The Tragedy of Rage  
            By:  Thia 

     The average person hearing about the violent attacks by "children" in schools, against their peers and teachers, that seem to be escalating throughout the nation, seem to echo the same responses.  Voices cry out, "How and why did this happen?" and "Could these acts be prevented?" and "How could this happen here?".

     People need to find reasons and assign blame, to feel that this will never happen again, to feel that they, at least, are safe.  Simplifying the circumstances is a common side effect once the initial shock has worn off.  They need to believe that these seemingly unimaginable and senseless crises of hateful mass violence are never going to be repeated, at least not so close to them.

     Blame is put on the media and society at large.  It must be because of things coming in from "out there", somewhere.  Video games, the Inter-net, books, drugs and alcohol and guns, the press, movies and television, comic books, and the music these kids are listening to...  Then, when that is not enough to explain it all away, it must be the specific environment that the individuals are living in.  The parents and other adults around them must not be giving them proper supervision, they aren't being taught the proper religious values and morals, or they must have been demented and no one intervened.  It must be the kids themselves, they have a psychology that would explain it.  They must be inherently  evil, bad seeds who would only ever be capable of doing horrible things, soul-less, heart-less monsters.  Maybe they are just gullible, susceptible to peer pressures, incapable of independent thoughts, influenced by some evil force, unaware that their deeds are wrong.  Or they are tortured souls continually ostracized, criticized, alienated, and ridiculed by peer groups until they go insane, feeling that the only option is to strike out, attacking anyone they feel threatened by or has done them wrong.  Or maybe it's just kids with money and time on their hands, and wanting something to do.  Or an instantaneous way to achieve fame and immortality.

     All of these reasons and more have been used to explain these acts.  They may all play a part in the reasons for these atrocities.  But no one piece of this list of potential reasons will ever be a deciding factor of who will "Go Ballistic".  Because many of these are common to most every youth's life in our society.  The underlying catalysts of these acts won't be found in these attempts to reason or explain this epidemic.

     I remember my school days as vividly as if I were just there last week, and it's been eleven years since I was there.  I knew that things were getting dangerous and out of control back then.  I find it amazing, not that these things are happening or where, but that there are so few incidents and they didn't start until so recently.  I wouldn't be surprised if they happened more frequently.

     I wish people could realize that the situation is much more volatile and widespread then they could imagine.  I want to try to make everyone understand.  I am explaining it in my own terms, so I hope I can make myself clear.

     The roots of this, for lack of a better term, disease, starts very early, before elementary school.  The subtle prejudices children are exposed to become a part of their core of understanding..  Like an ever widening sponge that absorbs everything they hear and see, not just the overt and intentional lessons of life that are taught specifically, purposely by parents and the other people in their young lives.

     Like little mirrors, they reflect back everything they are exposed to.  Popular culture acknowledges this, as expressions like "Out of the mouth's of Babes" and "Children can be so cruel" can attest.  People just don't want to understand or accept that it is an accurate reflection.  Children are very simple.  They see things distinctly in black and white terms.

     Those gems of seemingly profound, divine insight and wit that are accredited them are actually simple observations in an attempt to understand.  Things are true or they aren't, and when adults clutter them up in shade of gray, complicating matters, they become confused.

     Though the story of the bus has been told in different ways, the lesson is the same, and it is a good example of what I mean.  A bus is stuck beneath a bridge that has narrowed, and it cannot pass under it.  Many men and women are milling around trying to figure out how to dislodge it, pushing and pulling forward and back, without success.  A child in a car driving past, asks the parent behind the wheel, "Why don't they just pop the tires and roll it through?"  Such a simple observation. 

     The child learned reasoning skills and pointed out what he thought was obvious, but thought he must not understand, for he is just a child, and adults always seem to know better than children.  His question was not to insult, but to learn what complexities he feels he must have missed.

     Sometimes adults realize that they make more of things than there are, and when it's pointed out to them by a child, well, the child must be brilliant or just very clever and observant.

     But, under other circumstances, a child asking a simple question, something that was tried already and failed, children are belittled for butting into something that is not of their concern, and called foolish or immature.  Adults can be even more cruel than a child.  They forget that every word is absorbed, and will one day come out -- one way or another.

     Kids observations can often be embarrassing to adults, even hurtful.  "That man is really fat."  "You stink."  These are a couple of observations they make, usually very loudly and often totally unexpected because they are said at the most innappropriate times.

     And the things they say to each other...  "You're stupid."  "You're ugly."  The cruel name calling and accusations thrown around thoughtlessly.  Again, it's just "a thing kids do".  It's expected and accepted.  But, again, they are just repeating words.  Without guidance they wouldn't recognize that those behaviors are inappropriate, hurtful, and dangerous.

     Simply telling them not to say things like that is not enough.  It is reinforced repeatedly by peers and the rest of the world.  So the lessons must be reinforced just as consistently that it is not acceptable, but warning them about retribution and consequences, done in a frightening way can do more harm than good.  We walk a tightrope every day where kids are concerned and unfortunately, we're failing.

     When children are told not to do something, yet they hear others do and say the same thing, without punishment or concern, but they are being reprimanded for the same thing, the lessons change.  The rule is no longer, "It's wrong" to say or do this or that, it becomes, "Don't let me catch you" saying or doing this or that.  The thought becomes permissable, but it becomes necessary to hide.

     Some parents maintain that they do not use profanity, or derogatory ethnic slurs and remarks, or demeaning slang.  They proclaim, "My kids are not learning those words at home.  It's not my fault if they use them."  No, it's everyone's fault, and it's a part of life...  It's how things are.  The harm is done.  Every day, in and out of the home, they see and hear things.

     We have to keep in mind that harm is done again and again.  When someone says, "I'm not a racist, I'm friends with one of them."  Or "My ex is an ass."  Or "Damned women drivers."  Or "I'll kill them."  There are connotations being put out to children we often don't recognize until we hear them expressed in one way or another by kids.  Just because someone didn't mean it litereally, or spoke in anger and didn't really mean to say or do something, unless a child is made to understand, they will make assumptions.  "Do as I say, not as I do" won't cut it.  Kids learn as much from what they see as what they are told.

     The only way to stop the infection is a gradual change in the world.  And it will have to begin with the children just as much as with the rest of us.  The kids need to be shown that it is wrong and why and how to make things right.  They need to learn empathy and how to apologize and forgive.

     Children's exposure isn't limited to a parent's opinions and commentaries, or lack of them, but are absorbing words and ideas from many outside sources.  Siblings, friends, peers they don't necessarily talk to but still see and hear are not the extent of it either.  Media and common mass outlets such as movies and music, as well as authourities and adults they know, meet, and even just hear about can exert as much influence.

     Even wonderful parents who are ever present and very "close" to them may not see the resulting impact on their kids.  Limiting exposure will only delay the deluge.  In life they will be confronted by thousands of bad things, they must be taught how to deal with the onslaught.  No one can protect them forever, and if they are to survive, they must learn all they can.  If they are sheilded it is not going to be to their advantage.

     Children are quick to learn, it is their only job in life.  What is acceptable behavior here or there with one person or another is understood and accepted easily.  Unfortunately, that also means that they change what kind of person they are to fit their immediate environment.  This explains why a kid can appear idyllic, weel-bred, delightful, and so sweet one moment and a tiny terror elsewhere.

     I knew kids that could turn on a dime like that.  They were innocent and caring, smiling and attentive to a teacher or someone, and under their breath (just loud enough for those just a few inches away to hear) making threats or slamming insults and mean and hurtful comments to someone -- all the while appearing to anyone our of range as quiet and coy.

     I am writing not from book studies, but from personal experiences and observations.  I am writing from the honest pain of growing up.

     Personally, someone made me cry every day of my junior high school days, and even more in my high school career.  I frequently had to leave a class or two every day because of the torment I endured leaving my racked with tears of pain and doubt.  But, it was the way things were.

     If an attack of one child against another is hurtful or frightening and they dared to tell an adult, the results were swift to come.  Immediately the child was labeled -- Snitch!, Liar!, Cry-baby!, or some equally horrible expressions of being of no value...   "Don't tell --  EVER!!!"  Every kid knows that!

     Of course, no one would risk backing another up to admit they heard or saw something, because they would be attacked as well.  Without a way of proving an incident, the "authorities" could never do anything about it anyway, besides, they would say, "No harm done", "Just stay away from them", "Get over it", "Don't take it personally"  (That one still 'sticks in my crawl'), and, the old faithful, "You know they didn't mean it".

     And the torment would escalate to a fever pitch, usually requiring a drastic climax to make it end, for the meek an abrupt transfer or dropping out, and for the more expressive, retaliatory strikes against the threat, bullying of others who had nothing to do with anything (usually chosen for size as being smaller, or the meek), violence, or, worst case, joining up with worse kids.  The "biggest, baddest" kids had a real appeal, they surpressed their fear, used anger to instill fear in others, they offer strength in their size and reputation, and would encourage a newcomer to join in any of they activities.  Safety in numbers and a new persona on a whim.

     Fear, oppression, bullying, ridiculing, and anger are born.  Segregation into groups becomes a completely reasonable, expected, preferred, even necessary thing.  And survival in this jungle could be anticipated.

     A group could dictate behavior, personality, and relationships.  Certain requirements to remain in the group.  They create a mind of superiority to assure that no one of "lesser value" will hinder their influence, much less infiltrate or change the group.  And they alter perceptions internally and externally, creating like interests and expectations of others and themselves.  Conformity, is it such a high price to pay?

     These automatic groupings of like and seperate interests and activities dictate a child's entire school career.  Inclusion in one group or another never guaranteed or permanent.  Conformity is the requirement to maintain a connection to a chosen group.  And rejection by a group, a humiliation unlike any other.  Boundaries and descriptions offering anonymity and safety are easily defined; Jocks, Nerds, Fringe, Outcast, etc.

     As humans we need to feel bonded to someone or something, especially to feel a part of something bigger.  Inclusion giving value and importance.  Interactions between groups identified in advance, only specific groups at controlled times and under certain circumstances.  Children who once played and talked in elementary school rarely acknowledge each other in high school.

     Obviously, educational curriculum is just an aside to the social politics.  Cooperation just a side effect, a price to be endured to maintain the balance of the individual bonds in a confined space.  Classes merely an accepted rule directing interactions and keeping everyone in line a little.

     Frequent name calling and 'needling' or 'picking on' each other in school is common.  Forming resentments and prejudices which will be maintained and will grow stronger.  Mix these aspects of behavior with few outlets provided for anger and energy, greater freedoms, different responsibilities, ready money, more substantial global awareness and fears, and other facets merge into a higher risk of intense rage and violence.

     Besides all these things, children watch their heroes and idols fall and get stomped by the media for every imperfection and mistake.  Children think themselves as so much less than those imperfections, they internalize the attacks.  They think that they would be attacked for things about them that are so much worse in their opinions.  They know that they couldn't possibly endure the same attacks and humiliations.  The real world is supposed to be ten times harder than school, if they are having this hard of a time here, they'd never make it out there.  They begin to feel intense worries over how their lives will come out, because they will make those same mistakes, and more.

     The thoughts of being unable to meet parental, societal, peer, and their own personal expectations becomes a constant fear.  Kids today see the realities that a single person alone cannot survive in the real world: low paying, dead-end jobs; the temptations of dangerous alternatives; and eventually making mistakes that are impossible to avoid, correct, or live down.

     The intensity of feelings in children seem to be rising, and the gaps that sit between everything and everyone seem to be much more like unbreachable chasms never to be surpassed.  A child's aspirations seem so unattainable.  And the 'all or nothing' mentality is not being outgrown.  Children are beset with a growing hopelessness.

     Parents, though they mean well, aren't listening the way kids need them to.  They remember their problems in school and when they were young, and compare their children's concerns as equal or less.  Down-playing, dismissing, or saying they understand their kids experiences is the wrong thing to do.  When children do reach out and parents don't give them the correct responses, the kids pull back even more...  The gap gets wider.

     Classes are too crowded in school for teachers to give them the correct responses or the special one-on-one attention many kids need (or they shove it down their throats, "I'm going to help you like it or not").  They need the freedom of anonymity so they don't stand out.  Children are feeling much more isolated and don't trust themselves or anyone else to be able or willing to come through for them.  They feel like "no one understands -- or wants to.  Nobody cares..."

     The energy of the frustration, fear, and pain can become profound feelings of sadness, isolation and depression.  Some internalize those feelings, becoming risks for suicide, but most are too afraid, either of the act itself, or if they are very sensitive, to what it would do to those around them.

     While others who are more expressive and extroverted may intensify; unable to suppress anger, they may become abusive or have extreme behavior changes.  These kids are more likely to strike out, fighting, bullying, stealing...  usually out in the open.  They are likely to become more abrasive or hot-tempered.  These are the kids that everyone notices, but no one knows how to handle.

     Whether they are internalizing or acting out, they may also show the other signs that stress is becoming out of their control.  Outwardly showing fewer interests and concerns, giving up the things that used to give them pleasure, they enjoyed, or excelled at, and not caring about anyone or anything.  They will isolate themselves more and more, breaking off friendships, and many become very difficult to talk to.  They seem to offer little conversation, avoid personal chatter, give few explanations, and don't seem to be interested in anything anyone is talking about.

     Those who don't overtly hurt themselves or others will suffer for a long time, but it will manifest itself visibly that they are in trouble.  They may take to risky behaviors; sex, drugs, disappearing for stretches of time, lose ambitions, become moody and quiet or very dark and inactive, often staying along.  Eating disorders and strange attachments can crop up; overeating to anorexia, cults to obsessions, danger signs can be subtle and hidden very well.

     Unfortunately, it's the ones I would classify as borderline that would concern me the most, the kid who has always been very emotional or extroverted who suddenly isn't, who is bottling everything up, they seem more intense, and, to me, more likely to snap.  They aren't noticed, fading into the background, and they get stuck there because they don't know how to ask for help.  They are afraid to show any strong emotion, because they think they could hurt someone.  But the longer pain and anger fester, the harder it is to control.  They are the ones that could very well become suddenly, violent mass killers.

     A catalyst or series of crisis events -- losing a job, a best friend, a lover, a parent, or any number of bad things happening may severely put the child in peril, losing the tight grip on every emotional control.  Seething rage and pain could easily break free, and they'll vent it all in some horrible, tragic act of violence or on themselves in a bloody, painful suicide.

     Parents and other people close to them may not notice the changes, they are so gradual.  And the child itself may not feel any difference, if they even realize they feel anything at all (sometimes feeling numb to everything for a long time).  We just need to be aware that there are reasons kids are going over the edge...  This isn't coming from out of the blue.

     There are a lot of kids that feel the emotional turmoil so intensely that it becomes almost physical pain.  It is a constant torture to get from one day to the next -- dreading waking up, because they know it means they're hours away from being told that they are stupid, worthless, unwelcome, and unloved.  Years of being told that they are ugly, inferior, and have absolutely no redeeming features is a hard way to live.

     No one can make it all go away in a moment.  Besides, any good things that are said, will be heard by ears that won't recognize them anymore.  It took me years before I could hear "I like you", wihtout thinking there was a price on it.  The only time most people were nice to me is when they wanted something.  Lokking for any kind of acknowledgement I usually did it, again and again, ever as they walked away making some comment, or teasing expression, or yet another insult.

     Every time a kid is devalued by word or deed they are being taught to think that way.  "They must be right, everyone says it."  The bad things get more reinforcement than anything else.  And it's always easier to believe the bad things.

     Every time you roll your eyes at someone, call them a name, laugh at them, or ignore your needs, you are contributing to the whole mess.  So don't be surprised when it all comes back to bite you in the back end!   And don't say that you're outraged or shocked when you hear about another incident.

     Putting kids under armed security, behind metal detectors, and lock and chain will only slow the wave down, it won't stop it, but it may give you time to think.  Everyone knows, deep in their soul, that they have a part in this, but the next step is admitting it...  OUT LOUD!  It's up to us to use this opportunity to hear the cries of suffering kids we couldn't hear above the din of our own cluttered lives.  How could something like this happen here?  Well, why not here!?

     Keep in mind that just because most of these kids pass Go and collect their diplomas doesn't mean the game is over.  That just means that now they are out in the world, still suffering in silence, and a little closer to our front doors.  Sleep well.
 
 

*Please be aware that this article is owned by the author and may not be used in part or in full without the author's written authorization.  Copyright 1999.  The author can be reached via email at <thia@bellatlantic.net> and has granted use only to New Liberty Village for the express use of it's publishing it on this site.