A WWII veteran beaten to death in a parking lot, a baby in Georgia shot in the face in his stroller, and an Australian exchange student shot dead by three “bored” teens. A sudden rash of seemingly senseless youth violence has turned up the volume on angst-ridden anchors and pundits who collectively scratch their heads. Under a chorus of televised “whys?” we seem eager to point fingers at video games, gangs, guns, and bad parenting, but are afraid to ask the uncomfortable question of “How have we failed with our youth?”
It’s important to know that teen homicides have been steadily declining since 1994, but the numbers belie the background stories of each crime, the metadata of motive that could explain what lies in the psyche of an aggressive American teenager. Are the crimes increasingly impulsive attacks against strangers? The media prefers to serve up this version of violence because it pushes our fear button to the point where we stay for the commercials. But no matter if the pattern is random or familial, teen killers should concern us anyway. Because they are our children.
I’ll go out on a limb and suggest here that anger is the motive. And children in America have a lot to be angry about. Our society does not support families.
When an idiot on twitter accuses me of being a socialist or asks why society should be responsible for my kids, I am quick to point out that society isn’t some bastion of law-abiding, tax paying, child free employees. Society is us. Imperfect people trying to do the best we can on an uneven playing field. Fourteen million single parents are raising one in four American children. Less than 30% of elementary school kids have a stay-at-home parent. Remember when one provider worked only a forty-hour week and supported a middle class home of five people? Today, struggling parents are working combined 100 hours just to maintain. And who’s raising the babies?
Psychologists know that early life consistent, loving attachments are a key to healthy personality development. Empathy is learned. How can we expect children who haven’t been given a consistent caring adult during the waking hours of their formative years, to give a damn about you. Teen violence is a problem that belongs to us all.
You have a choice, America. Pay for proven paths to success and good mental health, like loving daycare, stimulating preschools, and enriching afterschool programs. Or, you can pay for jail. In 2010 alone, Americans shelled out $39-billion to incarcerate people. The government’s current plan to provide early childhood education to every child in America would cost $75-billion spread over ten years. Even a third-grade math student can see that would be $7.5-billion per year (taken from alcohol and cigarette taxes,) and a savings of about thirty billion dollars.
Supporting families is the only way to have a healthy society. Families do the heavy lifting of creating good citizens, productive employees, great artists, well-trained athletes, and awesome entrepreneurs. Give moms and dads a chance to succeed, instead of forcing them on a labor treadmill, armed with poor education themselves, and then damn them for using video games as a babysitter and neighborhood gangs as surrogate parents. If I was a teen right now, I’d be madder than hell.