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of violence by young
persons, especially incidents of school shootings, have caused many persons to ask
why these things are happening so frequently today. What causes such
violence? they ask. How could someone do such things? Well, just
as most psychological conflicts tend to begin in childhood, anti-social violence
tends to burgeon in adolescence, a time when children start to use 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 popularized in the developmental
theories of psychoanalysis.
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 children with stable, healthy families, the adolescent process isnt
all that traumatic, and it is usually far from being violent. But there can
be violent problemssuch as school shootings.
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
by a fear of love.
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. Well, persons who have some psychological insight 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 nice. 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
problem for children in such families is that they have to live a
lie. In fact, some of these children
can become quite skilled in passing themselves off as nice, likable, normal
children with wonderful futures and no problems. Other children 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, cigarettes, alcohol,
marijuana, tattoos, skulls and crossbones, and deafening music played with hellish
theatrical effects are all attempts to flirt with death because a person
has 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 their children;
who trample on their neighbors and
colleagues in order to get a few steps ahead;
who never touch their children in
kindness or sit down to eat with them;
who never bother to ask their
children what they are thinking or feeling;
who have shattered their 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 correct their children when they
do something wrong.
children who have everything, but really nothing. How could they have become
capable of committing such crimes?
as the cartoon character 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 smoking cigarettes is to pollute the body with noxious, addictive
chemicals. So, even though most 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 most adults deny this
reality, is it any surprise when they 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 numb pain and distort mental processes so as
to thumb your nose at the painful facts of life. So, even though most adults deny
this reality, is it any surprise when addicts become criminals? Is it any wonder
that so many children use drugs?
The whole biological
point of having sex is for a woman to get pregnant. So, when most
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
dressing sexy is to incite lust in others. So, when most adults deny this reality,
is it any surprise that so many women are sexually harassed by persons obsessed with
lust? Is it any wonder that so many children are enslaved to pornography and sexual
The whole point
of having an abortion is to kill an unwanted child. So, when most
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
The whole point
of keeping loaded guns in a house is to kill someone. So, even though
most adults deny this reality, is it any surprise when people get killed with
guns? Is it any wonder that a child finds an unsecured loaded gun and kills
The whole point
of rejecting moral values is to say that anything goes. So, when so
most 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 antisocial violence points 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, a person receives
the satisfaction of feeling more powerful than something else. Its
as if that person 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
to develop a stable sense of identity, children
need a period of innocence when they are able to play and learn in emotional
safety from the harsh realities of life.
In times past,
the greatest violation of this safety was sexual abuse.
Childhood innocence was shattered when the cruel and
manipulative aspects of sexuality were forced
on a child emotionally unprepared for the realities of adulthood. But today,
other things have arisen that equal the emotionally dangerous effects of
molestation by another person: violent and pornographic entertainment. Today,
when all the manipulative aspects of sexuality are imposed on them, children
have no opportunity to develop a stable identity other than that of slaves to
lust and violence.
loss of innocence caused by violent and pornographic entertainment, especially
through its easy access on the Internet, is having profound effects on our
Such forms of
entertainment are popular because they allow children 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 and discontent.
Moreover, such forms
of entertainment have a tendency to “infect” us with their destructive values of
lust, vulgarity, hostility, and revenge. When this happens, all the values
supporting love are undermined, and human dignity falls into contempt. And the
door to evil is thrown wide open.
In a pathetic
denial of reality, we crave to be entertained with imaginary violence and
death, but there will come times—just as we are telling
ourselves that we are having fun—that real violence and death will take us by
surprise. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.
In 1962, Rachel
Carson published Silent Spring, a book that gave solemn warning about
the dangerous effects of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Thankfully, the
book had profound effects on changing environmental policies. Today, however,
lust and violence are too ingrained in our culture to reverse course. We are
on a slow march into ever deepening evil.
Our culture is
wounded by a lack of real love: the lack of parental values that are grounded
in love, and the ultimate fraud of all authority that is based in nothing but
spiritual emptiness. Yes, “. . . the enemy . . . is us.”
Soon after a tragedy such
as a school shooting, 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 angry rhetoric and 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?
The struggle for psychological and spiritual
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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
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