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– By Dr. E. Mims Mobley –
Five years ago, moved by an article and editorial in my local paper about a pregnancy pact among teenage girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts, most of them being high school sophomores, I wrote an Op-Ed that took a broad look at the roles of parenting (or lack of it), society, peer pressure, entertainment, education, and TV as contributing to teenage behavior that is detrimental to the affected group and unsettling and worrisome for everyone else. Judging from a recent report of a gratuitous killing by bored teenagers in Duncan, Oklahoma, things have gotten worse.
According to the various news releases, three teens – age 15, 16, and 17 – said to be from a “gritty” part of that city of 24,000 people, decided to break their “boredom” by killing someone randomly on a Friday afternoon. While cruising in a “well-to-do” neighborhood, they found what they called their “target,” an Australian athlete, unknown to them, out jogging and shot him in the back with a .22 caliber pistol. He collapsed in a ditch and was dead within minutes. How does something like this happen? And we’re not talking about mentally ill folks like the shooters in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut; we’re talking teenagers, whose evil deed probably doesn’t approach that of the Columbine teenagers from several years ago, but is no less evil or cowardly
Probably no one ever acquires judgment that is 100% mature. For teenagers, whose emotions are buffeted by hormone levels newly in play, how mature can we expect their judgment to be? I recall an automobile insurance company ad that asked: “Why do teenagers drive like they are missing half of their brain?” The ad’s answer: “Because they are missing half of their brain.” The ad went on to explain that the part of a teenager’s brain that deals with judgment is still developing and will do so for another four or five years.
In search of answers to why teenagers lacking mature judgment do bad things, we find ourselves rounding up all the usual suspects alluded to in the first paragraph – parenting, society, peer pressure, entertainment, education, and TV. Young people have ideas coming at them from all over, but sometimes there’s too little guidance, and they are left on their own to pick and choose while lacking mature judgment to make wise choices. Movies and TV shows may be producing the greater negative impact on young folks’ thoughts and actions, as they increasingly feature coarse language and gratuitous behavior. Action is the by-word for the entertainment industry – the louder and bigger the explosion, the more people dropped in their tracks, the more the gore, the better for business. The Hollywood crowd is among the most vocal advocates for gun control laws, all the while enriching themselves by glorifying guns in movies and on TV. And in presenting all that mayhem and death, the distinction between good and evil sometimes becomes blurred. There is no handier tutorial than TV for teaching a perversion or some form of depravity. It was so much simpler in the westerns of the old days when the good guys wore white hats.
There is another troubling feature to the random killing in Duncan, Oklahoma. The newspaper article said that the teenage shooters were from a “gritty” part of town and the killing took place in a “well-to-do” neighborhood. In recent years, especially from Washington, there is plenty of rhetoric that divides us as Americans, like the haves and the have-nots, and religious, ethnic, and racial differences that separate us. Yes, words can do harm in unintended ways, and it’s past time that our leaders of all stripes turned to messages that bring us together and give the better angels within us a chance at winning.