Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Columbine-Like Tragedy Barely Averted Here in Wisconsin: Time for More Parents to Wake Up

Northeastern Wisconsin barely escaped suffering a Columbine-like disaster at East High School in Green Bay, just 30 minutes north of my town, Appleton. Thanks to a tip from another student, Green Bay police were able to stop two seventeen-year-olds who had prepared bombs and weapons to carry out a massacre at their suburban school. Details are in the story, "Green Bay Teens Were Obsessed With Columbine Massacre."

These students were truly into the dark side, being heavily into "Goth culture" and obsessed with thoughts of pain and death.

Even in seemingly healthy communities, kids can access all sorts of materials and influences that can bring them to become agents of destruction. More vigilance from parents and others is needed. We were tremendously lucky, but more problems may be brewing anywhere.

The dark and violent nature of video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment available online and through major media outlets can make it all the easier for the mentally unstable to go from troubled to demonic.

Parents, wake up. What kind of materials do you expose your kids to? What are they learning from the movies they watch and games they play? Are your children becoming psychopaths in your own home?

You've heard me rant about movies and violent video games before - and I won't stop. I've seen too many promising young men (not as many young women) of all denominations abandon their education, fail to go on a mission (for the LDS segment), do poorly in their jobs, and become social misfits as they became obsessed with video games and role-playing games. Some even became frightening in terms of the darkness that is so abundant in their lives.

Violent movies and games certainly played a role in the lives of the two psychopaths who almost committed mass murder at East High School in Green Bay. Sure, I know that plenty of non-psychopaths spent hours with these same materials and remain law-abiding citizens. But is there any reason to let such things into our lives?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Even worse than these influences is the deadness of so many American & LDS homes - no books, no music, no conversation - just church, work, school. No wonder so many kids go nuts. I was fortunate enough to grow up during the 60's and 70's when country and church were alive, when these cultures were vibrant. Today its moron TV, rightwing political bullsh*t (even from the pulpit), mainstreamed stupidity, hopelessness. No life of the mind, no life of the heart. If I were young, I'd go crazy too.

Proud Daughter of Eve said...

I just don't understand what makes these kids go over the edge like that. Perhaps they were already more negative than others when whatever they experienced (I don't know for sure but it's been hinted that they were picked on and such) happened. I mean, I was tormented in school. Tormented to the point of changing bus stops and later schools it was so bad... but never once did I consider shooting anyone, let alone shooting indiscriminately at the other kids in school.

BTW, please don't paint all RPGs with the same brush. That's like blaming something on boardgames; each game is different, sometimes vastly. My husband and I enjoy a great many of these games and there's nothing disturbing in them. The disturbing games are the action games like "Quake" or "Grand Theft Auto." (Neither of which nor their clones will EVER be in our house and woe unto the child who breaks this rule.)

As for tabletop RPGs, they don't deserve blanket condemnation either. Basically they are interactive stories with rules that are designed to help everyone create and interact with an imaginary world and characters. A parent should learn about the RPG their child is playing in as they should learn about all their hobbies and get to know the group their child plays with in the same way they should get to know all their other children's friends.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, role playing games are not the culprit. Suicide rates among RPG players are statistically less than the average teen. Plus, they engender creativity, social skills, and imagination.
Video games, on the other hand, can be blamed for any and all social ills as far as I'm concerned. There is no more supreme waste of time and money than the filth spewed forth by nintendo, sony, et al.

John said...

Nintendo? Really? I would've thought they'd be more towards the innocent side. Mario Cart could be evil, though.

Video games are not the culprit-- parenting is. If a child is taught (as in telling, showing, having the child experience, ect.) right from wrong, and time management, and social skills from an early age and with consistency (responsibilities all parents have), then there is no problem.

Ian said...

It would be nice to blame video games, TV or music for the problems that these children had. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. I agree that they clearly contribute to the problem. I agree that we should do what we can to keep this crap out of our homes.

I think Proud daughter of Eve brings up a major factor involved in all of the school shootings like Columbine. Bullying. I was bullied endlessly. I had horrible acne, glasses and I was very shy. A perfect target. I recall having nightmares about going into school with a gun and shooting the bullies. I would dream of punching them and stuff. They weren't nightmares because I was hurting them, but they were nightmares because my bullets and punches were completely ineffective.

If I didn't have the church in my life and loving parents, I don't know what I was capable of in High School and Mid-School.

For kids who are picked on, everything often feels hopeless. If you tell the teacher, the kids just get angry and pick on you more for telling someone. Besides that, there is very little that a teacher or a parent can do anyway. It always amazes me that they keep trying to blame video games etc., but rarely say anything about the factor that has a higher effect on their lives, bullies. Why aren't we focusing more on this in Schools? Why aren't bullies held accountable for what they are doing to their fellow students?

On top of that, parents and teachers drive into you that high school is super important and that you HAVE TO GO, or your life will SUCK! This attitude is simply not true. Kids don't realize that there is life after high school.

Nearly all the kids who did the shootings were highly intellegent. Perhaps they should have been pulled out of school, helped to get their GED and put in college. The superficial environment that is High School is not for everyone. If my son ever gets to a point where he hates high school. I will let him quit. He can either get his GED or we can home school him. I won't force High School on him.

Ultimately, we can't blame anyone or anything for what these kids have done except for those kids. We can look at the many factors that contributed to the situation though, be it games, bullies or parents.

Sorry for the rant, but it's something that I feel strongly about.

P.S. I also think that some RPGs can be really good for kids. They can often help build imagination. But just as with anything else, moderation is important.

Jettboy said...

I will agree wholeheartedly with Ian on this, almost every word. Kids who Bully make it very hard for others to socially adapt and can create socialpaths. Most of those who are bullied (from what I have seen) become succesful at what they do, but wind up with problems interacting with others. They have lifelong inferiority complexes that can lead to constant depression.

In high school, where you HAVE to go, such kids do not feel they can escape. Many of them don't understand that time is on their side if they can just wait it out (Although there are a few cases where physical danger exists). Often times the RPG and Video games aren't the culprit - they become the escape. Sadly, sometimes the escape becomes inspiration for some truely horrible fantasies.

The problem is, I think, that today's video games are more than Pacman and Mario Brothers, but Grand Theft Auto and other First Person Shooters that blur the line between imagination and reality. Consiquences become a quick disappearance of the dead bodies and pressing Restart.

With that I think there should be a two pronged solution to the violence in schools. A huge crackdown on bullies and tighter controls on violent video games.

A third, but less direct, solution is finding out where these kids are getting the bombs and guns. It is interesting that they are stocking up on these and no one takes notice until the last minute. If simple teenagers can easily get such things without any raised eyebrows, imagine what sophisticated terrorists would be able to aquire. This isn't a question of gun control, but of awareness. Some of the aquisitions were already marked as illegal. And the parents didn't know about this? Frankly, I would charge the parents with reckless endangerment or negligence of a minor.

John said...

Bullying-- also curbed by effective parenting. As are a million other things. While I do believe this is the root of nearly all the problems of society, I recognize there is not a simple, easy solution to it.

Anonymous said...

In my career as a school administrator bullying was the most difficult problem to deal with. It was very difficult to prove the damage it did. Parents of bullys were very good at defending their children. Around their parents the bully's would be very meek and submissive. They learned that was the way to stay out of trouble.

I just read a report by 3 BYU professors describing how mean and dangerous certain groups of girls have become. The report showed how a goup of high school girls drove a boy to suicide.

Ian said...

I was watching a segment on the news the other day about these girls that tricked this boy into beleiving that they liked him. Then they were really cruel to him. He then hung himself. I'm pretty sure they made an episode of the show "Without a trace" based on the incident. I think that if some kids saw this story and learned what actually happens to people who they are bullying it might help. I think that "bully education" right along with "sex education" may actually help. Even if only a little.

Anonymous said...

The following words of Pres. Boyd K. Packer seem to be apropos:

"In many places it is literally not safe physically for youngsters to go to school. And in many schools—and it is almost becoming generally true—it is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools. Look back over the history of education to the turn of the century and the beginning of the educational philosophies; pragmatism and humanism were the early ones, and they branched out into a number of other philosophies which have led us now into a circumstance where our schools are producing the problems that we face." (David O. McKay Symposium, BYU 9 Oct 1996)

Watching Woman said...

"As a man thinketh, so is he." When you're constantly surrounded by (questionable) (dark) music, violent video games, TV that is into either sex or violence, friends who are into death, suicide, cheating, or whatever PLUS a poor homelife, what can you expect? That's why the emphasis in many wards on surrounding yourself with decent music, pictures of Christ, etc. If you SEE decent things all day you tend to think decent thoughts. /Don't you agree?
Janice

Anonymous said...

indeed there was a "Columbine like", shooting rampage 5 days ago in Montreal, QC by a young goth fan.
http://www.canada.com/topics/news/features/dawsonshooting/story.html?id=d9f2d57e-4f6e-42cb-9c60-79441b5cb7b1&k=24621

Anonymous said...

For those of you who were bullied---would you wear a tiny video camera on your shirt to prove the bullying?

Maybe technology would help you now.

Ryan said...

Re: the camera

I was bullied ceaselessly in grade school, due to being a nerd and having ~95% of my classmates from the previous year stay in my class. By early 2nd grade the pecking order was set and didn't change until I finished 6th grade and left the school.

I don't know that a camera would help. The school administrators were well aware that bullying was a severe problem (the bullies didn't always bother to wait until adults were out of earshot) but the impression I always got was that my "cause was just but they could do nothing."

My conclusion is that there are "socially acceptable" ways to misbehave (ie you seldom if ever get taken to task for it) and bullying is one of them. Think about what's goes on at temple square. However, retaliating against bullying is highly unacceptable, as is making waves by avoiding the situation (We were allowed to go home for lunch, and I narrowly avoided getting suspended once when I couldn't stand to go back to school that day).

Until that changes bullying is here to stay, cameras and laws notwithstanding.

Another Mormon Named Jeff said...

For the record, I am a huge videogame fan. Videogames are an art form, just like movies or music.

Still, some of these games are pure garbage. Grand Theft Auto has no artistic merit, from what I can tell, and I guarantee you that it wouldn't sell without the violent/smutty aspects.

Banning videogames is not the answer. I honestly think that videogames need to adopt the same rating system as movies. If it's for adults, it should be rated R. Family friendly games can be G and PG. It bugs me that any 12 year old can go into a game store and buy smut like Grand Theft Auto, and nobody says anything. And if they do, they'll just have their parents buy it for them.

Right now, videogames DO have a ratings system. Smutty games are rated M for Mature, in-between games are rated T for Teen, etc.

The problem is that the majority of parents don't know anything about it. Saying a game is rated "M" or "T" means absolutely nothing to them. They just hear that Grand Theft Auto is the "hot" new gift idea this holiday season, and willingly buy it.

If they just adopted the MPAA rating system, which is almost universally understood, parents can look at Grand Theft Auto and think "oh wait, that's rated R. I don't want my kid playing that." Or the employee at Wal-Mart who doesn't know anything about videogames can say "uh-oh. This is rated R, I better not sell it to this ten year old".

Of course, this won't solve all of the problems in the world. Even if we take videogames out of the hands of these Columbine kids, they'll still have movies, music, and the internet to fuel their dark fantasies. And if we take all of that away, what's that going to accomplish? They're still clearly deranged, and they're STILL getting bullied, and now they have no escape. Without parents to turn to, it's still only a matter of time before they snap.

So the bottom line is, regulating media content isn't going to help without better parenting. But that's just common sense.

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Helaman said...

More often then not, I read comments from people wanting to blame everything out there for failures...Granted a few people here have nailed, but other just seem to want to go along with the flow...

PARENTING...this is where the blame should stay, not TV, not Videogames, not schools, not bullies, etc...

How can i make such a bold statement? Because I came from the depths of it all. I grew up outside of D.C., lots of crime, lots of drugs, lots of sex and violence. Not to mention I was into hardcore music , punks, skinheads, weirdos, all that jazz. I even played videogames my entire life. I was even a nerd for awhile.

Yeah I went through severe depression as a teen, got picked on a lot - but somehow managed to survive it all, never got into a fight in my life (well none that I ever threw a punch..I may have got beat up a few times)...

But without a doubt in my mind, the only reason I grew up, got adjusted, and made it through all that crap was because I had good parents. They didn't do anything special, but they did give me a place to go...to their house. it was a home, i felt safe there, i got love there, and i was secure. no matter what ever happened to me outside in the horrible world there was always a warmth waiting for me.

Today's parents (and i'm generalizing) seem to be teaching children nothing, but negative concepts. 'it's all about me' these days. 'no personal responsiblity', 'age of entitlement'. Ask yourself why there's so much bankruptcy these days...I can look around the town i live in (here in Utah) and pick out at least 10 homes where people are so stretched beyond their means, 1 missed pay check and they'll loose it all.

The church leaders have already told us, time and time again what the root of the problem is - they even wrote a proclamation about it. How come people keep looking for other reasons? It starts in the home! it starts with the disappearence of the mother and land slides from there. I don't know how one can argue against the prophet when it comes to this. I almost tried with my wife, and realized there wasn't anything I could say that would defend a position against the mother staying at home, and since then our home life has been blessed.

You want to blame other things, go ahead, but when you boil it down, spit out the fat and finally serve it up on a plate, it's the family. It all starts in the home and goes from there.

Mormanity said...

To point to something as a negative influence is not to blame it as the cause. That should have been clear. Of course parenting is the key.

Pointing to harmful elements in the media - especially pornography - is not some effort to blame outside factors for our personal problems. But these outside factors, the things they teach and the influences they bring, are elements that cannot be neglected. Even the best of parenting can be inadequate when children are exposed to porn or grotesque violence when they are outside of home. Our society would be better without the presence of such garbage.

mawcawn said...

"Parenting is the key."
Yes, surely, but will righteous parents only produce righteous children? Ones like Adam and Eve, Lehi and Sariah? No video games, but definite evil influences from outside the home.
Even parents who are working hard cannot keep their children from all the evils of the world. A clear rating system would help, but if your kid goes to someone else's house they will be exposed to the other family's care or lack thereof.
Don't assume that all unrighteous or bad behavior is the result of bad parenting.

John said...

"To point to something as a negative influence is not to blame it as the cause."

Jeff, I understand your point here. It's a good and fair one. It is just so easy for people to begin shifting the blame of the root of the problem from where it actually belongs, the broken homes of our society, to all sorts of other things, things that are usually worthy of condemnation. We do this because it is far easier to point somewhere else than to admit our own parenting flaws might be to blame. As long as we keep this in mind, I think it is extremely helpful to look at exterior negative influences. There is much to be done in this area.

"Even the best of parenting can be inadequate when children are exposed to porn or grotesque violence when they are outside of home."

I agree with this statement only because you used the qualifier "can." Such a situation is possible and does occur. However, the best of parenting can go an awfully long way. While it is true that there are some individuals who will consistently make poor choices regardless of their parents, I believe the existence of such individuals is much more rare than many believe.

If a child gets into pornography, for instance, an effective parent would already have important infrastrucure in place. They'd have responsibly taught that child all about the birds and the bees, including appropriate and inappropriate ways and times to express physical affection and the natural desireable and undesireable consequences (physical, psychological, spiritual, emotional) associated with those actions, and would already have a comfortable, solid foundation of communication established with that child. They would know their child well enough to know that something was wrong. With these things in place, they could then bring up their concern (or, even more idealistically, have the child bring it up to the parent), listen to the child and talk it through with them, making sure the child understands the love both parents have for him or her. They would have and express empathy, reassure the child, and let him or her know that both parents are on their side. With something as ensnaring as pornography, they would talk about the possibility of including appropriate people to help, be it a bishop, trained professional, or what-have-you. The parents would stay intimately involved in the entire process.

I think it is important to note here that this process, especially with pornography, is long and difficult for both parent and child. The parents, while setting standards, should be aware that the child still has agency and will, almost inevitably, make the same choices (which less effective parents may perceive as "incorrect") again and again. The effective parent has patience and love, knowing that the child will have to experience some of those natural consequences the parent told the child about before he or she figures it all out. This is part of teaching. The child with this kind of parenting will eventually, most of the time, have his or her desires and actions change. There is that qualifier again. Yet as they let their child exercise their agency in this way, the child is practicing making positive life choices on his or her own for the right reasons. This type of parenting will greatly reduce the devestating repercussions early exposure to pornography generally bring.

There is an important difference between being a good person and being a good parent. The two do not necessarily overlap. Unfortunately, many good people, including good LDS people, lack good parenting skills. They could be solid citizens, faithful and active in their church, and happy. Yet being a good Mormon did little to make me a good physical therapist, so why should it make me a good parent? It is true that many principles required of good parents are taught in the church, but like so many things, parenting takes a unique set of skills developed through learing, training, and practice. Too many people just wing it.

There is excellent help out there for parents and families, especially from this church. Two resources are Strengthening our Families and Helping and Healing our Families, text books used by BYU's School of Family Life department. Both are available through the BYU bookstore and Deseret Book.

Please forgive my little aside there.

The point is, effective parenting is the solution to nearly everything. Bullying, violence, pornography, dishonesty, immodesty--whatever it may be. While it is important to look at outside harmful influences on our children and do what we can to change those influences, we should never forget that our children are our responsibility. Jeff, I don't believe you were doing this and I apologize for this little sermon, but I think it is a common occurrence, even among faithful members of the LDS church.

captveg said...

Very well said, John.

As someone involved in the arts, most specifically film, there is a lot of hard topics I've been exposed to or studied. However, no film that contains adultery, for example, would EVER convince me to be okay with such an action in my own life. I personally attribute this to my wonderful parents, who for as long as I can remember instilled good values and principles into my life and the lives of my siblings.

While I was young they guarded me from anything they felt inappropriate, and that stroke was painted with a very large brush. When I was a teenager and began to reason for myself, they openly discussed the pros and cons of a situation when it came to me making choices that would effect my whole life.

By the end of High School, when I knew I was going to pursue a career related to film, we had frank discussions about content in films, and the whole "R-rating" aspect, etc.

Now, at age 27, I am at a point where I know myself and what can effect me spiritually, and I make the choices all alone (that is until I have an eternal companion). That's the process, and it can work beautifully.

Nowadays, my parents often ask me for advice on a particular film that they may have a slight interest in, but the content was a concern to them. They can do this because they trust my good judgment, and they specifically trust my good judgment for them in this particular area. What I often remind them of is that my opinion in this situation would be worthless to them if they hadn't set the firm foundation.

So, again, it is indeed about good parenting, good communication within the parent-child relationship, and a proper precept-by-precept process, so that by the time a child is a young adult or older they have learned correct principles and can govern themselves.