Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kids That Kill

Is It Nature or Nurture?

In recent weeks and months us nice folks up here in Minnesota have seen a rash of what the dictionary refers to as -

patricide: [ ptr-sd ]n. The act of murdering one's father and
matricide: [ mtr-sd ]n. The act of killing one's mother.

In two of the cases rather elaborate plots to cash in life insurance policies were involved. Ill conceived as these murders were the trigger man was able to rope his friends into the plot with promises of cold hard cash. It's chilling to think that ones own child could be so cool and calculating when comtemplating putting a bullet in your head.

One has to wonder how these kids were raised and what kind of families these were. As the facts emerged we were all amazed to learn that these were traditional two parent households that from the outside looked like perfectly normal church going, community minded, straight laced salt-of-the-earth type families.

Neighbors, relatives and friends were shocked. No one, it seems, saw this coming. Local talk show hosts began asking the question: are these murders more common now or is it the fact that we live in an era of the media super-saturation? Actually, these acts were henious enough that they would have been sensationally reported in any era.

So what is going on here? Are we just seeing a confluence of events that is magnifying a rare phenomenon onto a small geographic locale? This is probably true, however, the calculating and greedy substrate beneath these particular murders is different. In the past I would venture to guess that parental abuse (of the kids or the mother) was behind most patricidal incidents. Authorities would take the history of abuse into account and neighbors and relatives would whisper under their breath the "drunken bastard" had it coming.

So who is to blame?

Society is different today, kids are different today. It is too easy to lay the blame for the way kids are today solely at the feet of the parents. Being a parent myself (two teenagers) I know that this is bullshit. I refuse to be blamed for my daughter blowing off school work and other important duties and tasks she is responsible for anymore than my mother could've been blamed for me doing the same 25 years ago. At some point we all have to admit that kids who are nearly adults have responsibilities and obligations regardless of how "badly" they were raised. Who among us had a perfect childhood and an ideal rearing?

Kids do need to be held accountable for their actions and inactions too. This is where I and other parents have been lacking. It's not to say we haven't tried. Part of the problem is that kids can use threats against their parents that would bring the weight of the social service goons down on our heads. Don't believe it? My own daughter has used that one on me a few years ago...

Still, as parents we need to be demanding bastards yet worthy of their respect. This is not always easy since we are not perfect either. Think back to high school and those few teachers that really made a difference in your life. I can almost guarantee that they either had high expectations for you and accepted no less or they were very demanding and even first class disciplinarians. And those of you who did have a parent you respected and loved I will guess that these same attributes were true of them as well.

As I struggle with my own children in this society I am constantly amazed at how difficult it is to instill a work ethic and a notion that they are entitiled to no more than food, clothing, shelter and love. Believe it or not the food, clothing and shelter is the easy part.

So to answer the first question: is it nurture or is it nature??? The cop out would be to say it's both, but it wouldn't be true. There is only so much we can blame on original sin... These kids have and want too much - and they want it now! This is, of course, an over generalization of kids today but we have to admit since the Vietnam generation kids have not been asked to do much more than to "feel good" about themselves. If we want answers we might want to look at the mentality of the purveyors of so much of this self-esteem nonsense.

Looks like nuture wins this debate...



TJ Willms said...

I do tend to agree that too frequently the immediate and easy knee-jerk reaction to most cases like these is to lay all responsibility at the feet of the parents. They are to blame for much of the problem but the children involved also have to be made to own their share as well. [We] as a society are far too indulgent with our children and in many respects are doing them a monumental disservice in the process. Not only in steeping them in a culture of near instant gratification in every aspect of their lives, but also our inability to stifle the urgencies of our own personal desires for convenience and a life without conflict.

Not all, but many parents seem to have forgotten or never understood that when you choose to have children your wants and wishes instantly become secondary to the needs of your child, (in every respect!)

It sucks to be the bad guy but it’s a job that must occasionally be done for the good of our kids even though it is unpleasant for us. In order for the child to learn and understand such esoteric concepts as self sacrifice, delayed gratification, common courtesy, and patience they must hear the word NO, and learn that it means NO. [We] parents collectively seem loath to say it to them because of the whining sounds they are so good at making. Kids are smart and when no doesn’t mean no anymore they seize upon it and our moments of weakness are used against us for years to come.

Kids learn from everything their parent’s do, strengths as well as weaknesses, sometimes leaving us to us wonder, “Where in the hell did he/she learn such things?”
The answer is most often “at Home,” frequently in ways we are totally unaware of, and can hardly believe when or if the root cause for the abhorrent behavior is ever uncovered. Some children are also [wired] differently, sometimes disastrously so.
They draw the wrong conclusion for something they see in their parents, heard at school, or saw on TV and the fallout from decisions assembled in those immature minds can be life altering and devastating.

I do know that some aspects of raising a kid are so important that they should be viewed as inviolable by society but many parents refuse to force themselves to adhere to a consistent code of conduct when dealing with their own children and send their young’uns a host of mixed messages. This inability to wrestle with our own demons can have disastrous consequences for both parent and child, only very rarely are they fatal though. There is also a whole other category of kids out there that are just plain evil. For whatever reason they do exist. Some display sociopathic behavior traits from very early ages that cannot be explained by nurture alone.

You make some great points, and the sum total of my parenting knowledge wouldn’t fill one of those little dents in a thimble. Sorry, for the looong comment but your post caught me at a very chatty moment when many of these thoughts were rumbling freshly through my mind.

StaticNoise said...

Tom, you also make some great points. Obviously parenting is the hardest "job" any of us will ever have. But you said it yourself, kids are smart. They know how to work the system so to speak and manipulate a situation that would make even a soon-to-be-saint like Mother Teresa fail.

I am not making excuses for rotten parents - they are everywhere - but millions of people rise above rotten parenting to become great human beings. I guess it is for me really sickening to blame parents for everything when our schools are abysmal and the damn TV and movies send all these horrible messages to our kids. We can try to keep them safe from these terrible images society tosses at them but we can't be there 24/7/365...