The school shootings just keep coming, as we should have guessed by now they would. Without the intervention of teacher Jason Seaman, Noblesville, Indiana, would no doubt have been the third mass shooting in a school in 2018, preceded by Santa Fe, Texas, that took 10 lives, and Parkland, Florida, that took 17 and wounded 17 more. May Seaman’s tribe increase.
Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote on school shootings in the New Yorker in 2015, believes we should expect more. His article developed a theory based on a study of riots by sociologist Mark Granovetter. Each new shooting lowers the threshold for participation. The Columbine shooters broke the storefront window. Others less brash but emboldened are now rushing in and looting the place.
“In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement.”
Time will tell, but if the 2018 trend indicates anything it is that Gladwell is probably right. As each new incident splashes across the media, more low threshold shooters will take up arms.
Arguments for gun-control will continue to gain steam, communities will seek to harden their schools, and law enforcement improve response times, but those things only address the symptoms of this growing social pathology. We need to get to the roots. All school mass murderers have been boys or young men. The question is: What can we as parents and grandparents do to prevent the development of future predators?
Several common denominators emerge from analysis of these boy-shooters, labeled thus because even if they are in college, they have missed essential developmental steps to manhood. Besides access to guns, which Americans have always had, they are: The desire for revenge; the desire for fame; the need to feel powerful; the copycat phenomenon; narcissistic individualism; mental illness. Those personality disorders are on the rise.
How can parents, grandparents and community leaders interrupt the downward spiral of narcissistic revenge in a boy’s life that leads to mass murder? Obviously, we want to introduce our sons to Jesus Christ, to teach and model for them what it means to follow the Prince of Peace. Beyond that I offer the following suggestions.
First, parents need to be parents again, not friends. You can be friends later, great friends, once your son has achieved manhood, but not before. Until that day he needs leadership willing to exercise controlling authority in his life that will set standards and expectations for behavior with fairness and consistency. From the time the terrible 2s strike until he walks across the stage to accept a diploma he needs boundaries and expectations enforced with positive affirmation and memorable discipline.
The reason for that is straightforward. Freud taught that everything wrong with us is our parent’s fault, that if we can only sort out how they wronged us we’ll be alright. The humanists followed with the theory that children are born basically good, innocent blank slates who only need to be shown the good to want it. If the child does wrong there are always reasons, excuses, mitigating factors. It’s not his fault. The psychological health of American boys has been in precipitous decline ever since those theories caught on in the 1960s.
A more reliable and ancient record of human psychology—the Bible—teaches that all children are born with free will and a narcissistic proclivity to choose self over others.
Child and Family Psychologist John Rosemond reported on the connection between that proclivity and violence in his PARENTING BY THE BOOK. The best social science reveals “the characteristics that typify people who possess an abundance of self-esteem:
w An overriding sense of entitlement (“What I want I deserve to have”)
w Low self-control, especially when frustrated
w Apt to explode toward others when they don’t get their way
w A criminal/sociopath mind-set, distinguished by the belief that the end justify the means
w Training this out of a boy requires teaching him that bad behavior is his fault, and he will be held accountable for it. His morals need forming and his instincts need restraining until he is civilized.
Second, if your son doesn’t have a father in the home make sure he has several in the community. Coaches, scout leaders, church men, teachers, ROTC leaders and male mentors of all kinds. Boys need men to show them what servant-leadership looks like, how a real man handles setbacks and disappointments. If you aren’t part of a church with strong male role-models in it, find one and pray for God to lead you and your son(s) to the right kind of mentor. Keep him involved in healthy community, whether he wants to or not.
Third, keep him involved in healthy activities that channel his aggressive energies and provide camaraderie. Loneliness in the social media age is becoming pandemic. Screen time is not the same as face time with flesh and blood friends. Boys, even those who aren’t naturally athletic, have more built-in aggression and competitiveness than girls. If baseball isn’t his game perhaps Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, or golf, or tennis, or chess, or any number of other things will hold his attention. He needs to achieve with other boys and be affirmed in his achievement.
Fourth, interrupt immersion in killology, the phrase coined by former military psychologist David Grossman to define the process by which an average young person is groomed by the military to take human life.
Humans, like many other creatures, are not hard-wired to kill other humans, at least not in cold blood. They must be conditioned to do so. The military figured this out during WWII and developed training regimens that included brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role modeling to overcome it. Brutalization desensitizes boys to violence. Classical conditioning, associating violence with pleasurable things like soft-drinks, sex and laughter, makes them enjoy it. Operant conditioning trains them to do it without thinking. And role modeling shows them it’s socially OK. Much of the entertainment targeted at young men does the same thing, but without the built-in restraints in the military command structure.
Does that mean that every boy who plays World of Warcraft is a potential school shooter? No, but as Grossman reports, “Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco.”
If your son or grandson is interested in war-stories, he’s like millions of others who’ve been inspired by military heroes. But if he is immersed in killology he could become quite dangerous without warning. Limit his screen time while giving him other things to pursue.
Fifth, watch closely during those critical years of early adolescence for signs of toxic social situations. Some boys are naturally more resilient, and we don’t want to create more snowflakes. But some situations are more damaging than others. Boys need a few successes under their belts to strengthen their confidence in social situations. If they haven’t had those successes, they need a social environment that won’t poison them with anger and resentment until they can accrue them. Mental illness often begins here.
Sixth, if your boy does need counseling or is diagnosed with a mental or emotional illness, all is not lost. Get the help he needs, but in the meantime, remove all firearms from your home.
School shootings have become a waking nightmare for America and it isn’t only the families of the victims who hurt, but the families of the shooters as well. Do whatever it takes to keep it from being your worst nightmare too.