I have just finished reading the latest headline, “Third Student Dies After Ohio School Shooting” and my heart hurts—I hate reading these types of headlines—it makes me sick.
Here is what will happen and is happening now, we are all asking the question, what made the 17 year old T.J. Lane snap and randomly shoot his peers at school? All day long, the media has been pointing to bullying, social media, gun control, and parenting as causes for this horrible tragedy. I am sure each of these may have impacted the young man’s decision to calmly walk through the hall of his school with a gun. I do not know enough of the situation to weigh in on an opinion at this point—their will be enough finger pointing.
However, what if we are looking in the wrong direction? What if, adult culture and our treatment of today’s teenage population are more to blame for such tragedy than we want to admit?
I have worked with students for over 21 years and have a middle school student of my own. I have witnessed bad parenting behavior from myself and other adults. I have witnessed really bad mentoring behavior from myself and other adults as well. In other words, there are no “perfect” adults in a student’s life. Even so, I believe most adults really want the best for today’s teenage population—I really do believe this. However, when there is a problem in Teen Land, we adults often blame every influencing factor in our teenager’s life other than ourselves. As a result, we tend to prepare the road for the student instead of the student for the road. Furthermore, when we feel like the road is acceptable, adults take their hands off the wheel and expect students to drive themselves through all the hazards of life. It’s not working! (I realize that is a heavy line of statements that probably should be unpacked a bit—I will let them set and marinate a bit—you can weigh in on them if you wish).
I have been reading through Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition book. It is, admittedly, a look into “the dark side of Emerging Adulthood” (18-23 years old). As today’s headline story of the Ohio Shooting unfolded, I was drawn to Smith’s introductory comments and his research team’s take on the role adults play in various teenage “problem behaviors.” To be clear, Smith does not specifically name school shooting or any other teen issue, he is speaking in generalities, yet his words caused me to think—think deeply. Hold on adults, he brings the heat:
It’s the Adult World, Stupid
Another common attitude that American adults hold about young people—which we reject, just to be clear—is that whatever problems youth have are entirely their problems, unrelated to the adults around them. The assumption is that something particular about teenagers or young adults rains problems down on their own heads, problems for which they are entirely responsible, which older adults simply cannot comprehend or explain. The something may be “raging hormones.” It might be their not yet properly wired brains. Or it could be simple immaturity, rebelliousness, or stupidity. Whatever the cause, the problem is clearly the young people’s fault, this widespread view holds. The adults involved are of course innocent.
Having studied young Americans for a decade, however, we have clearly seen that, contrary to this well-worn cultural script, most of the problems in the lives of youth have their origins in the larger adult world into which the youth are being socialized….But one way or another, adults and the adult world are almost always complicit in the troubles, suffering and misguided living of youth, if not the direct source of them. The more adults can recognize and admit that fact we think, the sooner we will be able to address some of young people’s problems more constructively (11) (emphasis mine).
I write today because my heart hurts and I want such tragic headlines to go away—this desire motivates me to continue my work with students. I want adults to do exactly what Smith is suggesting, “to address some of young people’s problems more constructively.” So, through the entire finger pointing process in this horrible tragedy (an unavoidable process), let’s remember what our mother’s told us, “When you point a finger at someone else, you have four pointing back at you!” And by all means, remember in prayer all those impacted by this painful event.
Question: (Back to the marinating series of statements) …when there is a problem in Teen Land, we adults often blame every influencing factor in our teenager’s life other than ourselves. As a result, we tend to prepare the road for the student instead of the student for the road. Furthermore, when we feel like the road is acceptable, adults take their hands off the wheel and expect students to drive themselves through all the hazards of life. It’s not working!” Do you agree or disagree? Explain.