|"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole
Transformation Series Article
Wild Kids: Increasing violence among youth
Copyright © 2008 Dorian S. Cole
Recently (2008) a group of third grade children plotted to capture and torture a teacher, after one student was scolded for standing on a chair. This was no spontaneous act of playground rage. No, this was fully planned, complete with window coverings to prevent others from seeing, a paperweight to knock her unconscious, tape to bind her, a knife to stab her, and responsibilities assigned for each person involved, such as cleaning up the blood.
In 1997 in Dallas, TX, a 3 year old boy was killed when his 7 year old brother tried out a wrestling move that he had seen on TV wrestling. In 2008 in East St. Louis, IL, a 2 year old boy was killed when his 4 year old brother tried out a wrestling move.
Six cheerleaders in Lakeland, FL, in 2008, took another 16 yr. old cheerleader captive and beat her unconscious. When she awoke, they beat her again. The 35 minute beating gave her a concussion, and damaged one eye and her hearing in one ear. This seems premeditated in that they posted guards at two doors. The 8 youth have been charged as adults. After being apprehended, they joked about their situation and reportedly showed no remorse.
Why did the eight young adults (age 14 to 18) commit this crime (they have not been proven guilty at this date)? Possibly because they were insulted by the girl on MySpace and wanted to get back at her by posting a beating video on YouTube. MySpace is a social networking Internet site. YouTube is a video sharing Internet site, and on both subscribers can post about anything they want.
Violent thoughts and actions are permeating the youth of our society. People who feel slighted or oppressed turn to violence as the answer. From school and college students who plan and carry out massacres of fellow students and teachers, to violent gangs who beat innocent victims for fun, to young adults who plan violence to post on YouTube, young people are turning to violence. I first began writing on this in 1998 in an article, and realized that there were no simple causes and no simple answers.
How bad is violence among our youth?
According to the most recent (2002) statistical report from the US Department of Justice, one in twelve murders in the U.S. involved a juvenile offender, and the trend follows the population growth.
The statistics show an unhealthy environment in our school system for our students:
"In 2003, high school students responding to a national survey reported having property stolen or damaged at school (1 in 3) more often than fighting at school (1 in 8). Fear of school-related crime kept 5 in 100 high schoolers home at least once during the prior month.
"Six percent of high school students said they carried a weapon (e.g., gun, knife, or club) on school property in the past 30 days - down from 12% in 1993. The proportion that carried a weapon to school was about one-third of those who said they had carried a weapon anywhere in the past month. In addition, 6% of high schoolers reported carrying a gun anywhere in the past month, down from 8% in 1993."
The problems don't exist just in the school system:
By age 17, 33% of our youth have been suspended from school, 30% have experimented with illegal drugs, 16% have sold drugs, 18% have run away from home, 37% have vandalized, 27% have assaulted with the intent to seriously harm.
These problems were reduced by up to 48% (43% for assault) when the young person was living with both of their biological parents.
Source for justice statistics: US Department of Justice.
Pregnancy: For women age 15 to 19, the 2002 pregnancy rate was 42 of 1000
women (4%). The abortion rate was 22 per 1000 (2.2%). These rates have been
steadily declining since their high in 1988.
"Drinking and alcoholism: In 2005, about 10.8 million persons ages 12-20 (28.2% of this age group) reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Nearly 7.2 million (18.8%) were binge drinkers, and 2.3 million (6.0%) were heavy drinkers.
"Motor vehicle crashes remain the number one cause of death among youth ages 15-20. There were 7,460 youth motor vehicle deaths in 2005. (This includes both drivers and passengers.) Twenty-eight percent (28%) of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2005 had been drinking."
"16.9% of high school students had seriously considered attempting
suicide during the past year. 8.4% of high school students had actually
attempted suicide one or more times during the past year."
The trends that we can see growing are more plots to massacre schoolmates, and more organized attempts to beat or kill people. The schools are unable to provide security systems to stop beatings and planned massacres. It is a moral problem, not a security problem. Our schools and sidewalks can't be prisons. Somehow young people in society are learning that it is OK to beat or kill others to get their way or take revenge. It isn't any different than the thinking of terrorists.
It isn't just a US problem, it's a growing problem in other countries, too. School massacres have also occurred in Scotland and Germany. In France, in 2005 and 2008, young adults rioted against unemployment and changing work conditions. Also Muslim youth in France feel disenfranchised economically and culturally, and their future looks dismal to them. They rioted in 2007, burning cars and attacking the police.
Like the race riots in the US in the 1950s - 70s, violence seems to be a chosen mechanism for getting change. It is rage born of hopelessness. Yet it was not rioting that led to change in the US, it was the protests and marches and nonviolent resistance that were most effective. One is rage and chaos, the other is planned constructive action.
What is wrong with our world?
I'm sure the parents of all of those children are amazed at their actions. "My child could not do this." Friends and family are similarly amazed, saying these children were raised in good homes. There were no real problems. How could they do this?
Both the parents and the world ask, "Didn't we teach these children good values?"
Parents usually are not the cause (sometimes they are). Children actually are not accurate reflections of their parents or their upbringing. As I discovered raising my 3, their peers can be much more influential than a parent. Recent studies have demonstrated this. Antisocial and risky behavior can be encouraged by peers as well as positive behaviors. Peer influence peeks around age 14, and slowly diminishes with many children as they age. "Middle adolescence is an especially significant period for the development of the capacity to stand up for what one believes and resist the pressures of one's peers to do otherwise."
"Although being a member of a popular group may bring benefits such as positive social behavior and esteem, potential costs include higher rates of risky behavior and social aggression."
If parents aren't the cause, then something has to be blamed. If not the parents, then "It must be the violence on TV and the movies and video games." But thorough studies by people who would like to prove this relationship have always shown no relationship. No relationship exists between fictional violence and real violence. The most that you can say is that those few kids who tend toward rage and violence may be drawn to this type of entertainment, and if they don't find it in a movie they will find it somewhere else.
So what about the World Wrestling Entertainment group that sponsors fictional wrestling on TV, and all that blood lust? Well in my opinion, the WWE (formerly WWF) is an out of control organization that indirectly encourages a culture of taking dangerous performance enhancing drugs and engaging in ever-riskier stunts. Generally children have the capacity to tell what is fictional and what is real, but children of all ages have a limited capacity (experience level) to understand the impact of real violence. Hitting someone the way these wrestlers appear to hit, will cause permanent injury or death. These aren't Wiley Coyote cartoons that young people can easily tell the difference. Those who have never been in a real fight, or seen serious injuries, are very unlikely to be able to evaluate the real impact compared to the choreographed stunts they see on TV.
Responsible groups that teach such things as Judo and Karate emphasize not hurting others, and using it in self defense. They emphasize responsible use, not revenge and the grudge matches seen in WWE.
However, it is a parent's responsibility to monitor what their children watch. Most children should not be watching WWE. Does the WWE agree? From the WWE site:
"Our programs are tailored for teens and young adults (ages 12-34), who comprise nearly 36 percent of our audience. About 74 percent of our audience is 18 years of age or older. Some of our viewers are younger children. If parents make the decision to allow their children to watch our programming, we encourage those parents to watch with their children. We urge parents who allow younger children to watch our programming to explain that what our Superstars do on television should not be emulated or attempted in real life."
So, if parents aren't the cause, and the media is not the cause, then "It must be the Internet and those YouTube and FaceBook and MySpace services that children visit - unregulated and unsupervised." These do seem to encourage competition in violent events just by allowing them to be posted. Perhaps the interactive nature of these do provide a forum for this type of activity. But if people want to do this type of thing, they will find a forum. These appear to promote the culture, but they aren't likely to be significant causes either. They could use some restrictions.
The situation is more complicated. The US and many other countries have become melting pots, which is actually a good thing, but it has other impacts. We have become disparate communities of disparate family units, and very mobile. In our communities we have very little in common with each other. Technology has also made many major changes in the way we lead and live our lives.
We have no common values that are held as high ideals. Substitutes creep in as ideals such as an overemphasis on success (often measured as financial, power, or in material things), and getting everything you can: fame, fortune, all the toys... regardless of method. We see this reflected in college cheating, and in sports in the emphasis on performance enhancing drugs (cheating). These ideals change for some young adults as they mature, but for many it becomes a life-long way of behavior as patterns become strong habits that aren't displaced by other values. Misplaced values are one major problem.
Another problem is that young adults have difficulty making moral decisions. Lawrence Kohlberg showed that young adults don't fully understand the consequences of moral decisions, and this typically continues until they are around 28 before they have a full appreciation for consequences. Moral decision-making develops in stages. We probably expect more of young adults than many of them are actually ready for, even if we think we have trained them well. There is a major difference between intellectual (learned) knowledge, and the emotional intelligence (experiential) that influences most of our decisions.
Another major problem beyond the fragmentation of our society into disparate units that don't share common values is that religious institutions have failed in the last 60 years to stay relevant to society, and lead. The message never loses relevance, it is the packaging and enthusiasm that are the problem. Religion has been affected as much by technological advances as people have. Where are we today numerically? Religious congregations in Christian churches increased a modest 5.3% from 1990 to 2003 despite a 17% increase in population. Jewish congregations shrank 8.1%. In contrast, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist affiliations, which are a small percentage of religious congregations, rose 110 to 169%..
Numbers can be deceiving. Only 1 in 10 Americans is not somehow associated with a religious congregation. (Baylor Survey: American Piety in the 21st Century.) The percentage of Christian affiliated people in the US is 76.5% (Pew Survey:).
In actual practice, people who are raised in a Christian denomination tend to drop out in their early twenties by 60%, and they don't come back. Nor do they bring their children to services. Despite the resurgence of interest in religious things in the last 10 years, people don't attend religious services.
Today we have to look at whether we offer lifeless ceremonies that bore young people (and even adults) to death. Young adults express their disinterest by leaving in their adult years, when they tend to refine their ideas of religion and their interest tends to change toward finding meaning and purpose.
But this doesn't mean that young people are disinterested in religion. On the contrary:
"Most teens are happy to practice religion the way they were raised."
"Teenagers are poorly engaged by their religious community,"
Those congregations that fail to grapple with issues such as sexuality,
- . Harford Institute for Religion
They are interested. They simply don't find what they need. While many religious organizations do very well with youth, I believe that many religious organizations have lost that focus. The people vote with their feet and leave. Issues are not dealt with.
As Pope Benedict XVI said today (4/16/08) in his address to President Bush and the nation, we should all discuss the issues that we hold most deeply. So we have. For the past 60 years religious organizations have argued about the sexual revolution; gay rights and gay marriage; women's place in religious work and the home or workplace; versions of scripture; music; divorce... and a myriad of other divisive issues (or as the Apostle Paul called them, "doubtful disputes"). Much of this has reflected culture and bias more than a Christian message. During this time of turmoil and preoccupation, tremendous distance has grown between religious organizations and the people. Conflict is one of the great destroyers of religious organizations (statistically it is a firm marker of negative growth).
Religious organizations have steadily declined in influence as they have left issues unresolved or proffered unrealistic answers. In these 60 years we should have given birth to answers that heal and guide rather than divide and destroy.
Rapid changes in our society have placed a wide gap between values as ideals, and the acceptance of values. In this divisive climate and period of changing values, young people are not learning enduring values that are relevant for today.
Moral values encompass how we treat each other. They encompass such ideas as love, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, kindness, compassion, giving to others, tolerance, sacrificing for others... The important values can become overshadowed during 60 years of conflict. They aren't finding a home in people and our youth. In the wake, enthusiasm and sense of purpose has gone from many of our religious organizations. In the wake, our youth turn to other answers, such as violence.
How do we get moral values into your youth? The schools, government, and police don't have the authority to teach moral values. We can't isolate young people from the world and all of the wrong values. We can't isolate them from the Internet and TV - they simply see these at some other person's home or in some other venue. Most of us can't spend much more time with our youth teaching them and insulating them.
There are three ways to teach moral values and to make our young people resistant to influence by negative peer pressure and bad ideas.
Inoculation comes from others. In inoculating for disease, it is the bodies experience in fighting the disease that creates antibodies that can help others fight disease. It is exposure to experience.
Resistance to corrupt and misleading ideas takes exposure to people who have had the disease. For example, want to keep kids off drugs? Have people speak to them repeatedly who have had bad experiences with drugs and alert them to the real dangers. Once is not enough.
Communication and teaching
Young people need to communicate, with each other and with those with experience.
In studies of attitude change where young adults have been exposed to new conflicting information, the ones who kept their original attitudes were those who had already been exposed to conflicting ideas through parental involvement and close contact. Both sides of issues were explored with parents. Honest parental influence works, especially if it isn't just regarded as biased propaganda or undermined by parent's attitudes and actions.
Want to keep kids off violence? Provide forums where they can air their problems without being criticized, and with those who can help. Teach them how to resolve disputes in healthy ways through conflict resolution. (Not the negotiating type of conflict resolution, which is a power play, but the cooperative kind.) I believe that conflict resolution should be a staple course in our schools and churches.
Probably the most necessary ingredient is being part of a supportive community where values are supported. The old saying is, "It takes a community to raise a child." Communities influence. Parenting is not enough.
Religious organizations have the ability to provide all of these: inoculation, forums, communication and teaching, acceptance, uncritical help, and reinforcing communities. These things are what religious communities do well.
In (bookstore), Wayne Meeks makes the point that the strength of the early church was in being a community of believers. The emphasis was on community. The various churches across the Roman Empire didn't agree on a lot of things - in fact, like today, they differed on a tremendous number of things. But each one was a community, and Christianity grew very rapidly because of it. Community is very important, and we need to rebuild our religious organizations so that they are supportive communities that teach values, not useless relics of a golden era.
Religion can be a very potent force. I suspect that the role of community was a major force in most ancient religions, and can see that influence active today in cultures that severely restrict the roles of women. But eventually people rid themselves of imposed rules that are without merit. They force change or the religions die out.
Statistically the churches that grow most poorly are those that have lifeless services and no sense of purpose in their communities. Worshiping God is not a spectator sport (- bookstore). The role of each religious organization and the specifics of their individual moral message is a choice that depends on community needs, just as it was in the days of the early church. The question is, do religious organizations have the ability to deal with the realities of today's world and give moral guidance that is relevant, and attract people? Can we be Christ-like in meeting people where their needs are and serving them?
I am personally involved in a religious transformation project, and have been for over a year. In the next months, this site will provide more information about transformation.
Our children are on loan to us from God, yet they are ours to lose.
Yours in Christ,
- Dorian Scott Cole
The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy
Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.
Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for December 21, 2012 to see if the world will end. Despite the fact that signs seem to be everywhere in all ancient and modern prophecy and even science, the major sign pointed to by both Daniel and Christ is overlooked by prophecy interpreters. And interpretation of modern prophecy overlooks intent. Like a scary movie, prophecy is great fun until it starts affecting people's lives.
This book explores how to distinguish the intent of various types of prophecies and oracles, both ancient and modern. The five chapters in this discussion guide are rich in information, providing one legitimate point of view, and are intended to encourage discussion and additional research. A ten meeting discussion group is the minimum recommended.
Subjects to explore include:
About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.
Reading type: Mainstream, nonfiction.
Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.
My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.
This study follows the thread of the basic religious concepts of law, mercy, and love that are prominent in many religions. Major religions around the world are investigated up to the launch of the Common Era when most religions had been developed, including religions that later developed independently such as the Mayan.
These are messages refined by the fire of experience through the ages. The repeated messages collectively bear the tests of validity.
This study also looks at the many methods we use to try to understand God and religious literature. Is the nature of God reflected in what he asks of us? The premise is that it is.
By understanding the nature of God, perhaps we can filter out the many competing voices that tell us that God stands for such things as the murder of innocents and destruction.
The very nature of religion is illuminated in the light of the voices from the ages. But is ancient religion a path that we have lost, or does history hammer out newer voices to bear the truth of new experience as people try to understand their relationship with God?
About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor, www.visualwriter.com, and www.onespiritresources.com.
Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist
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