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Youth Profiles Paint a Picture of the Failures of Adults

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It’s fall. Time to buy new notebooks and winter coats for our kids. It is also the season for the arrival of the latest batch of school violence prevention guidelines.

Recent profiles from the National School Safety Center and the FBI, among others, warn that a student with the following characteristics may be violence prone:

* A history of uncontrollable, angry outbursts. This, however, also describes many of the sports and entertainment icons to whom youths look for role models. Perhaps we should profile these adults and decry their public behavior before we demonize the young.

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* Characteristically resorts to name-calling or cursing. As otherwise banned on “Jerry Springer” and in movies marketed to young people?

* Habitually makes violent threats when angry. Children learn this from adults and the United States has the highest child abuse rates in the industrialized world. We would do better to profile our failed child protection policies and parenting practices.

* Has previously brought a weapon to school. Guns are the least common cause of weapons-related school suspensions. With slingshots, pea shooters, penknives and even yo-yos increasingly classed as weapons, this profile describes more than 20% of boys.

* Has a background of serious disciplinary problems or has previously been truant, suspended or expelled from school. Under zero tolerance regulations, more than 3 million schoolchildren were suspended or expelled last year. At many schools, this included one-third of the African American males. We could instead profile teachers who, statistically speaking, are quicker to kick children of color out of class than to draw them deeper into literacy and educational success.

* Has a background of alcohol or other substance abuse. More than 25% of high school students and most adults in at-risk students’ lives fit this description. Just as with guns, kids get most drugs and alcohol from adults. Perhaps we should profile parents with unlocked gun, booze and drug cabinets. Moreover, we could profile schools that chemically subdue more than 2 million high-spirited children with Ritalin.

* Is on the fringe of his / her peer group with few or no close friends. Most American males report they have few or no close friends.

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* Is preoccupied with weapons, explosives or other incendiary devices. This is also true for many who grow up to become rocket scientists, soldiers, firefighters, police officers or filmmakers. We are the world’s largest arms maker and exporter. We have the highest gun violence rates in the industrialized world. With such ardent weapons promotion by adults, who can wonder why these are attractive preoccupations for youth?

* Displays cruelty to animals. This caution is offered by a culture that nearly wiped out the buffalo, whales and a few hundred other species, still slaughters wildlife for high fashion, and has murdered countless intelligent, charming dolphins in quest of cheaper tuna.

* Has been abused, neglected or receives little supervision and support from a caring adult. With 5 million to 10 million latchkey children returning from school to empty homes, we could instead profile businesses that tear families apart by failing to provide on-site child care or flextime for working parents. With more than 3 million incidents of child abuse annually and corporal punishment practiced in half our state’s schools, legions of children fill this category.

* Bullies other children. Being bullied is more likely than bullying others to produce explosive violence. Some coaches encourage bullying as part of “toughening up” boys for sports competition. Boys who complain or otherwise fail to fit narrow athletic ideals risk acquiring shaming labels like geek, punk, wuss, baby, girl, sissy or queer. This abuse angers some youths, especially when it is not restrained by adults.

* Tends to blame others for problems he creates for himself. So do many adults who refuse to take responsibility for their part in creating a violent culture and instead blame youth. Moreover, many kids are perceptive enough to realize that thoughtless adults really do cause many of their problems.

* Consistently prefers entertainment with violent themes. True for millions; why else would the entertainment industry make all those violent films, games and records? The industry annually generates billions of dollars for stockholders.

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* Prefers reading materials dealing with violent themes, rituals and abuse. This would include most ancient myth and literature from Homer to Shakespeare, the Bible, American history and thousands of classic and contemporary novels. Is this the real reason officials walled off Columbine High School’s library?

* Reflects anger, frustration and the dark side of life in writing projects. So do thousands of the greatest poets, dramatists, novelists, philosophers and political activists throughout history.

* Is involved with a gang or fringe group. Kids join such groups to feel they belong somewhere in a culture that rejects or marginalizes many minority and otherwise “outsider” youths. The fringe is also where many pioneers, innovators, artists, visionaries and spiritual leaders emerge. America, after all, was founded by a rebellious, tax-evading, tea-dumping, Redcoat-shooting gang from the fringes of the British Empire.

* Is often depressed, has significant mood swings or has threatened suicide. Oh, driver, just park that truckload of Prozac by the school nurse’s office--where increasing numbers of American students regularly receive Ritalin, Prozac and other prescribed medications. It would be better for us to profile teaching methods, school and class crowding, zero tolerance policies, warrantless searches, forced drug testing and armed policing, rampant expulsions, electronic surveillance, crumbling facilities, economic and racial bias and other aspects of today’s school environment that virtually assure that many kids will become depressed. Given the extreme rates of child abuse, neglect, intolerance, violence and injustice toward American youths, one could wonder why they are not much more depressed or angry.

If we regard youths as a mirror of our culture, we can readily see that they are profiling us. If we do not like what we see, we could start listening more to young people instead of continuing to blame them for our failures as adults.

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