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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 1999/ 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Rebels with a violent cause -- THE PARENTS OF DYLAN KLEBOLD, one of the killers at Columbine High, intends to sue the sheriff of Littleton. The parents of Isaiah Shoels, the only black student killed in the Colorado massacre, will sue the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Parents of other victims say they'll sue school officials.

Questions proliferate. Who knew what and when? Could anyone have prevented the massacre?

The parents of Dylan Klebold say that if the sheriff had told them about Eric Harris' hateful Internet site, they would have broken up the friendship between Dylan and Eric. The Shoels say the parents of the murderers failed to act when their sons stockpiled guns and bombs. Other parents question the inadequate security at the school and ask whether school officials were aware of the damage caused by student cliques.

Colorado law requires anyone who wants to sue the government to file a notice of intent within six months of a litigious incident. Last week the deadline passed. Many parents say their suits are not about money, but about finding out everything they can. Maybe such teen violence can be avoided in the future.

Litigation offers no solace (except to the lawyers) but such suits may uncover overlooked clues leading to the violence. With 20/20 hindsight investigators may find links in the chain of inevitabiity.

One of the terrible psychological spillovers from the school massacres is the way the massacres prey on a teenager's imagination and anxieties. In a poll of 1,038 teenagers between 13 and 17, more than half said they believed a similar rampage of killing could take place in their school. That's a distorted expectation of possibility, but the kids believe it.

The poll, conducted by the New York Times and CBS News, also found that social critics (like myself) who worry that parents are not paying enough attention to sons and daughters aren't necessarily right when it comes to parents knowing where their children are. Nearly all the Generation Y children polled said they must routinely tell their parents where they're going before they leave the house. Nearly 90 percent have rules about when they have to be home.

Other statistics contradict the perception of the acceleration of violence in our children's lives. Incidents of teenagers engaging in fistfights between 1991 and 1997 have decreased by 14 percent, and the number of kids who say they carry a weapon has gone down by 30 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teenagers who worry about being shot have declined by half; the number of those who know someone who has been shot declined from 40 percent to 34 percent.

Does that mean we can relax our vigilance over violence in the lives of our children? Just the opposite. The teenagers identify potential troublemakers as the outcasts -- the kind of boys other kids make fun of. The outcasts are more likely to be nerds than thugs. In fact, they're kids who in another generation probably wouldn't have fought back. But now that weapons are readily accessible and images in the movies, television and on video games make violence look easy for anybody, the teenagers who murder can spring out of nowhere.

Violent teenagers don't fit a "typical'' profile. They aren't the stereotypical toughs of "West Side Story'' or members of an inner city gang. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who has taught psychology at West Point and is regarded as an expert in what he calls the field of "killology,'' and Gloria DeGaetano, a former cop, blame entertainment that sanitizes and glamorizes violent death.

In their new book "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill,'' they note that Michael Carneal, 14, stole a handgun from a neighbor before he shot eight children in a prayer meeting in a school in Paducah, Ky. Michael was obsessed with movies in which young boys seek revenge, but before he stole the gun he had never shot anyone. His aim was excellent. He hit eight children with eight shots, striking the head or upper torso, killing three, and paralyzing one for life.

The average experienced, qualified marksman, according to the FBI, succeeds with less than one bullet in five. How was a child able to hit each human target? Easy. He had learned it on point-and-shoot video games, similar to the simulators used to teach police and soldiers marksmanship. He had practiced for hundreds of hours at arcades and at home, killing human figures that looked real and winning bonus points for head shots. It was fun and games.


10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate