About this Website |
Questions and Answers About Psychotherapy |
of violence involving
teenagers have caused many persons to start asking why these things are happening.
What causes teenage violence? they ask. How could kids from such
normal families do such things? The parents were well off, they lived in nice houses,
they had everything.
cant offer a single answerbut there are some issues to
Simply put, adolescence
is a time when children start to use their newly developed powers of logical
thinking to see for themselves whether the things theyve been told
all their lives by adultsespecially their parentsare really
why there is so much youthful idealism and why adolescents are so prone to
say, What a stupid world. Things shouldnt have to be this way.
We could make it better if we only tried. Sometimes they actually manage
to make some social changes, but slowly they sink into the reality of human
complacency and the battle against the world becomes harder and harder to
fightespecially as they take on jobs and families. And before they
know it, they are dealing with questioning children of their own.
and stress concept of adolescent development, which depicts adolescence
as a time of turmoil and angst (anxiety and depression), really derives
from 18th and 19th century Romanticism and was utilized in the developmental
Do you know the
music of Beethoven or the painting of Turner? Well, these are examples of
Romanticism in art. The term Romanticism refers not to romance as
in courtship but to a concept of life as filled with passionate mood swings
and dramatic helplessness in the face of nature.
most kids with stable, healthy families, the adolescent process isnt
all that traumatic, and it is usually far from being violent. But there can
process can be relatively easy and smooth if parents learn how to
effectively with their children right from the beginning. After all, if parents
are sufficiently committed to their own moral beliefsif they have
anythey can encourage their children to learn about and discuss those
beliefs as they grow up, and there wont be so much for the children
to challenge in adolescence.
But if parents
are authoritarian and impose their beliefs on their children, that only gives
the children that much more to challenge later.
So what is an
authoritarian parent? It is someone who, when challenged or questioned says,
Because I say so, thats why!
Also, if parents
lack spiritual and moral beliefs, their children
will grow up without any sense of honest, compassionate
Most kids are smart enough to realize that when parents give them too much
freedom it really means that the parents dont careor dont
know any better themselves. So the children can end up with such profound
and guilt about the meaningless pursuit of self-gratification that they challenge
everything out of pure
And where does that lead? It leads right to bitter
identity confusion, anger,
children become adolescents who feel worthless because their
parents lives are valuelessthat is, without meaningful,
spiritual values. And communication fails because the family is governed
In a similar way, much of adolescent acting out (which technically
means communicating behaviorally rather than verbally) is an
unconscious attempt to prove to the parents that they
are full of you-know-what.
think that if a someone looks ordinary then he or she must be
normal. Newspaper and television reporters are always making
this mistake. They take a quick look at a family with working parents and
a house and say, But they are so normal. How could such a tragedy have
come from such a good family?
Well, there are
also a lot of people in this world who know what a
dysfunctional family is, and they
know very well that above all else dysfunctional
do their very best to always look ordinary and good. Broken by adultery, alcoholism,
divorce, drug use, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and
violencetake your pickthe whole family devotes a tremendous effort
to keeping family secrets, and each family member
adopts a discrete role to play in the deception held up to the outside world.
So do you really think that reporters are at all qualified to make clinical
assessments of family normality?
problem for adolescents in such families is that they have to live a
lie. In fact, some of these adolescents
can become quite skilled in passing themselves off as nice, likable, normal
kids with wonderful futures and no problems. As kids say, What a
joke! Other adolescents can become quite skilled in developing images
as risk-taking rebels; but that image, too, is just a lie, created as a flash
of adrenaline-charged excitement to ward off dull feelings of
despair. So, too, tattoos, skulls and crossbones,
deafening music played with hellish theatrical effects, drugs, cigarettes,
and alcohol are all attempts to flirt with death because you have
no sense of real life.
appearances dont really count for much.
They can easily hide a boiling pot of shame,
People are always
looking at outward signs of wealth and saying, What a shame. She had
everything a child could want. How could she have done that? Well,
heres another joke. She had everything, all rightexcept
We are especially prone to thinking that material success brings
happiness. And we are so indoctrinated with this belief that
if someone has material success we just assume that he or she must be
happy. We rarely stop to ask ourselves if there might be something
else to life, something missing in the advertisements,
TV, sports, music, and movies that surround us.
Yes, a child
can grow up in a wealthy family with a million dollar house and for
all outward appearances look normal and happy. So whats the problem?
Maybe the problem has to do with parents
who are so busy accumulating wealth
that they never have time to talk to you;
who trample on their neighbors and
colleagues in order to get a few steps ahead;
who never touch you in kindness or
sit down to eat with you;
who never bother to ask you what
you are thinking or feeling;
who have shattered your family security
with their adultery and divorce;
who are so much a product of our
permissive society that they have forsaken self-restraint and self-discipline
and cannot even punish you when you do something wrong.
So imagine: a
child who has everything, but really nothing. How could he have committed
such a crime?
as Pogo said, . . . the enemy . . . is
us.  Maybe the root of all childhood disobedience is to be
found in a lack of parental love: the lack of genuine parental values and the
ultimate fraud of all authority that is based
in nothing but moral emptiness.
Adolescence is a time
for an individual to transition from being more-or-less dependent on others
to taking personal responsibility for ones own life. Consider, though,
how difficult this task can be when most adults around the adolescent deny
responsibility for almost everything and lie about their motives for almost
The whole point
of training pit bull dogs to attack with ferocity is to have them
maul other creatures. So, even though adults deny this reality, is it any
surprise when dogs attack people? Is it any wonder that so many children
get mauled by dogs?
The whole point
of keeping loaded guns in a house is to kill someone. So, even though
adults deny this reality, is it any surprise when people get killed with
guns? Is it any wonder that a child finds a loaded gun and kills
The whole point
of smoking cigarettes is to pollute the body with noxious, addictive
chemicals. So, even though adults deny this reality, is it any surprise when
smokers die of cancer? Is it any wonder that so many children express their
self-hatred by smoking cigarettes?
The whole point
of drinking alcohol is to impair judgment so that painful facts
arent seen for what they really are. So, even though adults deny this
reality, is it any surprise when many adults get drunk and do stupid things?
Is it any wonder that so many children drink alcohol?
The whole point
of using street drugs is to thumb your nose at the painful facts of
life. So, even though adults deny this reality, is it any surprise when addicts
become criminals? Is it any wonder that so many children use
The whole biological
point of having sex is for a woman to get pregnant. So, when so many
adults deny this reality, is it any surprise there are so many unloved and
abused children in this world? Is it any wonder that so many teenage girls
The whole point
of having an abortion is to kill an unwanted child. So, when so many
adults deny this reality, is it any surprise that so many people have a contempt
for life? Is it any wonder that so many children commit suicide?
The whole point
of rejecting moral values is to say that anything goes. So, when so
many adults deny this reality, is it any surprise that violence and murder
are a part of anything? Is it any wonder that so many children will do
anythingeven kill their parents or teachers or classmates?
approach to understanding adolescent violence would point to a concept derived
from animal behavior: the pecking order. Among chickens, for example,
the most powerful bird can peck on any other bird to assert its authority.
The next most powerful bird must be submissive to the most powerful bird
but can peck on any other bird less powerful. And so it goes, down the line,
until the weakest bird must be submissive to all and can peck on
this principle can be seen when a parent disciplines a child, and the child
then runs to her room and disciplines her doll.
when parental discipline becomes abuse, more disturbing childhood behavior
can occur, such as
Psychologically, most bullies are children who are being
at home and who then turn on their peerstheir weaker peers, of
courseto peck on them. In fact, this is the origin of the
classic taunt to a bully: Why dont you pick on someone your own
size? Well, bullying isnt about aggressive competition; its
about (a) the need to humiliate others because of feeling humiliated by
ones own weakness, and (b) the desire to get
revenge on the world in general because of having
been hurt. Both of these unconscious motives derive
from having been abused by an adult, so the bully has to pick on someone
weaker and smaller than himself (or herself). In the end, bullying is the
satanic inversion of the Golden Rule; instead of treating others with
understanding and kindness, as we all would like to be treated, bullies
do to others, in all bitterness, what was done to
even be directed at things. In damaging property, the adolescent receives
the satisfaction of feeling more powerful than something else. Its
as if the adolescent is thinking, in his or her
unconscious logic, My parents have injured my
self-esteem, and society has frustrated me, but if I can damage
somethinganythingthen look how powerful I am!
leads us to the clinical diagnoses of disturbed childhood behavior. The most
serious disorder is Conduct
Disorder, which is characterized by behavior
in which the basic rights of others or age-appropriate societal norms
or rules are violated, as manifested through the following criteria,
Aggression to people and animals
(e.g., bullying, initiating fights, using weapons, cruelty, mugging, sexual
Destruction of property (e.g., fire
setting or other destruction)
Deceitfulness or theft (e.g., breaking
and entering, conning, shoplifting)
Serious violations of rules (e.g.,
staying out all night, running away from home, skipping school)
Defiant Disorder is essentially a
recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile
behavior toward authority
figures [2a] but without the contempt for societal norms and the basic
rights of others which is seen in Conduct Disorder.
with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
(ADHD) may be disruptive, but the behavior is
largely hyperactive and impulsive rather than malicious.
Disorder may be considered if the conduct problems
do not meet the requirements for another specific disorder and occur in the
context of a psychosocial stressor.
a diagnosis of a Manic
Episode may be considered if the conduct problems
follow the episodic course of
Some persons argue that violent movies, music, and video games
to act violently. Lets look at these arguments.
against violent movies and music usually hinges on the fact that someone
saw a particular movie, or heard a particular song, and then committed a
crime in imitation of the movie or song. Well, this imitation
argument just is not scientific.
may have imitated the movie or song, but millions of other people who also
saw the same movie or heard the same song didnt imitate it.
Scientifically, you simply cannot take one case and then claim that it proves
much of anything about the world in general. Period.
The real problem
with violent movies and music is not to be found in the matter of simple
imitation; the real problem is that violent entertainment has subversive
psychological effects that lead to social
First, such forms
of entertainment are popular because they allow teenagers to experience an
outward expression of the very same
anger and frustration
they are already feeling inwardly because of their dysfunctional lives. Keep
in mind here that the expression of hostile feelings and impulses has no
healing quality; instead, it only fans the flames of inner confusion
forms of entertainment have a tendency to infect us with their
destructive values of hostility,
Its a tragedy
that our society, knowing this is happening as a clear sign of cultural and
familial disintegration, chooses to ignore it anyway and allows it to
In pathetic denial of reality, we crave to be intertained with imaginary violence and death, but there will come timesjust as we are telling ourselves that we are having funthat real violence and death will take us by surprise. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.
Some people claim
that, like violent movies, violent video games promote violence. Other people
say, Video games are just games, so whats the
is that even though they are games, the ones involving shooting can teach
skills about using weapons. A person who
gets good at handling a pistol or shotgun to kill fake enemies can very easily
turn those skills onto real people. And, in the process of playing the game,
to the horror of real killingso if the killing ever does become real,
it is carried out with a complete lack of empathy for the
Just as movies or music by themselves are actually unlikely to cause
anyone to commit a crime, video games may not cause violence either.
But for those who are predisposed to violence because of inner hurt and
violent movies, violent music, and violent games can combine to provide the
inspiration and the skills and the hardness of heart
necessary to commit a real crime.
that the television, movies, music, and games of our culture are necessarily
evil in themselvesthough in some cases they arebut that our
attraction to them can draw us away from the good and the peaceful and push
us onto the very threshold of the door to malevolence and
Soon after a tragedy,
you will hear the voices of many indignant observers crying out, We
need to ban guns!
But wait a minute
more people than gunswhy not ban cigarettes?
cigarettes would disrupt too many lives. Too many persons have too much money
and pleasure at stake to have any concern for social welfare. And right there
you have the psychological truth about our culture: Its far easier
to cast blame in the moment to satisfy our thirst
for revenge than it is to address the real
problem. Its far easier to say, Lets ban guns
than to address the real problem, because the real problem, as I said before,
killer to truly fear is the killer in your own heart.
Now, you might
say, Thats ridiculous. I would never kill innocent people like
that [expletive deleted] did!
Well, think again,
because you still have a lot to learn about the psychology of the
unconscious. Our entire culture has oriented itself
around power and retaliation as a response to
fear and vulnerability, and every individual in the
culture carries that infection deep within the unconscious. Look carefully
at yourself. Hurling curses at someone is an act of hatred, and hatred, in
its ugly truth, is psychological murder no less destructive than the murder
committed by a teenager with an assault rifle.
The enemy is
Yes, guns kill.
But so do cars and so do airplanes. Should we ban them too? Far better to
banish hatred from our lives. But we cannot do that the easy way by making
hatred illegal, because that only opens the door to hating those who hate.
Instead, we must endeavor to purge hatred from our hearts and learn
The enemy is
us. Will we learn?
Shows how to turn the emotional wounds
of daily life into psychological growth. Available as a paperback book or
as an e-book.
Has this web page been helpful? Then please help support this
website in gratitude, as a down-payment on the success of your
hopes and dreams!
to see an image of Walt Kellys 1971 Pogo cartoon with this quote.
2a. American Psychiatric
Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.
Child and Adolescent Mental
information and discussion about the diagnosis and medical treatment
of ADD/ADHD and describes the many social consequences people
with ADD/ADHD neurology not infrequently struggle to cope with.
from the National Institute of Mental Health
Support and Resources from the National Cancer Institute.
Children and Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
provides comprehensive information about child development, mental
health disorders (including ADHD), and treatment.
and Adolescent Mental Health Activities from the Center for Mental
Disorder: Diagnosis and Treatment in Primary Care from American
Contemporary Pediatrics® offers many helpful
in Children and Adolescents from American Family
for Effective Discipline from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Children After a Disaster from the American Academy of Child and
Helping children with learning disabilities toward a brighter
adulthood from Contemporary Pediatrics
on Child Abuse and Neglect Information
in Adolescents - AACAP Facts For Families from the American Academy
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).
disorders in children and teens from Postgraduate
Disorders and Sleep Problems in Childhood from American Family
Suicide Attempts in Adolescents from the American Academy of
When parents have a drinking problem from
Bullies and victims: A guide for pediatricians
from Contemporary Pediatrics®.
Lessons: (2002), Table of Contents from Natl Academy Press.
Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools from the U.S.
Department of Education.
ERIC/CASS Virtual Library on School Violence
Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General
Related pages within A Guide to Psychology
and its Practice:
Revenge, and Forgiveness
Deathand the Seduction
Sex and Love
INDEX of all subjects
on this website
to Psychology and its Practice
Copyright © 1997-2013 Raymond
Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
All material on this website is
copyrighted. You may copy or print selections for your private, personal
Any other reproduction or distribution without my
permission is prohibited.