It's not too late to stop the next teen shooter
BERKELEY, CALIF. — A youngster in Minnesota shot and killed a teacher, classmates, and himself last week. Shocked, Americans are wondering, "How could such a thing happen?"
Yet his story will soon fade from the national news. When the next shooting occurs it will be dredged up and included as background along with the previous three or four.
But what about the potential next shooter? What is going on with him right now?
It's not unlikely that right now, in a school near you, elements of this dangerous social equation are building.
There is a child who feels left out. He is often teased by other kids who don't realize how deeply their words cut. He doesn't have the maturity to know that his tormentors are just thoughtless, miserable adolescents, too.
The boy - because, it seems, it is almost always a boy - doesn't have the family support or sense of self worth to deflect the teasing. When he goes home after school, he is usually alone.
He has grown to love angry music. It makes him feel a little better to connect with the power in the performer's chants of rage. His unresolved grief transforms into the rage he admires. He wants to feel angry. It feels less weak than the sadness. The boy fantasizes about getting even - about showing "them."
Some days he thinks, "I'll grow up and be so successful, famous, and rich." Then they'll be sorry that they ignored him or put him down.
But he lives in a world that does not value long-range solutions - even when they're the right ones.
It may take too long to find a way to relieve the pain - the media he surrounds himself with seem to offer a quicker fix.
The people who are making money from the music, video games, and movies he hears, plays, and sees refuse to question the content or accept the ways they affect the boy.
Instead they go about their business providing training in immediate, sensational "solutions." They provide heroes for the boy, never mind that they are antiheroes.
And, the boy has access to a gun!
But it might not be too late for him.
Events like the Red Lake, Minn., high school shooting last week (10 left dead) and the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 (15 total dead) cause people to wonder what could have been done to prevent this.
We need only look at the history of the last few for clues.
There could be a teacher who is willing and able to see through the façade to the pain; another student who might stand up for him; a neighbor who might notice him and find a way to help him feel worthwhile; a family member who might stop and realize that the cover of self-reliance is so thin.
Maybe there is someone who reads the paper every day and worries about what the world is coming to. This person might stop wringing his or her hands and start looking more closely at young people and find ways to help them navigate through their difficult periods, in these difficult times.
The story of the last shooter has been written.
But the story of the next shooter is still not finished.
It may not be too late for this child or for those he could destroy in his chaos of pain. It might not be too late for one of us to make a difference.
• Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist and parent educator.