In the wake of such traumatic events as the Sandy Hook tragedy first come the horror, the disbelief, the dramatic outpourings and the bottomless grief, all continuously spread on television and other  media by the reporters, journalists and anchors who can hardly contain their sense of good fortune being assigned to such an important story.
Then there are the counselors who arrive and sensitively work with the first responders, family members and the survivors, providing necessary services that in time will hopefully help the wounded heal.

Not far behind are the pundits and news creators who carry on the misery through interviews and all the details of the investigation asking the authorities inappropriate questions in their efforts to know all of the sordid minutia that make for good reading and viewing.

Then, as the shock starts to subside, there is almost an immediate jump to who’s or what’s to blame for such an unthinkable act. Interviews with experts and community leaders and politicians find multitudes of reasons that are discussed over and over again, trying to find the key that can be turned to prevent such terrible happenings in the future.

Almost always missing from these post mortems are discussions of the violence that is engrained in today’s society and what we might do to address it, to prevent it.

On a fairly regular basis I have tried to speak to the frightening presence of ensconced violent behaviors in our daily lives.  I wrote about the subject as it relates to children, parents and families in a specialty newspaper column for 15 years.  Those columns have now become essays in my new book,
The Incredible Importance of Effective Parenting: Plain Talk From About Raising Children From a Concerned Field Worker.  Two of these essays I offer here. I welcome your input at jim@stilllearning.org

Speaking to the Outbreak
of a Rash of
School Shootings


Times to Forget BUT Remember

So much has been said in the aftermaths of school tragedies, like the horrific shootings at Columbine High in Colorado that happened in April 1999. The talk has continued with other tragedies in Virginia, Oklahoma, and most recently Arizona, Colorado, again, and Wisconsin. There are many other school “incidents” that occur every day in schools and towns that don’t get national and international attention, incidents that disrupt towns and communities and change lives forever. In fact, the topic of youth violence is one of the most serious concerns in the world today. As a Parenting and Family Life Educator, I feel a responsibility to the community and to parents to make a few comments founded in research, education, and experience with a wide cross-section of families. Just what has caused youth violence and what can we do about it?
It’s clear that no single factor is the cause for the violence in our society. Certainly, no single gun law, or juvenile justice bill, or new security plan in schools with metal detectors, or the display of any religious signage, is the answer. But if I were pressed to give just one reason for the violence in our society, it would be, in a word, “adults.” The adults have caused pretty much all of the questionable pieces. Adults are usually the culprits and the youths are the victims. In our society, what children witness all around them is adults modeling a variety of ways of existing in the world.

In sports, athletes are taking drugs, cheating, fighting, and complaining. “Pro” wrestling fosters physical and verbal conflict, even if it’s just for entertainment purposes. More recently, something called Ultimate Fighting has taken the country by storm. Grown men fight with almost bare fists and almost no holds barred in cages until one beats the other into submission. It’s ugly and scary. Most children under 8 years old find it difficult to separate reality from fantasy. They watch adults who are totally immersed in a battle between two or more adults while an audience screams and yells for blood. In hockey, fighting is an expected part of the game. Missing teeth is an honor.

Arcades are filled with electronic games that depict people and non-people killing, shooting, beating, and tearing each other apart. Adults create and make those games available. Popular games of team competition that involve shooting and killing each other for fun are available, not only as video games, but in real life through the use of paintball guns. Laser battles and green laser “guns” are now creating havoc all over the roads and skies. Movies are certainly on the list of factors provided by adults, and not just the R rated ones. Underage children do get in to see these movies, no matter what the management says or what the rules are. They are often taken to such movies by their own parents. Even movies that are rated PG or G, so-called contemporary comedies, have inappropriate content for young children. In the Colorado late night premier showing of the 2012 installment of Batman, “The Dark Knight Rises”, pregnant women and families with small children, even infants, were in attendance to be exposed to the incredible sights and sounds of violence. Not to mention the unmentionable…the real gunfire and killing of twelve people and the wounding of many more. What about the abundance of G-rated animation films? They are filled with violence, beatings, mis-behavings, and ugly scary things that go bump in the night. Family fun.
Older teens are having babies and disposing of them in a variety of ways, and extended families encourage this behavior by taking care of the children themselves, taking away or decreasing  the biological mother’s responsibility. There seem to be no repercussions or consequences for the teens’ actions. Adults are killing their children daily through abuse, neglect, and cold-blooded murder, and adults are beating and killing each other for a variety of irrational reasons.         
TV, not just the prime time shows, is loaded with negative ways of living life. Take a look at cartoons, teen shows, talk shows, music shows, court shows, soap operas, and the ever increasing “reality” shows. They are filled with mean-spirited people who act out in angry, devious, and evil ways. They teach revenge, rebellion, hatefulness, and terrible ways to solve problems. Legal people and school administrators and countless other authority figures respond with sarcasm. These experiences create fears and cynicism, and disillusionment for young people about the world in which they are expected to live.
Magazines offer teen fashions and images that can create eating disorders and depression in young people. Why do such things get published? Because we buy them.

Media, as in news shows and newspapers, are spending time and space reporting tragic crimes and seemingly insurmountable problems from down the street to the other side of the world. We cannot even venture a guess on how much fear and hopelessness this implants in our children and adults. What impact does this have on the choices children make? Preachers from the pulpits talk about forgiveness and understanding, then ignore or belittle some children they encounter, or they preach tolerance and inclusion but don’t live it. Religious leaders are actually being sentenced to jail for crimes against their own people, even children, and others are making claims that make them appear foolish and silly.
Adults brag about getting away with unpaid taxes, or being undercharged by a store and not pointing it out, or putting people down with hate language that would make the devil blush. There are people who model that the way to solve problems is to duke it out or sling more mud. There are adults who are negative about school and teachers, or who talk about how important school is yet never find the time to be involved in their child’s education process or any activities at the school. There are those who bad-mouth work, supervisors, and people who are different, and there are those who are just bad examples of getting along with all decent and lawful people.
There are government officials who lie, who philander, who act in most immature ways as they conduct the business of a country or community and who show and receive little respect. Politicians talk a lot about the plight of the poor and what a valuable resource our children are, but there are still areas of our country that are deplorably impoverished and our children are still looked upon as just problems that need to be summarily handled, controlled.      
Some businesses tend to squash working folks by keeping wages low, working people unreasonably long hours, and offering no medical help or any other benefits. These are circumstances that can lead to despair and criminal behavior.

There are parents who say don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t lie, cheat, or steal, and yet by their own actions, live a lie. There are parents who break promises; show disrespect for each other, for their parents, relatives, and neighbors; and who seldom, if ever, involve themselves and the family in any kind of community activity to help others.

Children don’t decide what clothes to wear. Adults do, by giving in to their pressures. Children don’t decide what movies to see. Adults do, by letting them go. Children don’t decide what TV to watch. Adults do, by letting the TV be the baby-sitter. There are TV sets in children’s bedrooms, and parents can’t find the off switch.
Parents of course have to give freedoms to build independence, but with freedoms come responsibilities. Adults aren’t involved enough with the lives of their children in positive ways. We react a lot when we have to, but we don’t respond. We have Response-Disability, but what we have to have is Response-Ability.
All of this, as you know, is about role modeling. We do whatever we want to do, what gives us pleasure, what feeds our self-centeredness, or what makes money. Children simply copy us until they are adults themselves. Then children copy them. It’s a cycle.
Remember, Home is where the start is. Many of these ills could have initially been addressed in the home by the parents or the caregivers. When each adult commits to live a better, more informed, and caring life, and pass these values along to young people, then problems of violence in this country will begin to decrease. When we bring back a sense of individual responsibility to family and community, creating opportunity for everybody, we will be able to start reducing the violence and crime that we fear will destroy us. Legislation will not change morals. Posting the Ten Commandments on a wall will not likely change students’ lives. However, living the Ten Commandments or any other rules of decent behavior just might cause some positive change. In order for children to want to live by any excellent guideline, they have to see that their leaders hold the guideline in high regard.

A past president had hopes for “a kinder, gentler nation.” That’s the only way we will ever turn the tide: one person at a time, from the inside out. Children need us to lead the way. That’s why we must hang in there and
         Don’t lose heart!

Parenting Book Cover


There Is Violence in Society

A few years ago, I received a statement and a set of questions asking for my responses from a local newspaper journalist on the topic of violence in society. After careful reflection as to whether or not I should comment, I decided to share some of my thoughts since I felt, and still feel, that the topic is of great interest to parents and families. As I was in the process of rereading and editing this entry, two other horrific acts of senseless violence have just taken place; the July 2012 tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, and another, seemingly of religious nature, in Wisconsin. Lone young men, one excessively armed in a warrior uniform, [and the other in aggressive tattooed markings,] attacked the audience attending a midnight premier showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” and the second man-a gathering of attendees at a Sikh Temple; the latest sadness of mass violence referenced in my earlier essay for April. AND NOW THIS UNSPEAKABLE TRAGEDY IN CONNECTICUT. This piece on violence is even more timely as the acts appear to be increasing rather than decreasing. I’ve duplicated a version of the question-and-answer session for you in this special section on violence in society as October’s offering because of the prevalence of commercial and mischievous violence that tends to occur around Halloween time.

Question: Parents are barraged with news of school shootings, Internet predators, children snatched from their beds while they sleep, politicians, respected church and sports people preying on young people, etc. With all of that, we, the public, are asking these questions: Are parents raising their children differently today than the way they were parented because of increased violence against children, or are today’s parents just more aware of the violence because of more thorough media coverage?
Answer: Most parents are definitely raising their children differently today, but not because of the violence, since we have always had isolated occurrences of violence. It’s the other way around: The epidemic of violence is being caused by the way we parent and raise our children and the weakness of homes and families. We are now a larger population; there is more of everything, including unhealthy people, identified mental illness, reactions to being a member of the “have-nots” or disenfranchised population, and the seemingly uncaring power wielding of those in the “haves” population (a gap that seems to be getting wider and wider), and all of these incidents can be reported almost instantaneously to the entire world, especially the “newsworthy” ones.

We are such a reactionary society that even after a violent episode hits our neighborhoods, it doesn’t take a long time for a return to normalcy and becoming close to complacent again. We hurry to “fix” the symptoms of deeper problems, ignoring the root causes.

The media definitely needs to be more responsible and accountable, both entertainment and news media sectors. There are so many media outlets today that are all competing for audiences to increase their profits and staying power. Not only do they simply report a news event, but they also banter it all day and night long, making it much more important than it truly needs to be, and some media actually create news from the news. Look at what the media has done to two young women not long ago who battled  internal demons of some kind that created for them sad and confused lives, and the media uses them to sell themselves, calling it news. Those were specific woman at that time, and by now there could have been many more individuals who have been “used” by the media. I also believe that media exposure can and has created violent events by unhealthy persons wanting the notoriety the coverage provides. Media fuels terrorism. Many perpetrators live and die for the publicity they get. Media also fuels social violence, from the images of “professional” wrestling to “in your face” athletics, juvenile sports, players, coaches and fans, to Spike TV fist fighting and macho stereotypes. Is it any wonder that our children and our adults accept and practice violent behavior as “the way it is?”

We have changed the way we parent for lots of reasons. Mostly it’s due to corporate control and money/survival driven lives. We live in a 365/24/7 world. It is always open for business and we all find ourselves running to just keep up. Parents spend less time in the home, less time with children, less time developing vital relationships with their spouses and sons and daughters and community, less time for self-reflection, and less time for personal growth and learning. Family members all drag themselves home at the end of the day, and it’s sometimes all they can do to be civil to each other. Their duties are endless, and the times for just being together in good and healthy ways have greatly diminished. Too much parenting today is done on the run, hurling snatches of guidance and direction at their confused and needy offspring with few interactions, and even those are often not well thought out. Parents too often “react” to their children’s needs, with what I call “response-disability,” rather than being effectively responsive to their needs, which is “response-ability.” We are often too harsh, insensitive, too rigid,  inconsistent, impatient, and not willing to stop, listen, and attempt to understand and guide. We don’t even try to develop true relationships with each other; we just order, dictate, command, criticize, complain, and talk – all the traits that undermine the purpose of effective parenting, which is to prepare a child for adulthood. How do we think we get to be adults? We adults teach our children how and who to be. Who do you want your children to be? What kind of lives do you want for them? We are creating childhood memories for adults now. What kind of memories do you want them to have?

Question: Has this increased awareness bred paranoid parents at risk for creating a generation of paranoid youngsters? Or are parents justified in their vigilance?
Answer: Paranoia is running wild...television, motion pictures, cell phones, and Internet media help create it and fuel it. Electronic media is always there and available and attacks most of our senses: sight, sound, and emotions. It can dramatically tap into our imaginations and fears in an instant, and the image can remain, maybe forever.

The print media is also guilty, but we can put it down, read it in small doses, or not read it at all; there is very little visual and no auditory impact, the emotion has to be created by the reader. You don’t find many teenagers sneaking around to buy a newspaper. Mass media gives us something new to fear and worry about almost daily, even hourly. If we allow ourselves to be a “regular” habitual user, there is no way that we cannot feel anxious, stressed, frustrated, worried, depressed, and fearful when we try to close our eyes at night. It is all too much, too constant, and too negative. We are not only raising a new generation of paranoid children, but anxious, hopeless, aimless, and depressed ones, as well. We cannot possibly be our most effective selves if we are always looking over our shoulders or feeling like the sky is going to fall any minute. And if we aren’t our most effective selves, then we are not giving our best as a parent, a spouse, a child, a worker, a citizen.

Question: We have parents equipping their young children with cell phones as a way to have immediate communication. Is this a good parenting tactic or are parents using today’s electronics to babysit their kids and avoid having to spend time with them?
Answer: Just like television, computers, video games, air rifles, sling shots, and other potentially harmful popular commodities, the cell phone is not bad in and of itself, but rather it can have good and bad consequences; it all depends on how it is used. Too much of anything is too much. Proper, informed, purposeful uses are all good. Cell phones are incredible tools for good, but they can be misused and can be tools for illegal, inconsiderate, and obnoxious behaviors. When so called social media can be used as a learning, gathering place for children to exchange ideas and opinions, it’s good. Used as a controlling, bullying, gossiping, and spying tool, or as Betty White called it “an awful waste of time,” it can cause major problems. Many parents use many commodities, schedules, lack of time, and other distractions to avoid spending time with their children. Too many parents would rather be some place else. Being with our children in positive, helpful ways can be time-consuming, hard, frustrating, and boring. So can going to the dentist, but they are both necessary parts of our healthful lives. Nothing can replace the genuine “unhurried” time that we give our children. Nothing.

Question: How should parents handle the bad news of the world (school shootings, Internet predators) when discussing this with their children? What’s your advice for how to have that discussion?
Answer: We cannot raise our children in a vacuum. We cannot pretend that bad things don’t exist. If we don’t inform them, someone else will. Of course, they will be informed by others as well as parents anyway, but parents have to manage the information and relate it to how that family believes, what it values and how it feels about any given subject in the neighborhood and world. Parents have to design, manage, modify, and execute rules, as well as behavior expectations, discipline, structure, routines, and how their family adapts to and lives in and with the world. There are many positive examples of living in this wonderful world, and they need to be pointed out and emphasized. Help children understand that life is not what they see on television or in the movies. Help them sort out the difference between reality and make believe, if we can do that ourselves! Depending on the age of the children, be open and honest with them. Tell them what you think they need to know based on their age and maturity level. Answer their questions, but don’t elaborate unnecessarily. Talk about certain events minimally. Try not to make it fill the day or all of your time. Try to maintain normal schedules and routines. Above all, maintain your own cool and maturity about the events. Don’t go around all day hand-wringing and bemoaning the state of the world. Check your judgments, your reactions, your criticisms, and your conclusions. Remember that you are role modeling and teaching your children how to handle emotions, how to think, how to consider, how to wonder, and how to grow in self-assurance and confidence. The more strength and courage you show, the better the children will grow into those healthy places, and then they will be able to handle the inevitable events that will greet and bash them in their present and future everyday living of life. And most of all…
Don’t lose heart!