“Why are they so angry?,” columnist Ana Veciana-Suarez asked rhetorically in a recent Miami Herald (“Senseless rage sparks inexplicable tragedy,” 4/2/10), listing five tragic examples of teen-on-teen violence that have received national attention this year.
While each story is unique, the issue of young people’s feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and frustration turning deadly is not. For each example, there are dozens more that have not been featured by the local or national media. The murders of three teens in nearby Liberty City during the first three weeks of March alone went almost unnoticed by the press.
This month marks the 11th anniversary of the horrific killings at Columbine. More than a decade later, many schools have implemented valuable lessons. Yet millions of families and communities across the country are tragically missing in action when it comes to taking actions to make America safer for all our children. While school administrators, counselors, and educators struggle to assure the safety of children on their campuses, they cannot succeed without active community support that begins in each of our homes and neighborhoods.
Rarely is violence against children as premeditated as the attack that left 15 dead and 24 injured in Littleton, Colorado. More typically, it’s a result of young people without constructive, healthy outlets for upsetting feelings either unleashing stored up emotions inward or outward. Parental messages that urge children not to feel what they feel (“Don’t be angry,” “Don’t be sad,” Don’t be scared.”) often lead youngsters to stop confiding in trusted adults, giving more energy to bottled up feelings that can become destructive.
Emotions turned inward show up as sadness, depression, and at the extreme, suicide. For those who release their feelings outwardly, they can be unleashed as anger, rage, and at another extreme, violence.
Many young people do have much to be upset about. The financial stresses that are impacting millions of families touch their lives too, both as they witness increasing conflict and uncertainty within their families and become innocent victims of marital and family breakdown. For others approaching the end of high school or college, educational and career aspirations may feel unobtainable as traditional paths to independence become increasingly elusive. Pressures to fit in, achieve academic success, and beat an uncertain path to a successful future lead many young people to despairingly surrender their dreams altogether.
Those who do stay the course often have assets in their lives – human assets – that support, encourage, and urge them forward:
- Parents who model healthy conflict resolution skills within their families; ·
- Parents whose actions regularly show children they are valued and loved; ·
- Parents in whom they can safely, consistently confide and seek comfort.
Communities in which children are regularly deprived of these vital family resources are far more likely to produce angry adolescents who are a threat to themselves and others.
Programs that encourage caring, responsible adults to spend hours each month mentoring youngsters have proven themselves invaluable when children aren’t able to seek support from their own parents.
While some parents may not naturally have the skills to model healthy conflict resolution within their homes and create relationships in which it’s safe for children to seek counsel and comfort, educational programs that teach relationship skills to adults have been shown to make a difference.
Assuring more children grow up with two parents who are actively engaged in their lives within neighborhoods where caring adults are regularly a positive influence is the most important contribution we can make to a future that’s safer for all of our sons and daughters.