Thursday, April 19, 2007

Angry + Getting Used To It

[Here's an excerpt from my book Raising Adults, available at the YS Underground]

I cannot control the way the world is run, the way others treat me, the hand I have been dealt, but I can damn well control the way I treat others (especially those who least expect it). — Kate at 20

My mom was an unhealthy model for me in terms of dealing with anger. I was constantly walking on eggshells, in fear of her irrational outbursts. I consequently have a hard time expressing my own anger because I know how my mom’s anger made me feel (like crap, like I couldn’t do anything right), because I’m afraid it’ll jeopardize my relationships, and because I’m afraid of being irrational. — Alice at 21

Anger is the cheapest drug I know. — Brian at 19

Our kids are doing a generational slow burn.

Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. Their anger comes out as contempt, outbursts of rage, mean-spirited humor, stealing, vandalism and every once in a while, shocking acts
of violence.

Urban dwellers are uncomfortably familiar with these things. I know a young man whose little brother was the 58th child killed in Chicago the year the paper kept a running total. The child lived and died in the Henry Horner Projects — the place described in the book and film There Are No Children Here. He was shot in the back, reportedly a case of mistaken identity in a drug dispute.

Across town, Lane Tech is a magnet for four thousand high-achieving students who must declare a major when they test into the school. It’s a tough, exciting academic environment. Things are exciting outside too. Lane features after-school programs that are innovative and enriching — but that’s not why they started. They started because of drive-by shootings targeting who knows who. The after-school offerings cause students to trickle out of the building instead of exiting all at once.

The circumstances at Lane — positive and negative — hardly ever make the news outside Chicago. What made news as the century turned was a rash of suburban and small town conspiracies and shootings. The events were characterized as an unprecedented wave of student-on-student violence. I’m afraid those incidents were big news because unlike the student body at Lane Tech the shooters and their targets were primarily light-skinned children. Americans are accustomed to stories of urban violence and expect perpetrators and victims to be dark-skinned and disenfranchised and the violence to be related to the drug trade. It is unsettling when the profiles don’t fit those expectations.

Here is what we know about the attackers in 37 incidents of targeted school violence between 1974 and the end of the 2000 school year:

76 percent were white

All were male

95 percent were current students at the school where they carried out the attack

85 percent were between the ages of 13 and 18

63 percent came from two-parent homes

41 percent were doing well in school, generally making As and Bs

41 percent appeared to associate with mainstream students or were considered mainstream themselves

44 percent were involved in organized social activities in or outside school

Just 12 percent had no close friends

81 percent acted alone

Fewer than a third were known to have acted violently toward others prior to the attack

59 percent demonstrated an interest in violent movies, books, games, personal writing or other media (though there was no one common form)

63 percent had rarely or never been in trouble at school

56 percent showed no marked change in academic performance prior to the attack

73 percent showed no marked change in friendship patterns prior to the attack

59 percent showed no marked change in interest in school prior to the attack

68 percent showed no marked change in disciplinary problems at school prior to the attack

61 percent used handguns

49 percent used rifles or shotguns

68 percent acquired the gun[s] used in the attack at home or from the home of a relative

54 percent targeted one or more adults employed by the school

41 percent targeted other students

44 percent were known to have chosen more than one target prior to the attack

46 percent carried more than one weapon at the time of the attack

61 percent had a documented history of feeling extremely depressed or desperate

78 percent exhibited a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts at some point prior to the attack

Prior to the attack, 98 percent experienced or perceived some major loss such as a perceived failure or loss of status (66 percent) or the loss of a loved one or significant relationship (51 percent)

83 percent exhibited outward behaviors that suggested difficulties coping with loss

71 percent felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident

73 percent had a grievance against at least one of their targets before the attack

66 percent told someone about their grievance prior to the attack

81 percent gave at least one person (93 percent peers) information that he was thinking about or planning his attack

Only 17 percent threatened their target[s] directly in advance of the attack

95 percent had developed the idea to harm his target[s] before the attack — about half developed their idea for at least a month

93 percent planned out the attack in advance — 69 percent prepared the attack for at least two days

93 percent engaged in some behavior prior to the attack that caused others to be concerned — in 76 percent of the attacks, more than three people we concerned about the attacker’ behavior — in 88 percent of the cases at least one adult was concerned about his pre-attack behavior

Revenge was a motive for 61 percent of attackers — though 54 percent had multiple motives

— Culled from The Final Report and Findings of The Safe School Initiative, United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education, 2002

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