Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Prof: Stop explaining ’why’ when teens kill; Instead reach out


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 it’s 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 arm’s length. "As a result, we’re 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 Spencer’s 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.

"We know that the quality of the parent-child relationship is a good predictor of whether a teen-ager will participate in delinquent behavior. That’s why all the discussion following school shootings about installing metal detectors, or even banning backpacks because weapons can be hidden, is off the mark."

Instead, Spencer says more mentoring programs are needed to supplement adult relationships with children. "It’s clear that most parents want to connect with their children," he says. "Small things like reading to children or even watching television with them can pay big dividends later on. But some adults may not have the resources because they must work to put food on the table and pay bills. This is why programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and local community centers are so important."

Most recently, media coverage of youth violence has centered on school shootings. In the early 1990s, however, youth violence often was associated with drug dealings and inner-city gangs. In the middle of the decade, the coverage of youth violence focused on killings in middle-class suburbs, Spencer says.

The way school shootings - such as those at Jonesboro High School in Jonesboro, Ark., and Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. - were reported in the late 1990s, is what prompted Spencer to compare school shootings to other forms of youth violence.

"We had never seen anything like these school shootings before, partly because of the way the shootings were covered," Spencer says. "We could watch as spectators as children were escorted from schools holding hands and as parents agonized over the whereabouts of their children. It occurred to me as I read news stories about Columbine and Jonesboro that there were some commonalities with other youth violence in the early ’90s."

In the mid-1990s, violent youth were dubbed "superpredators," and eventually legislation called The Violent Youth Predator Act of 1996 was proposed.

Spencer’s analysis shows that even though violent youth are portrayed as evil predators, they also are profiled as innocent victims of gangs, drugs and abuse.

For example, the two shooters in the Littleton, Colo., school killings were profiled as victims of bullies as journalists and experts sought to understand why children would kill. As a result, policy-makers, the general public and news media called for new legislation to address issues such as bullying and teasing in schools. Other shootings spurred discussions about new laws to charge young attackers as adults.

In the early 1990s, people cited boot camps as the way to cure violent youth. These camps were popular because they were perceived as a way to provide discipline and punishment, as well as treatment through counseling, Spencer says.

"Not much has changed in how we understand and respond to these forms of violence," he says. "These kinds of labels are pushing us away from fixing the problem, but they persist because of the entertainment value the labels have."

Amy Patterson-Neubert | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht New population data provide insight on aging, migration
31.08.2016 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht PRB projects world population rising 33 percent by 2050 to nearly 10 billion
25.08.2016 | Population Reference Bureau

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>