Youth Violence-What Difference Can Parents Make?
Littleton, Colorado. Pearl, Mississippi. West Paducah, Kentucky.
Springfield, Oregon. Jonesboro, Arkansas...
Small town and suburban America aren't supposed to be dangerous and violent. Yet each of these communities, largely unknown just months ago, has now achieved a macabre notoriety.
Even more importantly, what can be done? Kids are killing kids, and adults do not know how to prevent it! Why have we seen such an upsurge in youthful violence at this end of the 20th century? What can parents do to prevent their own children from becoming further grim statistics?
Of course, such schools as Columbine and West Paducah High represent just a tiny fraction of youth violence. Every day young people die violent deaths at the hands of other young people. The sound of gunfire has become routine in many American inner cities. Yet most of this other violence fails to make news. Certainly it is not the stuff of headlines and network news special reports. It is generally drug and gang related—and it lacks the shock value of violence in "good" neighborhoods.
The rising tide of youth crime, of which the sensationalized school shootings are merely the tip of the iceberg, is a symptom. It is evidence that something is deeply wrong and out of control in our society. Everyone agrees that a serious problem exists. Yet that is where the agreement ends. Depending on the political leanings and the social agenda being advanced, commentators differ greatly in their analyses of the problem and in the solutions they proffer.
Some blame the gun manufacturers, while others call Hollywood the real culprit. Schools' advocates want more money made available for education. Some seek more laws and government regulations on youth, while others seek to try young violent criminals as adults.
Youth crime and violence is not simply a societal nightmare. It is, in a very personal sense, a parental nightmare. No parent wants to receive a call that his child has been arrested or charged with a crime.
Is it simply random chance that some young people become caught up in criminal violence? If not, apart from the efforts of government and schools, what difference can individual parents make?
As we shall see, there are solutions which you can apply in your own home. Those solutions are written in a much overlooked source of wisdom. Before we address the solutions, however, let us understand the cultural roots of the problems we face.
Violence doesn't start with guns; it starts with attitudes in the human heart and mind. After all, Cain didn't need an Uzi to murder his brother Abel. The spirit of murder and violence is the very opposite of the Biblical injunction to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It involves an utter lack of respect for others and a total lack of empathy.
Social commentators bemoan the direction of much of popular youth culture. Nihilism, the belief that there is no meaning or purpose to existence, has crept into youth culture and is pervasive in much of the popular music that has shaped this generation.
U. S. News and World Report contributor John Leo recently wrote a column entitled "When Life Imitates Video" (May 3, 1999, p. 14). He posed the question: "Did the sensibilities created by the modern, video kill games play a role in the Littleton massacre?" He continued: "But there is a cultural problem here: We are now a society in which the chief form of play for millions of youngsters is making large numbers of people die. Hurting and maiming others is the central fun activity in video games played so addictively by the young."
Rebellion against societal norms has increasingly marked the younger generation in this century. Within a decade after the end of World War II, music had become a symbol of the emerging generation gap. Rock music was characterized as the sound of protest and rebellion. Generally coupled with unorthodox clothing and hair styles, it was in the front ranks of an emerging youth culture. In the late sixties and early seventies, drug use exploded onto the scene as a part of this youth counterculture, encouraged explicitly and implicitly by rock music.
In order to retain shock effect, the cutting edge of youth culture became increasingly bizarre and extreme. In more recent years, body piercing and tattoos have been popularized among the young. Some youths, fascinated with death and the macabre, call themselves "Goths" and wear black clothes and dark-painted fingernails, embracing a decadent and nihilistic culture.
With each new development, the counterculture moves further to the edge of what is considered destructive and insane. One step behind, the mainstream moves increasingly in the direction of what was previously the counterculture.
Like it or not, there is a battle being waged for the hearts and minds of the younger generation— a battle many parents are losing for a variety of reasons. Many parents are not even aware of the values so many young people are embracing, even as mainstream society is also in rebellion against the idea that there are absolute moral values which will never change. If there is no eternal truth, then who is to say what is right and wrong?
The ideas of such men as Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and John Dewey set the intellectual tone prevalent in schools and universities throughout most of this past century. The seed planted by these men and nurtured by their successors has now blossomed and brought forth fruit that is both bitter and deadly. Our modern world has rejected God and His revelation as the source of ultimate knowledge. The results around us are bad and will only get worse. Fortunately, as individuals, we can choose to reject the decadent culture that permeates our society and can go to God's instruction book for the answers.
For parents trying to make a difference in their own families, where is the starting point? While there are many aspects of the problem and its solution, the solution has to start somewhere.
The first thing a child is capable of learning is that he is loved and wanted. If that is not successfully learned, no further lessons can be counted on. Children learn to express love by being loved. A sense of being loved and of proper self-worth underlies everything else that a child needs to learn. Genuine care and affection in word and deed sets the proper tone for life.
The mother is the first person with whom a child comes in contact. She plays the most vital role in a child's young life. Any attitude or action that diminishes a mother's importance is both wrong and destructive. Day care may be a necessity for some, but it is no substitute for maternal love.
Yet love alone is not enough to rear successful children. Parents can deeply care for their children and still impart harmful attitudes. It is simply wishful thinking to believe that by giving affection and meeting a child's physical and material needs, the child will automatically become a successful, well-adjusted adult.
Dr. James Dobson points out in his classic work, Dare to Discipline: "Affection and warmth underlie all mental and physical health, yet they do not eliminate the need for careful training and guidance. At a recent psychologists' conference in Los Angeles, the keynote speaker made the statement that the greatest social disaster of this century is the belief that abundant love makes discipline unnecessary. He said that some of the little terrors who are unman- ageable in the school classroom are mistakenly believed to have emotional problems... it becomes obvious that the children have simply never been required to inhibit their behavior or restrict their impulses" (p. 21). The first lesson a child is capable of being taught is to give and receive love and affection. That should be the starting point for teaching respect. The parents are the first authority figures with whom the child comes in contact, and his relationship with them will set the stage for the future. The first of God's Ten Commandments that a child is capable of either understanding or obeying is: "Honor your father and your mother."
Respect for others in general, and respect for authority in particular, is vital for a healthy approach toward life. This includes respecting others' property, learning to say please and thank you, and showing proper deference toward adults. Respect must be instilled from a very early age.
Parents must also recognize the many ways in which children are bombarded with the opposite message. Much of children's popular entertainment, from music to cartoons, popularizes a "smartaleck" approach to life. Parents must not sit idly by while their children are exposed to messages that contradict all that is good; they must ensure that their children look to them with love as the primary influences in their young lives.
While parents can't totally shut out other influences, they can, particularly with young children, greatly minimize them, though this takes time—and a willingness to reject the path of least resistance. This will undoubtedly mean shutting off the television much of the time and carefully monitoring the messages to which a child is being exposed.
But parents can't be full-time censors; they must teach their children proper self-control. A little baby comes into the world with virtually no self-control whatsoever. He can't even control his own bodily functions, much less his attitudes and impulses. If he is hungry, or wet, or uncomfortable in any way he will probably let you know it quickly and at top volume! This may be "cute" in an infant, but has long since ceased to be so by the time a child is four or five, or perhaps an adolescent or even an adult.
External discipline should not be viewed as an end in itself, but rather as a means to develop self-discipline. Permissiveness produces a person who is selfcentered and self-indulgent. It should not come as a shock that our permissive culture has produced undisciplined adolescents and adults. It is simply a matter of cause and effect.
Partially because of excesses that are truly abusive, the pendulum in western society has increasingly swung away from accepting any corporal punishment for children. Many socalled experts are opposed to spanking in any form. Yet any adult who has grown up in a balanced home can testify to the truth of the Biblical injunction: "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15).
Proper discipline or punishment must be administered in love, not in anger. It also must be swift and sure, and appropriate to the infraction. A parent who can't make his five-year-old pick up the toys should not be surprised at his utter inability to exercise control over the child as an adolescent. The question of "who's in charge here?" must be answered clearly and decisively before the child reaches adolescence. If those boundaries are established early and then maintained, the teen years need not be the terror that they are often portrayed to be. However, to do this does take determination and consistency on the part of the parent.
A child taught respect and self-discipline will be equipped with valuable tools for life; the undisciplined life is rarely productive or successful. Along with these values, a child must also be taught how to set and achieve goals, as an aimless life will produce neither happiness nor fulfillment.
Many teens, accepting a nihilistic philosophy, lack goals and motivation. Setting realistic goals and working to achieve them is vital for healthy mental and emotional development, yet these are skills that must be taught and developed. Parents have an important role to play in guiding their children in this area.
The word of God is the foundation of knowledge. Coming to understand about their Creator, His laws, and His plan and purpose for their lives is the most valuable information that can be conveyed to the young. This knowledge puts everything else in life into perspective.
Parents have an opportunity to teach their youngsters about the great God from earliest childhood. Teaching them stories from the Bible, and helping them relate the principles to everyday life, is one important aspect of this. By helping a child memorize key scriptures (such as the Ten Commandments and the 23rd Psalm) a parent can give a child a resource that will last a lifetime.
The Bible contains values that should underlie our choices in every area of life. Parents should, from the time children are pre-schoolers, help them hold up contemporary values to the mirror of God's word. All aspects of life, including contemporary trends in fashion and entertainment, and proper masculine and feminine roles and expressions, are covered in principle in the Bible.
The Bible clearly teaches an abhorrence for the decadent and an appreciation for the good, the lovely, and the pure (cf. Romans 12:9, Philippians 4:8). Music and video games that celebrate the rude, crude, vulgar, and violent have no place in a godly home. Sure, "Everybody else is doing it." But, as my parents used to tell me, "Everybody else doesn't live here!"
We live in a society increasingly troubled by violence, drugs, immorality and lack of proper respect. The ancient prophet Isaiah told of a time when "…the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor; the child shall behave himself proudly and with insolence against the old man…" (Isaiah 3:5, Amplified).
The bad news is that things will get worse before they get better. Our society has a rendezvous with judgment because, as a nation, we refuse to repent and turn from our ways to God's ways. Still, you and your family can reap the consequences of a far better way of life. If you personally will turn to God for help and strength and really use God's word as an instruction manual for life, you will see the benefits both now and in the future.
What difference can parents make in today's culture of violence and decadence? Quite a bit if they are willing to take the necessary steps. While no parent has absolute control over the future choices his children will make, a parent can very strongly influence what those choices will be!
Do not abdicate that influence to others! Use every opportunity you have to crowd out negative influences—whether from peer group, school, or the entertainment industry—and to bring your children godly teaching and influence.
Love your children. Demonstrate that love by teaching them, by listening to them, by doing things together with them, and by imposing boundaries and discipline upon their conduct. Seek to equip them with the tools that will point them toward success. No parent should ever forget that the most important aspect of success involves coming to know and to have a relationship with the Creator God.
Parents can and should make a world of difference in their children's lives. Determine to make a difference in the lives of yours!