Try sympathizing with troubled children
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 14, 2013 00:01
Last week I addressed a need for every one of us to take responsibility for the issues which we face as a society. The obvious follow up to this assertion is the question: What can I do to stop a child from shooting up a school?
The answer to this question derives from a concept I can identify with. I refer to the concept as “invisible children.” As Helen Jung of the Oregonian reported, the Clackamas Town Center Shooter, Jacob Roberts, falsely told people he had inherited a lot of money and was moving to Hawaii. It doesn’t take an expert psychologist to realize these lies were a last-minute attempt to gain attention.
I disclaim that I am in any way attempting to represent a professional, psychological opinion. These are merely amateur opinions I’ve developed from my own experience and connections. Please read this with the appropriate skepticism.
When searching for a connection between the school shootings we’ve seen, there’s one clear link: family trouble. It is often pointed out that many of the families knew something was wrong with their child and were desperate for help. From this, it is often concluded that the families were helpless, and there was nothing they could have done. This is false.
Children and adults alike yearn to be understood. When a child commits a heinous crime, many times it is because they are making the ultimate cry for help and understanding. They feel isolated in a world opposed to them, in which no one understands them — think Bender from “The Breakfast Club.” If a child resorts to killing others, especially strangers, it may be the result of built-up anger at the separation they feel between themselves and the world around them. They feel invisible.
I may be wrong I’m willing to bet, however, these parents never made an honest attempt to actually understand what their child was feeling. These parents experienced the fits of anger, the drastic actions and the clear signs of instability, but their response was one of confused astonishment.
In school, many children feel unaccepted and misunderstood. They are often isolated from their peers, and mocked for being “weird.” Now that we’re adults, many of us look back at this knowing it wasn’t right, and that it was unfair to act this way toward other children. Unfortunately, some still write it off to “kids being kids.”
Here’s the kicker: The schoolchildren’s actions and the parents’ actions toward the child are very similar. While the parents hopefully aren’t poking fun — although some resort to abuse or other negative responses — they’re still separating themselves and causing the child to feel different and unaccepted. Even the parents trying to help their child with a psychologist or psychiatrist, with the intent of understanding their child, are still separating themselves from the child. If anything, the child feels even more unaccepted, like they’re being made someone else’s problem.
When I was a child, I often felt this way about my family and peers. At one point, I was sent to a hospital’s anger management group, despite displaying minimal signs of anger. If this doesn’t make a child feel misunderstood, I don’t know what would.
Luckily for me, I found understanding through online video games and the friends I made that played, so I didn’t have to resort to drastic measures. In fact, I’d venture to say video games have been a common piece between all of the shooters, not because of the violence, but because of the small amount of acceptance and understanding experienced. But video games are a limited acceptance; a void is still left.
We need an active solution to stop these children from resorting to these drastic measures. One solution is to make an honest attempt to understand the child.
When you’re consoling a friend, or being consoled, often a resolution to the problem is not found, yet spirits are raised simply from feeling the connection understanding creates. This concept works with children. We often view their problems as illogical or unnecessary. Instead of making this evident, we must try to be sympathetic and help them work through the issues. Be his or her friend, or mentor, but don’t patronize.
I place no blame on anyone as the cause of a child’s mental illness. However, I also don’t see this as an excuse to ostracize the child. Every one of us has seen a child separated from a group or scolded for something they did wrong. We can all attempt to understand these children and make them feel valued.
Some of you may think I have no right to assert this opinion. I’ve never had a mentally ill child, and I’m not a professional dealing with them. While I may be no expert, I was an invisible child for much of my life, and I know all I really wanted was to be understood and accepted. Ask these children, and I guarantee many of them will eventually tell you the same. Children are just as human as all of us; let’s try to connect with them so they can join the ranks of happy, healthy adults.
Alexander Vervloet is a senior in communications. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Vervloet can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Rantsweekly.