I’ve found myself thinking the most dreaded of all thoughts more and more recently.
I don’t understand kids today.
My problem with that is that I’m still in my twenties, and would like to think I’m not too far removed from “kid” myself. As I careen toward 30, however, there are some undeniable signs that I’m a (eek!) grownup. Not the least of which is the fact that I almost never hear about anything someone under the age of 18 does without wondering “what the hell were they thinking?”
Check you news headlines from recent weeks. Local or national. Let me give you a preview. You’ll find at least one murder by a high school student. The sad truth is the ultra grim reality of the terrorist attacks in September may be the only reason we haven’t had every-other month school shootings that were going on ever sense Columbine. And even those are starting up again.
The question remains, though. Are the youth today really any different than they were 50 years ago? The answer is no. Has society changed? Of course. It does all the time. Has technology changed how we act? Look it up on your PDA and tell me. But has youth changed? Fundamentally, no. As a collective, they’re still doing what they’ve always done, which is as much as they can get away with. So why are we seeing the shocking amount of violence and aggression from kids these days? Simple. We let them. How do we fix it? Not so simple, but here’s my idea…
A lot of it starts with sex. I’m not going to bother getting into a discussion of the scientific link between sex and aggression in humans, because I think we’ve all heard it before. Instead, we’re going to make a quick trip to Africa to look at some wildlife reserves. Now, you may be nervously asking why I’m dragging you to a wildlife reserve to discuss sex, so let me give you a little background.
Various countries and entities in Africa have set up a number of wildlife reserves to try and repopulate the myriad of endangered species there. Of these are included the White Rhino and the African Elephant. The initial populations of most of the species in the park are adult specimens of breeding age, as was the case with the rhinos. The logistics of catching a bunch of adult African Elephants, however, proved daunting, so they tried to stock the reserves by catching young elephants. The idea was that they would simply wait until they grew up, and let nature take its course.
Like so many other things man messes with, when nature followed the course set out for it by human controls, something went awry. Shortly after many of the male elephants reached adolescence, rhinos started turning up dead. The injuries on the rhinos were unmistakable. Over-aggressive male elephants were attacking the rhinos. Presently, the going theory on why occurs is why I’m on the bizarre little tangent. In the wild, only the more mature male elephants actually have breeding rights. The younger elephants must wait until they are older. Trying this theory out, the park finally decided logistics or no, to capture and bring into the parks older, fully mature male elephants to see if they kept the younger males in check.
To date, it’s only a theory, only for elephants and the results, while encouraging, don’t prove anything scientifically yet. But, I think you see where I’m going with this. Ask a high school boy you’d consider over aggressive how many times he’s had sex. Cut it in half, and it’s probably close to accurate. Now hop in the way-back machine, go back 75 years, go to the same school, and find the class bully there, and ask him the same question. His answer might be similar, but there’s 2 major differences between his lie and the one from today. First, he’s probably lying more (either inflating the number a lot more, or making it up all together). Secondly, though, the bully from 75 years ago is probably a lot less aggressive than the bullies today, both in the severity and frequency of their aggression. If you need proof of this, go have a discussion about it with your younger cousin still in junior high. Then go ask your grandfather about his school bully.
So what do can we do about it? We can’t really, nor do I think we should start making laws prohibiting all sexual activities for minors. Stop and think, would a law have stopped you prom night? No, government law in something like this would create more problems than it solves. The solution, basically, is to be stricter as parents, teachers and bystanders. Of course, nothing is ever that simple…
As I said a while back, kids do what they do because they can. Sex is a big part of it, but society as a whole has a bigger problem on its hand. Here’s an exercise to prove my point. Go to the mall sometime, and wait for some rowdy adolescent teens to pass by. You probably won’t have to wait long. Now, say something to them along the lines of “Cut that out!”, or “Behave yourselves!” You already know what will happen. If you aren’t completely ignored, you’ll get a comment from one of them akin to “Who are you and where do you get off telling me anything?”
Better yet, try it with groups who have a parent with them. It’s the parent who give you that old “You have no right to yell at my children” speech. We all have or have heard stories like it. My favorite is the 4 year old in the restaurant who started throwing french fries at a friend of mine. Her initial reaction was, as would be for most people, not to yell at the child, but to ask the parent to make the child stop throwing food at them. The parent’s response was a quick and mindless, “Sweetiestopthat.” Sweetie had no interest in stopping, and was rather put off at my friend’s efforts to make him. The lad then added ketchup to the fries before resuming the shelling. A big red splotch on my friend’s favorite (and relatively expensive) college sweatshirt was more than she could bear, and she turned around and told the child, in a somewhat harsh tone to “cut it out”. After a brief, but animated conversation with the mother about having the nerve to yell at her child, the management got involved and it was my friend, not the mother with the ketchup lobbing child that was asked to leave the restaurant. By itself, it’s kind of humorous. The problem is you have a story just as ludicrous, I’m sure. So does everyone.
It doesn’t get any better elsewhere. Schools are sued for punishing children. How much sense does this one make? I consider myself fairly liberal-minded, but when teachers are afraid to verbally reprimand children in class for fear of lawsuits claiming emotional abuse, it’s not surprising that the kids do what they do. What they’ve always done. Push to see how much they can get away with before something snaps.
The simple fact is kids rebel. It’s part of learning to be an adult. We aren’t giving them enough to rebel against. James Dean’s “Rebel Without A Cause” is an aspiring Harvard student in today’s world. The only thing left to rebel against is the law itself. And guess what? They do.
So what do we do? Personally, when I have a child, I’m going to meet with every one of his or her teachers and tell them point blank that I want them to give my kid a detention for every transgression. I’m going to thank every stranger that says something to them for being rude. I’m going to impose unreasonable curfews and punish them when I catch them. I’m going to talk to them in depth about sex, drugs, and violent music, not to educate them about the topics, but to ruin their appeal (Seriously, picture it. “Now, Son, Eminem is singing about killing his wife. You know that’s wrong, right? Maybe we better listen to this together and discuss it. Hey! This is actually a pretty cool song. Can I borrow this?” They’d never listen to it again.).
I won’t catch them every time. They’ll sneak in after curfew. They’ll try a joint. My daughter will lose her virginity to someone I can’t stand, and told her not to see. My son will have a stack of porno mags I won’t know about. They’ll go off to college thinking “God am I glad to be out from under his thumb.” I’m prepared for all this. (or at least I tell myself I am). That’s youth. Rebelling and getting away with it sometimes. The point is, you start reaching adulthood when you realize the risk of getting caught or hurting yourself or someone else isn’t worth payoff if you get away with it.
Now I just need to get all the parents in the world to agree with me.
5.9.02 @ 4:06p
The problem, I think, is that young elephants play too many violent video games.
5.9.02 @ 4:19p
The herd is listening to too much Eminem.
5.9.02 @ 5:14p
that, and the violence in elephant oriented television.
5.9.02 @ 5:14p
No, it's NYPD Blue.
5.9.02 @ 5:20p
NYPD Blue is elephant oriented? I always pictured Rickey Schroder as being big with the giraffes
5.10.02 @ 11:01a
It's that trunkless scene they did, first season. Remember that? I agree, though, Rickey Schroder is much more giraffish.
5.10.02 @ 11:40a
Actually, to get serious for a moment - I always assumed that the Apha-male bullies were the ones that got more sex, not that the sex was what made them Alpha-male bullies.
5.10.02 @ 11:54a
It's a real 'chicken or the egg' question, isn't it? What we really need is an Alpha-male bully to weigh in on this and let us know which came first.
5.10.02 @ 1:08p
do we know any of those? but i think what happens is that a teenage boy who's "getting some" just doesn't bother controling his impulses, because he doesn't need to to get what he wants.
5.10.02 @ 1:25p
I don't know. I had A LOT of sex during high school. I also got beat up on a regular basis. Who knows, maybe I just didn't do something right, but if I wasn't getting beat up, I'm not sure I'd have wanted to do the beating up, either.
5.10.02 @ 1:39p
well, there's a lot of factors. Sex is just a quick example. You could be having 3 or 4 women a night, but if your parents keep you in line all the rest of the time, then obvioulsy you don't turn into a jerk. But also, perhapse you were getting a lot of sex because you weren't beating anybody up. If beating someone up was the only way to get any, i'd say we'd all have delivered (and recieved) our fair share of poundings.
5.13.02 @ 11:15a
I neither gave nor received any beatings during high school. But then I didn't have a lot of sex in high school, either. Maybe there's a connection.
But, no, what I was saying in regards to Trevor's original theory was that it makes more sense to me that the agressive kids in high school got more women than the meek ones. It might follow that that agression also came out in physical confrontation. But I don't see how having more sex would make a kid more physically agressive. I just think that high school girls respond more to that element of danger (unlike grow-up women, right?); it's not the sex that makes these kids more agressive, it's the agressiveness that leads to more sex.
5.13.02 @ 3:01p
kinda a chicken-and-the-egg type of thing. Is aggressiveness in teens rewarded, and thus re-enforced with sex, or does the sex somehow cause the agressiveness by messing with brain chemistry or the teen psyche? discuss.
5.13.02 @ 3:19p
Maybe it's not that one causes the other, but that they're both caused by the same thing. Testosterone seems a likely culprit.
5.13.02 @ 3:43p
I'm voting for Darwinism. It's in our genes. Survival of the fittest, and all that. You want to get the girl, so you gore your enemies to death with your tusks, then you no longer have competition. Therefore you get to have sex because you're the strongest. Just because we're 'civilized' doesn't mean that we don't innately respond to the same stimuli.
(Just wanted to bring elephants back into this.)
5.13.02 @ 4:33p
Of course. It's all about the elephants.
I agree. I don't think necessarily that just having sex is enough to turn someone who isn't already predisposed to "bullying" into an agressive person.
5.13.02 @ 5:01p
Maybe they are predisposed, maybe not. But the fact is, and this is whole point I was trying to make, the one doing this don't really know that what they're doing is wrong. The punishments end up being much less harsh than the crime, and if they get to have sex, either becuse of it, or not, they never really learn not to just pound anybody who bothers them.
5.13.02 @ 5:01p
It seems like sex would lead to anti-aggressive behavior. I know after I have sex, all I want to do is sleep...
5.13.02 @ 5:03p
Sure, if you get it all the time whenever you want it, that would work great. We'd never get anything done, but i wouldn't compain.