The labels put on youths who commit violent crimes not only prevent society from understanding their behavior, but also act as a barrier to solving the problem, says a Purdue University sociologist.
"Children are supposed to be innocent and vulnerable, and its our job as adults to protect them," says J. William Spencer, associate professor of sociology. "But what happens when teen-agers become cold-hearted and terrorize, or even kill, their classmates and teachers? Then adults become fearful of teens and want to keep them at an arms length. "As a result, were trying to solve the problem by protecting them or punishing them without actually engaging with teen-agers because we are scared."
Spencer analyzed how teens who were involved in violent acts, such as murder and beatings, were described and profiled in the news media by politicians, experts and the general public during the 1990s. The result of Spencers analysis is published in the February issue of Symbolic Interaction. "How we understand the problem shapes our solution," Spencer says. "And I worry that Why? is being answered incorrectly.
Amy Patterson-Neubert | EurekAlert!
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