Commentary by Daniel T. Zanoza, Executive Director
So, it happens again, this time at Northern Illinois University. Five students are killed by a mad man, numerous others are wounded and then the killer takes his own life.
For the next few weeks, we will be hearing loads of speculation as to why. Some will blame the DeKalb, Illinois killings on guns. Some will say the lack of guns at the University prevented school security from defending the innocent. And then some will go into the deeper, psychological explanations for why these young people kill. But many will miss the mark.
As someone who worked with young people in the early part of my professional career, the answer for the mayhem we are seeing today in elementary schools, high schools and colleges stems from the influence of the late 1960's. Yes, I'm going to do some finger-pointing, but you may not have heard this tact before.
From the time they are born, until the day they walk out of college, young people are told they are special. It is a phenomenon which reaches back to the Spock methodology of child-rearing. Dr. Benjamin Spock believed in a modality of parenting that was contrary to what was believed to be good child-rearing for eons. Perhaps what influenced an entire generation most was how Spock instructed parents regarding reward and punishment.
But what has turned young people into killers? I believe it is because they have been told they are "special." In fact, they are so "special," the emphasis in now totally on reward, as Spock's teaching seemed to suggest.
What happens when a child is told they are "special" and real life teaches them a different lesson? They become targets for ridicule or teasing in schools. They don't make the cheerleading team or the basketball squad. Their minds do not have the ability to process such failures because they haven't been given the tools to do so.
They are led to believe they cannot be the victims of criticism or teasing. In America, schools now have rules against bullying, as if bullying was sanctioned forty years ago. Such rules don't stop bullying, they simply reinforce the idea that students will not face such injustice in their lives. Subsequently, there's no need to be prepared for its occurrence.
From not keeping score during sporting events to giving trophies to everyone, the message is there are no losers and anyone who would tell you something different is subject to punishment themselves.
However, what gets lost in this type of environment? Children no longer learn sportsmanship. If they never lose, they never learn how to lose. They buy into the "I'm special" mindset and how can you blame them? Everyone wants to feel special. It's part of our human nature. But, in the past, a special feeling came from accomplishment and reward for a job well done. Today, young people are rewarded for just being there and it has created a problem which some psychiatrists would say is rooted in narcissistic behavior.
Let us add to this mix a culture steeped in sex and violence. Videogames have become outlets of aggression for some children, but, for others, it's just not enough. It might be one in a million or less; but what happens to the child who, all their life, has been told they are "special" and the real world brings reality crashing down upon them?
That's what we are seeing with the rash of mass murders in our nation's schools and universities. Young people, who sometimes are only controlled by the over-prescribing of medication, are acting out in the most violent ways. In every case we have seen in recent years, the killers are virtual loners or outcasts who just don't fit in with their peers. So, they remedy the situation the only way they have been taught by our culture: How dare these people not think I'm not special? Then, they become special. They wipe out everything which represents a contrarian message which has been drilled into their heads for years. Their tormentors die. The killers achieve another sacred goal in today's society--fame. However, they must destroy themselves afterward because facing the inevitable condemnation which will soon follow is impossible for them to comprehend or deal with.
Yes, we have sometimes unknowingly created the monsters which, all too often, bring death and destruction to communities across the nation. Our culture has stood by and permitted children to be exposed to something which was unhealthy and stifled their growth as human beings. There are those who will defend the killers and claim even more needs to be done to shelter these individuals from the real world.
Oprah Winfrey will never have a show which assigns blame where blame belongs. She is part of a system which advocates the "just take a time out" philosophy of child-rearing. In reality, it is a lazy form of parenting which all too many have been willing to adopt. After all, it takes time to set limits on a child and follow through with punishment. It's a hassle. It's much easier to be their child's friend--instead of their guiding light--who is sometimes their protector, but always a loving beacon shedding light on what it takes to be a well-rounded individual.
There will be more murders. There will be more parents called to their kid's schools to identify the body of a beloved son or daughter. The picture I have painted is not a happy one. The resolution, however, lies in the hands of parents themselves. It is unfortunate we have to undo what is done in our nation's public schools. But, if we don't, there should be no surprise when we hear about what happened at a Midwestern university on a pleasant winter's day.
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