Are we turning into a violent nation and, if so, why? That question is tormenting all of us as we try to return to normal life after the unfathomable tragedy at Newtown. This trend to violence is known; it shows up in statistics, it is discussed in legislatures, it is lamented, but yet it continues. Since that tragic decade of the 60's when three national heroes, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, were gunned down, a million ordinary people have been killed by guns. And still we avoid looking for causes.
Males, often young males, pull the triggers on these victims.
When I wrote Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, about adolescent development in boys, I wrote a chapter called Boys and Violence. I did not include such a chapter when I wrote about daughters.
Most young boys possess a natural enjoyment of roughhousing, constantly wrestling, tackling each other, picking up sticks and pretending to shoot each other.
Most boys outgrow this behavior. As one boy told me, "In fourth grade, my brother and I would see who could give the other a dead leg, but in eighth grade, we thought, `What's the point?'"
Some boys, however, don't outgrow the roughhousing stage and can turn that natural playing around into a competitive, defensive, unemotional drive for superiority, to win in all cases.
If he has been bullied or ignored, he wants to get back or is desperate to be acknowledged. When I interviewed for that chapter, a high school senior who had a reputation for a violent temper told me, "A lot of things in football get me angry and that is what fuels my playing. The angrier I get, the better I play. If I am not angry, I can't play my sport. I turn my fear into anger."
How can we turn that adolescent fear into positive non-violent energy? Certainly not by exposing our sons to violence, because exposure to violence encourages violence. When our sons were small, we even limited Saturday morning cartoons because some of the characters were too fierce for young minds.
A report back then found that children as young as 14 months imitate what they see on television.
And research then also showed that in surveys of young male prisoners, 22 to 34 percent had consciously imitated crime techniques they had learned on television. Probably right in their own homes. What could be a better incentive to monitor television viewing?
Violence surrounds our children in this high tech era. The level of criminal behavior in movies has increased. The video war games that I see being played by boys make me cringe.
Some say that access to these games gives them a healthy outlet for their natural aggressiveness but that doesn't make sense to me.
Exposure to violence breeds violence. I hope that someday researchers will focus on what happens in the brains of boys exposed to constant violence through the new technology.
Did the young man in Newtown turn his fear into unimaginable anger last Friday? We know he was angry. We know he had access to multiple guns and ammunition. At this point we know little about his personal life, what he did with his free time, what people he hung out with.
But we want to know what led him to murder.
In the meantime, we pray for the families of those beautiful children and those courageous teachers and hope that we as a country will do what we can to rein in our culture of violence and bring our sons and daughters up in a world free from fear.
Ann Caron is an author of books on adolescence and a parent-educator. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.