instilled a respect (perhaps fear?) of the law. The most I ever did was hit/kick back to defend myself, and that was a very rare thing.

Working in a 911 center for the past four years has only reinforced my opinion. It truly baffles me how many parents seem to want the police to raise their children. It's truly shocking to see someone who is perhaps only 15-years-old already listed in more than a dozen police reports.

Now that I am a parent, I often worry about this kind of thing. I'm probably never going to be my kids' best friend, and I don't really expect to be. Knowing just how far to stick my nose into my kids' business, even when my oldest is only six, already troubles me.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, and anyone who hasn't read your recent psychopath post really should, Trace! Scary stuff.

Bill, it is baffling that parents don't take responsibility. Of course, you need to get a license to drive but any fool can have a baby...

Trench, thank you, and I'm glad the response has been positive. You have a balanced, insightful blog, very interesting. You should be commended for your efforts to bring awareness to sensitive topics.

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

Sandra quite a thought provoking post and interview. I have two children and it's at times a scary world we live in. You pretty much worry constantly. When my oldest was in 1st grade there was a boy who was suspended for a few days...we are talking 1st grade here. And I do feel parents need to step up and know what their children are doing and getting into. Monitor their computer activity, don't let they watch R movies (i've seen 3 year olds in R rated movies...what's up with that?), and keep them away from violent video games. It's even hard with tv now there is so much sex and violence on tv you have to monitor what they are watching. Even some of the "kids" shows are ultra violent. At times I feel like I'm overprotective about my children but I also feel like other parents just don't know what their children are doing. It's a scary world and parenting doesn't come with any instructions....so you are never sure you are making the right decisions so you just do the best you can.

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

I agree with Bill I don't want to stifle my children but at the same time I want to protect them and instill good values in them. And how some parents can let their children get away with anything boggles the mind. I've seen little kids 7/8 years old talking back to their parents in the most awful way and their parents don't do anything. And then my children have to go to school with children like them. Just scary.

Boy Kim said...

"Kim, in a way, it's great Trench did wait until the end, because it kept you reading!"

Are you suggesting I've got a short attenti... so what's for dinner tonight?

This is such a great thread to read and, you may have figured out by now, one I can finally feel at home participating in.

Unlike James, I am more than glad I have kids. (Although James may also be very glad that I have kids.) If it didn't sound too cheesy, I'd say I was honoured and blessed by The Princesses' presence in my life. They truly do make every day worth living.

Bill's first paragraph described me when I was young. Perfectly. Learning the difference between offensive and defensive violence can't be easy when you're young.

My girls know without any doubt that if they ever bullied someone, or if they used violence offensively, or if they were just plain 9- or 12-yo-girl-mean to someone, they'd have no bigger problem to deal with than the one they got from me. On the other hand, if they were pushed far enough that they felt they had no alternative other than to hit back they'd have no bigger advocate than me.

By the way, they can both punch sufficiently hard to do serious damage to children of their own age groups. (Just in case they momentarily lose the ability to run very quickly, of course.)

As far as being our kids' best friend, I don't think it's possible when they are still young. Friends, definitely. Best friends? Not possible when we're also disciplinarians. As parents, I think the best we can do is to lay the groundwork for being best friends when our children become adults. My dad is my best friend. Hopefully I will be my children's best friend when they are adults.

And I agree entirely with everything you say, Andrea. Well, maybe I don't worry quite so much... but then I'm a dad, not a mum. And maybe I'm not quite as overprotective... but they've got a mum to do that. But the rest of it, yeah. And the "you are never sure you are making the right decisions so you just do the best you can" thing? It's called common sense. Remind me again how that works with non-male parents?

Sandra Ruttan said...

My dear Kim, I'm glad you feel at home with this topic. Your views are always welcome here - my word, seems we've been friends for ages! Long before the blog, certainly.

And I think you and Andrea have really added to this with your insights as parents. It's a very good point that it isn't possible to be best friends with your children when they're young, but certainly it's nice to be friends with them when they're older.

And the fine line between stifling and protecting... You know, this is why I'm cautious on the whole parenting thing. I'm not a parent, but I do have some appreciation for how hard it is. I think the key here is that good parents take their role very seriously and most importantly, don't shut their eyes to what's going on.

Boy Kim said...

You know, I've been trying to think of a time when being a dad was difficult, and I just can't. Knowing what's best to do for The Princesses has somehow always just come naturally.

Maybe I'm just exceptionally lucky, maybe I'm just exceptionally special (!), maybe I have exceptionally well-behaved children, who knows? But I can honestly say I've never found being a parent hard.

(It was EP's birthday the other week, and she had six of her "new" secondary school friends over. I'd heard a lot about them but this was the first time I'd met them. And guess what? They were all perfectly normal, polite, well-spoken, funny, tolerant, happy, gracious young ladies. I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, but it seems somehow relevant.)

And you're right, we do seem to have friends for yonks. Put a tick in the "Good Things" column.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Maybe you've just always been an attentive, responsible dad?! I think you're an awesome dad! But then, I know how much effort you put into finding the right birthday present. For your daughter, not for me. Sniff.

And yes, a definite tick in the "good things" column. XO.

angie said...

I get a little nervous when folks start throwing around the whole "sociopath" label, or psychopath, for that matter. Kids (male and female) kill, rape, rob, and do all sorts of nasty unthinkable things. Actually, a more accurate dx would probably be antisocial personality disorder, and it's more rare than you would think. I've only met one in the ten years or so I worked in the behavioral health field (primarily with kids, two years at a residential facility w/mostly court ordered treatment for all of the stuff mentioned above & more). Oh yeah, and she was a scary, scary kid. Zero conscience, zero empathy, zero sense of responsibility for her actions. And yes, the freakin' legal system should lock her ass up and throw away the key, and I'm willing to bet they won't until she finally succeeds in killing someone (already arrested for attempted murder once, multiple assault charges).

I wish it were so simple as to say "it's the parents" or "it's society" or "it's the trauma of whatever abuse happened to so-and-so" or "it's because this person has x mental illness." There aren't any easy answers. It's usually a bitch's brew of all of the above. Who knows what tipped who over the edge? The kids usually don't. The professionals are guessing or deluding themselves into believing they have the real answer.

I don't know tons about school shootings, but I have worked with kids who made threats (bomb, guns, etc) to schoolmates & teachers. In my community there is a specific program designed to target these kids for behavioral health intervention in an effort to avert a tragedy like Columbine. And it's pretty fuckin' sad that that's the one that everyone remembers when there have been so many, all over the U.S.

And you can blame the lefties for wanting to rehabilitate these criminals - but these are kids, dammit. It's hard to throw in the towel when a kid's thirteen, bipolar, living in an abusive/alchoholic home & has zero social skills, much less emotion regulation skills. Thirteen. Years. Old. I am not making excuses. I am stating facts. I do not subscribe to the "victim" mentality - most of these kids have tremendous gifts that are overshadowed by their deficits, but we all have to learn how to co-exist and take responsibility for our actions. And people, I'm sorry if the parents are willing or able to teach their kids that important stuff, but if they're not doing it, somebody damn well better.

I am a firm believer in actions and consequences. I also am a firm believer that unless we step up to the plate, we're all going to paying for this bullshit in more than just dollars and blood. When bullying is tolerated - by teachers, parents, community members - we are teaching our kids that whoever is the most violent and/or aggressive will be allowed to do whatever the fuck they want. Do bullies end up in jail, or whatever? Not as often as they should.

Okay, I'm totally ranting here. This topic touches a really raw nerve with me. I've seen so many damaged kids that we fail time after time after time that I want to pull my fucking hair out (an entirely separate DSMIV diagnosis, BTW!). And I hate it. And I'm stopping before my blood pressure goes kablooey. Reason number 643 why I quit my day job - I do not want to be a bald angry lady. I believe Sinead O'Connor already cornered the marked on that one.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Angie, I do agree with you that if the parents don't want to parent, it would be nice if someone else did step in. I think that everyone would agree that support systems in place are an asset, it's just that part of the reason these tragedies happen is because people rely on someone else to do their job for them.

And how are the police, or anyone, for that matter, supposed to know that so-and-so's parent has gone on a mental vacation and it's time to step in?

I say this as someone who's grandfather died in a mental institution, who put her own mother in the same mental institution (diagnoed bipolar and medicated) and I've been diagnosed bipolar and never medicated. At some point, people also have to take responsibility for themselves. My home life wasn't sunshine and roses as a kid and it never occurred to me to go get a gun to solve my problems, and I do find it curious - what makes one person consider that an option, and another person not?

It's complex. Frustrating. No easy answers.

We've had school shootings in Canada, but hardly anyone even knows the names of them, so there's no point me mentioning them either. Sadly.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Very sobering thoughts about a situation that is clearly out of control.

Consider the violence children are bombarded with on TV and in video games and comic books; coupled with parents who either won't or arent able to pay attention to their children...and you have an explosive situation.

I can't see it getting any better, any time soon!

angie said...

The majority of these kids are not strangers to the police or other social support systems. Columbine is a prime example of this. They knew there were serious problems and basically did the bare minimum. As we all know, it wasn't enough.

The systems are just as sick as the families and kids. I am not suggesting that it is the police's responsibility to magically know when parents are checked out. I am saying that I know of too many cases where it is a well known fact that the family situation is completely toxic (usually from frequent contact with the police & Child Protective Services) and the kids are sent back again and again. People (friends, neighbors, teachers, etc.) know when things are going south and often say and do nothing.

The last straw for me was when a kid I worked with was getting sent back home to live with a grandmother who had taken in the kid's cousin. This cousin was "on the run" from a group of drug dealers he had ripped off & who had threatened to kill the entire family. These are the folks perfectly capable of doing just that and had already assaulted 2 other family members for being related to the cousin. The cousin's brother is in prison for murdering a girl whose body was found buried behind another of the kid's family member's house. The family of the murdered girl has put out death threats against everyone in the kid's family, including her as they believe she knew something about it - and she probably did. The kid's mother was living with a drug dealer nearby. The entire family is "on the run." And the placing agency and facility sent this 13 y.o. girl back to that shit, even though they all knew about it. This is what drives me up the fucking wall.

I know there are no easy answers. I know that some kids grow up in horrible environments and manage to do okay, or even thrive. Who can say how much of this is that elusive resiliency factor, personality, whatever? I've got family members with mental health issues - my grandfather was hospitalized for depression & abused alcohol. Most folks have a family member who has struggled with some form of mental health problem. I think you rock for being the person you are, regardless of your personal background. Yeah, Sandra Ruttan rocks- not because of the shit you went through, but for being who you are & saying what's on your mind & doing the thing.

And I'm not kidding about my stance on taking responsibility. I have no "rescuer" illusions. Until an individual is willing and able to stand up and take responsibility for themselves and their actions, I have no respect for them. And yes, this absolutely has to happen, but when is the "some point?" At 11y.o.? 12? 13? 14? This is something that has to be taught, and if you don't get it from your parents, you get it somewhere else. The only factor besides resiliency that points to kids in rotten circumstances coming out okay is the presence of a mentor - anyone from a teacher, neighbor, family friend, relative whatever - that provides some measure of support, guidance and validation. So it's not so much about "social support" as it is about us humans acting like we give a shit about each other.

All I'm saying is that when you're talking about kids, you're talking about a long-term impact on the community. These kids grow up and have kids of their own and the cycle continues. Or someone steps in - sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but ya gotta try. At least I do. Just not professionally, any more!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Aw Angie, thanks. And I understand some of where you're coming from. I worked with a child with oppositional defiance disorder, amongst other issues. He actually put me into the hospital, and other staff, and he was only 5. But when he got into a fit, he was so strong, and he picked up a solid wooden block (the kind kids build with) and beat his aide over the head with it.

I had to get out because I was at the end of my rope. It just feels so hopeless sometimes. Such a big problem to address.

I wish whatever that elusive resiliency factor was, we could find a way to tap it in everyone...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, and Bonnie? Unfortunately, you're likely right.

Spinetingler Magazine: Online Reviews said...
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Andrea at Lochthyme said...

It seems to me as though violence by children has increased since I was a child but maybe that's a perception given by the media. But I do know children are getting older faster than they used to be. They used to be able to be children for longer than they seem to be today. One of my daughter's teachers said the same thing that behavior from the girls that she used to see start at the end of 5th grade now occurs at the end of 3rd grade....this was in reference to my daughter who wasn't heading in that direction yet. I think children are bombarded by so much more violence, sex and mature themes in the news, advertising, movies, tv, games than they used to be. They show so much more on tv than they used to without any warnings either...sex and violence. Anyone seen a soap opera recently...I don't watch them but I've passed by them and they are loaded with sex and adult themes. If parents aren't aware of what their children are watching their children are probably getting an eyefull. And yes it's up to parents to be aware of what their children are being exposed to but I think in this day and age with both parents working it's hard. That's one reason I chose to stay home with my children rather than return to work...I didn't want someone else raising my children. But it's a tough choice financially.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Yes, great post and interview, Sandra. And for that matter, the comments section is filled with excellent reading material.

One thing that fascinates me is the nature vs. nurture issue.

If we could say that a child has a genetic defect that makes them a serial killer, how would you bring them up so as to avoid it?

What would it take to trigger them?

Can the urge to kill be directed elsewhere?

These, and many more questions, will be answered in next week's episode of Life And Other Inconveniences.

Stay tuned.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ah, LOL Daniel! I'm not sure I have the answers. I mean, what if it was like that Tom Cruise movie that I've forgotten the name of, that you could see ahead and essentially convict people for crimes they hadn't committed? It's scary. We'd all like to think there's a gene we could isolate that would tell us "this is a dangerous person" but I think there are so many factors. Temperment. Choice. Nurture... we could debate this for ever. Well, haven't people been debating this since the dawn of time?

angie said...

Actually, there have been some studies (wish I could be more specific, but I can't remember who conducted them) re. genetic predispositions between arsonists and firefighters. (Ducks and runs...not saying yer hubby is a firebug, I swear!) Basically, the studies suggested a shared genetic propensity for a fascination with fire. How this propensity was EXPRESSED was grounded in the individual's upbringing, or the "nurture" side of the equation & other personality traits. We all have tons of predispositions that are expressed in different ways, but the power of genetics to influence behavior is kinda scary.

Genetic predispositions tend to be oversimplified. The possible combinations are tremendous. I have a feeling that the answers to some of the bigger questions will fall at some bizarre crossroads of genetics, brain chemistry, and nurture. The simple fact of the matter, is that "love" alone is not the answer. Sad, but true.

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Angie! Every time my husband goes out and then there's a fire, I start to wonder...

Eileen said...

Great interview. I found the careful investigation he does of myth versus truth really interesting. Take for example child abductions. THere are fewer now than when I was a kid, but the perception is that it is far more dangerous. The media and their pursuit of a story versus news is a large part of this. Carry on Trench!

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Andrea, I've also wondered about the media's role in this. I used to be a tv news producer, and the industry has a talent for latching onto the "hot" story of the month. We've seen it time and again with shark attacks and church fires. Everyone gets the impression that these events are happening in greater frequency, but once the numbers are added up, you find they haven't. What's changed is that the news has discovered their viewers find this stuff interesting and thus cover it every chance they get.

The news spends time arguing whether movies and video games influence these kids, but they're never willing to place themselves under the microscope. Some of these kids are out for the attention... so to see the national news obsessing over Columbine and other events sends the message that this WILL get them noticed. It's things like this that got me out of that business... a decision I'll probably never regret.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Children learn as they live. They live what they learn.

It's corny. But true.

Parents are a tremendous influence. Also corny. But true.

So, parents. Put it together. What the kid watches on TV, in the movie theaters, plays on the computer, reads in books matters. How he's taught to handle conflict matters.

Vincent said...

Many good points. Parents often are the biggest influence on a child, for better or worse, and a problem child who grows up doesn't automatically learn responsibility as an adult. They have a kid. The kid goes off the rails. The parent is unable to deal with them, however much society wishes they would.

With regard to the media's contribution to all this, a few years ago I wrote a post on the 'Werther Effect' which offers a different perspective beyond the media's capacity to exaggerate the prevalence of bad news:

http://dragonsfandango.blogspot.com/2004/07/werther-effect.html

Daniel Hatadi said...

Sandra, the movie was MINORITY REPORT. It shows that Cruise and Spielberg can do good work when they bother.

Personally, I think there is always a combination of nature vs. nurture plus the added factor of personal will or choice in everything we do. Genetics only gives us ranges of potential.

But with the serial killer thing, my gut feeling is that genetics has a lot more to do with it.

JamesO said...

Back in the day, the TV news used to end with an upbeat story - a talking dog or suchlike. That doesn't seem to happen anymore. It seems to me that the reason for this is we like to see and hear all the bad shit. It probably explains why horror/slasher movies are so popular too. I'd guess that on the simplest level, we like to read and hear of other peoples' real or imaginary misfortune because it makes our own misery seem more acceptable in contrast - we are comforted by the knowledge that someone, somewhere, has a more shitty time of it than us.

The problems start when kids see this representation of reality that's skewed to the bad and accept it as normal. Thus begins the downward spiral, which we've been on since that first ever television news broadcast - or probably since Pathe started showing newsreels of war footage at the movies.

On the other hand, life for the vast majority of children today is a picnic compared with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Then childhood ended as soon as you were old enough to fit up a chimney or under the machinery in the mill.

Forty_Two said...

I found Trench's site while doing a search that included the word "trenchcoat." The site exhibits some interesting stories, but the debates that go on there remind me of the Morton Downey Junior Show of the late 1980's. Guests either agreed with Mort or were shouted down.

Trench doesn't "debunk" the myths surrounding school shootings. He simply reprints or provides links to various news articles, then he and his regular visitors have an insult contest. What they don't do and have no tolerance for is any serious analysis of why kids become killers. Attempting to precipitate such a debate usually results in banishment.

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