I was shy when I was a child. On my report card, my third grade teacher wrote “Christine is like E.F. Hutton. When she talks everybody listens.” I hardly ever spoke so people assumed when I did I must have something important to say [which I'm sure must have left them disappointed most of the time ].
I’m still fairly shy, it’s just not as bad as it was when I was child. Now I pretend like I’m not nervous which sometimes comes across as arrogant. But really is just fear.
So what’s my point? My point is that not every shy kid is a psychopath. Most of us grow up to be successful people leading perfectly ordinary lives. We don’t all decide to shoot up our school and kill our classmates.
People act surprised that hindsight is 20/20. After attacks like this we always go back and examine the signs we missed. We analyze what could have been done. Even what should have been done. But putting blame on the parents, or on the doctors who said he was only a danger to himself or the school administrators or the local police who didn’t lock down the school is doing nobody any good. The person to blame is the shooter. Everybody else just did the best they could with the information they had at the time.
Back when the towers fell on 9/11, I heard stories that people in the second tower began to evacuate after the first tower was hit. But then security told them everything was fine and they should go back to their offices. Some people still evacuated, but others went back to work. It wasn’t forseeable that it was a terrorist attack and they’d be next. You better believe today if an airplane flies in to a building next door I’m getting the heck out. But I’m not sure what I would have done prior to 9/11.
It’s quite possible that in the next few years, if teachers come across assignments that are as disturbing as some of this kid’s writings were, they will push harder to get the kid in to treatment and have more converations with his parents. But there’s a fine line here. We don’t want our kids to be fearful of expressing themelves, but we also don’t want more of what we got on Monday. There’s a big difference between a creative kid who happens to write horror stories and a kid who writes horror stories because he’s mentally ill. Not all violent writing is a cry for help. If it is then why are there so many horror flicks in the movie theaters or on our cable channels? Why isn’t Stephen King safely locked in a padded room?
But then again, this kid had more going on then violent creative writing assignments. One of his professors said he was “mean” and had him removed from her class. He stalked a couple girls a couple years back. But in those cases he wasn’t violent. Just creepy. And the girls decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and not press charges. Somebody was concerned about him committing suicide. So the authorities sent him to a psychiatric hospital where a doctor determined he was a danger to himself, but not to others. Again, people did what they could with the information they had. Some people are mean, but don’t kill anybody. Some guys have trouble speaking to girls [especially very shy guys] and come off as weird and even creepy, but aren’t violent. Some people are depressed and consider suicide, but the thought of harming others never crosses their mind.
I’m worried that because of tragedies like this we will put more limits on our own kids. I don’t want to see our kids have to suffer because of the actions of a few mentally ill individuals. In the Newsweek article, The Games Boys Play, the author talks about some schools who don’t allow kids to run on the playground or play tag because “it brings out the aggression in kids.” But isn’t that the point? If they get their agression out on the playground then they won’t have the energy to pick on each other in the classroom. When I’m pissed off I like to jump on the treadmill or go for a walk. By the time my 45 minute work out is over I’ve usually calmed down.
At my house we don’t have any toys guns that look like real guns, but we do have squirt guns. My younger boys make a gun out of anything from their hand to a bent Power Ranger. Our older boys both have paint ball guns. And we even have an old BB gun [that doesn't work] from Lee’s childhood [we used to have two, but one --which also doesn't work-- was stolen the same time my car stereo was stolen]. We also have combat video and computer games, like Call of Duty. Both Lee and Justis like to watch all those horror films that come out.
Do I think any of this will make my kids a psychotic killer? I don’t think so. It’s just entertainment. Killers may pull ideas from these movies or video games, but it’s not the movies and video games that make them killers.
That being said I’m all for setting age appropriate limits. I don’t want my seven year olds watching gory movies or playing games like Grand Theft Auto. But I have no problem them pretending to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or having their Power Rangers fight a battle.
Some day our kids won’t have us hovering over them to make sure they are treating people with respect. We won’t be there to fight their battles for them. So instead of taking away their outlets such as playing and creative writing, wouldn’t it be better to teach them how to deal with their anger or sadness in healthy ways. I’m not saying you should buy them a gun and take them to a shooting range so they know how to fire a gun. But allow them to write or draw about what’s bothering them and seek help when you think it’s needed. If they don’t win the game, teach them to hold their head high and accept it. If they are upset that they are “it” teach them it’s part of the game and sometimes they are “it” and sometimes somebody else is “it.” Teach them how to share and how to resolve conflict with words instead of their fists.
Just removing toy guns and not allowing your kids to play a game like tag won’t solve the problem. We grew up playing cops and robbers and most of us turned out just fine. We’re in the middle of a war. Kids are going to see and hear about violence. Instead of forcing kids to just stand around the playground so they don’t get too agressive, why not teach them to handle it responsibly?