Northwest NEWS

March 26, 2001

Front Page

There's no Band-Aid big enough for

these problems
   by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   "We're no different than Columbine," said Sgt. Kent Baxter of the Woodinville Police Department, "when you consider the income, the community, the type of kids we have here."
   It's true. Woodinville's similarity to the locales in which school shootings have taken place is striking. We, too, can sing the litany of best people, best schools, best neighborhoods; but apparently these bests aren't immunizing agents. And unless we want to join in the dirge of "Why here?" perhaps we should pinpoint the factors that lead to school violence and do something about them.
   Violence in the Media
   "Kill your friends guilt free" Magazine ad for Guilty Gear
   "More fun than shooting your neighbor's cat" Magazine ad for Point Blank
   "Shoot a snitch in the kneecaps, or snuff out a rival with a single head shot and watch them bleed to death" On package for Kingpin: Life of Crime
   "Vengeance. Sometimes it's the only answer." On the package for Black Thorne
   That some video games involve coordination and strategy and have appropriate educational uses is not doubted. That the games mentioned in the above advertisements are appropriate for adolescents is entirely debatable.
   Despite a voluntary rating system supported by the video industry, a study by the Federal Trade Commission indicates video games rated for mature audiences are marketed for children, are widely available and frequently passed among friends.
   "When it comes to video games, MTV, the Internet, adolescents are taking in information they can't decipher correctly," said Rhonda McKim, chairperson for Every Kid Counts, WSPTA. "They aren't developmentally able. We have to remember, children aren't miniadults," she said.
   According to three major national studies cited in an American Psychological Association booklet entitled "Is Youth Violence Just Another Fact of Life?", viewing violence desensitizes the viewer. Its byproduct is a calloused "so what" attitude directed toward others experiencing violence. Viewing violence fuels the appetite for becoming involved with violence. It graphically depicts how desirable commodities can be obtained through the use of aggression. And viewing sexual violence on TV, the Internet or videos has also been shown to increase male aggression against females.
   Hence parents are increasingly challenged to monitor, to rein in, the media their youngsters watch.
   The video game rating system may be helpful, but Washington State Department of Health in its brochure "What Games Do Your Children Play?" suggests parents preview the games themselves. It says the best ways to restrict access to video and computer games are to communicate with children, limit time use and provide supervision. Experts suggest having computers in family areas, not in private bedrooms. They also recommend installing blocking/filtering software on computers or removing the mouse and keyboard from the computer when parents can't be there to supervise.
   The glamourized violence that adolescents see in video games (or on television, or in the movies -- or hear in song lyrics, for that matter) really does intensify violent behavior in our society. And parents can do something about it.
   Domestic Violence
   Research shows that violent or aggressive behavior is often learned in early life. Each year, 3.3 million children witness domestic violence. And children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate 1,500 percent higher than the national average, said a King County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, Juvenile Section Domestic Violence Survey taken in 1996. This is not to say that all children who see violence at home become violent, but they may be more likely to resolve conflicts with violence.
   "Woodinville had 94 [reported] incidents of domestic violence in 2000," said Chief of Police Services for the city of Woodinville Ken Wardstrom. That's about one incident every four days. He sees this number as at or below what districts of a similar size would have. But he doesn't discount the number. "It's not an overwhelming workload for the department, but it is an overwhelming problem for society."
   Children caught in the web of domestic violence can escape its pattern of repetition, but not without help from caring adults and peers. These children require positive role models, exposure to more positives than negatives. They need supportive relationships from peers and a mother or mother figure. But most of all, they have to have a sense of hope, a belief in themselves and a sense that they're in control of their lives.
   Adolescents with easy access to their parents' gun arsenals should scare us all. Columnist Mary McGrory wrote, "If [Williams] had had a dog instead of a gun, we never would have heard of him." She's probably right.
   A National Crime Prevention Council brochure entitled "It's Time to Stop the Violence" indicates that a gun in the home increases the likelihood of homicide three times and the likelihood of suicide five times. Studies show that firearms in the home are more than 40 times as likely to hurt or kill a family member as to stop a crime.
   So how can citizens protect themselves and their homes without guns? Invest in top-grade locks, a jamming device for doors and windows, a dog or an alarm system. Participate in Neighborhood Watch or take a self-defense class.
   If people choose to own firearms, store them safely unloaded, trigger-locked, in a locked gun case or pistol box. Keep ammunition stored separately and keep keys away from children and away from weapons and ammunition. Check frequently to make sure storage is secure. And teach children what to do if they find a firearm: stop, don't touch, get away, tell a trusted adult.
   The Secret Service Agency and Justice Department have compiled a profile of student shooters. Apparently students who have been picked on and bullied have been party to each of the violent outbursts in the last five years.
   "His ears stuck out, he was small, skinny, and had a high voice," said Scott Bryan, friend of Charles Andrew Williams, the alleged shooter of 15 classmates at the most recent episode of high school violence at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., on March 5.
   "He was picked on a lot, but he never really did anything," said Santana student Andrew Kaforey.
   Until March 5.
   "Preventing Bullying," a U.S. Department of Education booklet, stated victims of bullying suffer more than actual physical or emotional harm. Grades suffer as attention is drawn away from learning. Fear may lead to absenteeism, truancy or dropping out. Victims may lose or fail to develop self-esteem, may feel isolation, become withdrawn or depressed. As students, and later as adults, victims may be hesitant to take social, intellectual, emotional or vocational risks. If the problem of bullying persists, as in the case of "Andy" Williams, victims may feel compelled to take drastic measures vengeance in the form of fighting back, weapon-carrying, even suicide.
   Authorities believe bulling is a learned behavior. Children see aggressive behavior and imitate it. They learn either at home, in the neighborhood or in school that bullying pays off. But a strong commitment at home and at school to change this intimidating behavior can, over time, eliminate it.
   Other Factors
   That teen violence exists in our society is no one's fault. It is a complex problem with many contributing factors.
   Our economy requires that both parents work, and "Americans," said McKim, "are working a month more now than they were in 1969." Increased time at work may mean less supervision of youth.
   "In the 1950s, kids in a family with two original parents was the number one kind of family unit," added McKim. "Today [kids in a family with two original parents] is ranked the sixth kind of family unit," indicating the shift in family makeup and the possible impact these new kinds of families may have on our society.
   This thread of anger/angst that is evident in some adolescents "... is not normal," according to McKim. "We have to talk to kids about what 'normal' is. If we come home and say, 'I had a bad day,' we have to explain what contributes to having a bad day. Children need to understand that it is OK to have a range of feelings. They need to be taught how to deal with frustrations. We need to teach our children early and reinforce it. Kids need to hear [such lessons] over and over before they implement, internalize, learn," she said.
   "And we have to get away from "parents [wanting] to be friends [to their children]. They need to be parents, to set boundaries," she said.
   But above all, we have to face up to the despair our children are feeling. We lose two kids a week to suicide in our state. We have to realize that not all community members live in trophy homes, that poverty and homelessness are parts of our community, too. We have to be aware that drug use has actually gone up since the 1980s, and that cost of detoxification/intervention programs are astronomical for the average family.
   If psychologists can, indeed, predict from an 8-year-old's aggressive behavior in school how aggressive that child will be in adolescence and adulthood, why aren't we acting on that knowledge? Identifying problems is not enough.
   The studies, the surveys, the statistics about what contributes to school violence are all out there, sheaves of it. What we need to do is act on it.
   "We need a general call to say, let's do something about it," said McKim. "If we don't invest in our kids, [after all], we're all going to pay for it in the long run."