From small-town Arkansas to Oregon's Willamette Valley, school shootings in recent months have sent shivers into the hearts of parents everywhere. That could have been my kid running for cover, we think. And then the questions pile up: Why is this happening now? Is it possible to find a safe place? And?most important?how can we help our children?
In his new book, Raising Nonviolent Children in a Violent World (Augsburg Fortress), Dr. Michael Obsatz provides both informed perspectives and practical tools for parents. Obsatz, an associate professor of sociology at Macalester College in Minneapolis and a family therapist, talked with CPT about what parents can do to raise nonviolent kids and keep them safe.
Is school violence getting worse, or are we just hearing more about it in the media?
The statistics are clear: From 1985 to 1995 there was a 153 percent increase in the number of juveniles murdered by firearms. You've always had violence, but in the past it took the form of knives and fists. With guns, violence is much more lethal now.
Why now? What's going on with kids?
A lot of the violence stems from unhealthy attitudes, inability to control impulses, a lack of empathy.
There's violence in the media, and it isn't only the overt kind of someone shooting someone else. Take sitcoms: Often they show parents as stupid, so they erode respect for parental authority. There are messages glorifying drug abuse, drinking, materialism. There are crude words and putdowns, which are verbal violence. The statistic that jumps out at me is that only 4 percent of programs emphasize nonviolent solutions to problems. If kids watch enough of this, they get desensitized.
Some video games, like Mortal Kombat, are unbelievably violent. In fact, I read about the boys accused of the various school shootings this past year, and many of them were involved in these games.
Some popular music sends terrible messages. Significantly, Kip Kinkel, the boy in Oregon, listened to a Nirvana cd that expressed nihilistic values. Even though by all accounts he had caring parents, they probably should have paid more attention to his choices of entertainment.