Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Kids, Guns, & Violence


Homicide is the second leading cause of death in children in America. Less than one percent of these homicides actually occur in schools. The majority occur around kid's homes and neighborhoods. Why do we have this increase in violence? Is it media, family structure changes, or availability of lethal weapons? All of these options and more were discussed in this program. One problem with our youth and increase in violence could be the fact that so many of the heros are violent. A classic example is Xena, the beautiful lady on T.V. who beats everyone up. Another example are the wrestlers, who glorify violence every Monday night on two national networks. Should we limit such exposure of these, perhaps unhealthy, heros to our youth? If so, is this trampling on freedom of speech and the freedom to bare guns? Where do the individuals' rights end and the publics' rights begin?

Secretary of Education for America today, Richard Riley, said that "Littleton's can occur anywhere in America where there are troubled youth, which is almost everywhere." What can we do to help these troubled youth? We can work with faith communities and get more involved in reaching these wearied youth. Somehow we must connect these troubled youth to responsible adults. The song, "Where Have All The Children Gone" to the tune of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone", is a sad reminder of all the violence in youth today. "Where have all the children gone, gone to graveyards once unknown." We must, again, find a way to get troubled youth connected with responsible adults and get the guns out of their hands.

Greater than twelve kids every single day in America are victims (usually males) of guns. A recent book, Lost Boys, discusses some of the factors on why boys are acting out so violently these days. Perhaps one factor is the fact that boys get very little affection at home compared to girls. Another may be that aggressive behavior is so glorified in the media as mentioned above with wrestling. Boys want to take on a right of passage and in our society they do not know which rights of passage are appropriate; so they get into violence and create their own rights of passage. Girls, on the other hand, take it out on themselves with anorexia, bulimia, obesity, depression, and eventually suicide.

Retired Lt. Col. David Grossman was in Lafayette yesterday doing a seminar on violence in children. He is convinced that the media exposure of violence has a direct affect on increasing violence in our youth. He quotes a study in Canada where two sister cities, which were thirty miles apart, had a totally different response to television. One city got television and the other city did not. Immediately, within days, violence on the school grounds and playgrounds increased in the city that had gotten televisions. Fifteen years later, the murder rate had doubled along with severe violence in the area around the city with televisions. The other city, which stayed television-free, did not have any increase in violence. Interestingly, the fifteen year gap is the amount of time that it takes for repeated violence exposure in media to rise to the level of murder.

How much of our increase in violence is due to break up of the family? Are kids really understanding the morality of right and wrong? Are families ineffective in helping their kids make decisions? Certainly these are all important links to this problem and true risk factors but the situation is not hopeless and families can still make a difference teaching their kids right from wrong as well as controlling their long term exposure to violence in T.V. videos, music, movies and now the internet. It takes caring as well as working with young people and other adults to help troubled youth, particularly youth in single parent homes and youth of dysfunctional parents perhaps on drugs and not active in their children's lives. It takes a village to raise a child. School, homes, and communities are all important safety nets for our troubled children and unfortunately so many communities now are not willing to reach out to these troubled youth. The neighborhoods are disintegrating and people feel like it is someone else's problem but it is actually all of our problems.

How about drugs, alcohol and violence? Certainly these are also important risk factors and this gets back to good parenting and preventing the early exposure of kids to alcohol and drug abuse. Love truly is a learned activity and so is non-violence. There is always hope to teach kids through peer mediation, character education, citizenship education, and try to find ways to get all of our youth involved in their communities. By teaching kids to reach out of themselves and help others and not focusing all of their loneliness and misery into themselves, we can prevent tragedies like Littleton.

How can parents connect with their child? First, start by talking with your child not at your child. Listen to your child. Make sure in your own life that you overcome stereotypes, prejudices, and violent tendencies yourself so that you can help your kids learn a better non-violent way.

In the book, The Power, Joseph Campbell talks about how everyone needs an ethos. Children also need an ethos. How do we restore this into our children's lives? It takes a community (church, youth groups, school activities, hospitals, and police) working together and talking together to provide safety nets for these troubled youth and to train up our children in a way they never become troubled violent youth. We must "get off of the front porch" and talk to each other; we must become our "brother's keeper." In designing these kinds of youth programs, we must get the youth directly involved in the formation of the programs. Regarding bad schools, we must all join hands with the courts, faith groups, etc. and encircle the kids, not abandon the school and the kids. We must find ways to help. Parents are generally afraid to teach sex and religion but this is important obviously and we as responsible adults must help to properly educate our youth on sex and religion and violence and non-violence.

Guns, violence, and death. This topic is far too common today. There are approximately 260 thousand black males between 16 and 24 years of age dying every year from guns. This is far, far too many. At this rate, if it was an infectious disease it would be called an epidemic.

There are always dangerous kids out there in today's world that could get easy access to drugs and lethal weapons. We must change our laws state by state. Fifteen states presently have laws requiring safety clips on all guns and this makes it harder for troubled youth to get a hold of guns and use them in a violent way. We must extend this requirement to all 50 states.

What are the danger signals of our troubled youth? Number one is withdrawal. Number two is skipping school. And number three is falling grades. Others include fighting, destroying property, going into a rage over a minor problem, getting involved in lethal or violent activities against animals and/or people, and injuring ones self, others, or animals.

The United States has three times the teen gun fatalities of all the other twelve large industrial societies. Yet all these other societies have the same access to movies and video violence. So what is the difference? The difference is access to guns. All of us in our church and faith group should be leading the movement toward proper gun control. It will not be an easy battle because there is a very rich gun lobby out there but we out number them and hopefully we can get the public will to work against their hard headedness.

Who is responsible for all the violence in youth today? Obviously the person involved in the youth violence (the youth himself), but also all of us who allow non-childproof weapons to be out there. Gun manufactories are responsible for not putting safety clips or gun locks or some how childproofing guns just as Johnson & Johnson had to do when Tylenol was tampered with. From then on, Tylenol bottles had safety caps.

We need better mental health services, safe schools plans including mental health and social services in all of our schools. We need teachers trained to be effective on the front line recognizing troubled youth and helping them. We need one on one mentoring as well as group and community mentoring (this is a real good way to help troubled kids). We need community based preventive efforts (one example is Save = "Students Against Violence Everywhere", which started in 1989). It has thousands of chapters around the country. Our churches need to find full-time youth directors (not part-time) and to get other adults involved.

What to do with parents who advocate violence and do not seem to care about their troubled youth? We need to look across that privacy fence and say, "I see you are having trouble. How can I help you?" We need to get directly involved in their lives and their youth's lives. It takes other caring adults to step in and help to put these kids in some effective program.

What to do about the cruelty and teasing occurring at schools? We must teach respect for everyone in the home, in faith groups, and at schools. In summary, we must accept the challenge of preventing youth violence and get directly involved. All of us in society must be our "brother's keeper" and start now.