When the sky turns dark during the day, it signals a coming storm. But what would be the signs of a deteriorating culture? Strangling inflation? An erosion of military power and influence? Corruption that is largely ignored? Rampant materialism springing from self-indulgence and an unwillingness to consider anyone or anything more important than one's own comfort and desires?
How about children shooting each other in school? Would that get our attention? If it did, would we go beyond the usual proposals of more gun laws to the heart of the matter and do something about it?
The latest horror occurred not in the "gun-culture South" but in Springfield, Ore. Fifteen-year-old Kipland Kinkel is charged with murdering two fellow students and wounding more than 20 others in a rampage that might have been prevented had someone taken seriously his repeated violent threats and behavior. He is also a suspect in the killing of his parents.
Gun-control advocates immediately jumped to their usual conclusions, but new laws would not keep people who are breaking current laws from their evil intentions. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber came closest to offering an explanation for this tragedy and similar shootings in other states: "I think we need to ask ourselves: What kind of despair drives children to this kind of violence? What kind of lack of hope or sense of abandonment ... drives them to make this kind of terrible choice?"
Gov. Kitzhaber added, "It has been a priority to primarily build prison cells to house people after crimes have been committed. This society owes it to itself to make a commitment to prevention at least as serious as its commitment to punishment."
For such commitments to be made, adults will have to make different choices. Children are rebelling against the inattention and conditional love they are receiving. Parents have fooled themselves into believing that two careers are providing for a child's "needs," when a child's greatest need cannot be bought with money or material comfort. Too many parents are divorcing. (Young Mr. Kinkel did come from an intact home; other factors may have contributed to his murderous rampage.) Did we really think that "no fault" divorce would bring no consequences to kids who take their parents' rejection personally? Children are not stupid. They have gotten the message that they are unloved, and they are fighting back, with guns and other forms of violence.
The Los Angeles Times has published a series of stories on Dependency Court where parents who don't deserve the title do battle with the courts over custody of their abused and neglected children. Reporter Tracy Weber writes, "There's a picture (in a court folder), a Polaroid of a blond, 2-year-old girl staring at the camera. Both eyes are black. Fist-shaped bruises and scratches cover all but a half-dollar-sized section of her tiny body. A two-inch patch of her hair is missing." No child can fail to be influenced by such treatment.
Too many children think they are unwanted and unloved, that they disturb our comfort, rob us of pleasure and cost us money, which we regretfully spend on them. If they are not aborted, they are day-cared, or left home alone for long periods. Even when some parents are home, they have little time for their children, and when the child cries out for help, as many do in different ways, the help often never arrives.
Parents are going to have to make some tough decisions about their lives and lifestyles if we want to reclaim our children. When possible, one parent should stay at home with young children. Parents should have control over where their children are educated, so school choice should be a priority. Political leadership should start talking about a return to virtue, giving parents permission to do what they know, deep in their hearts, is right. The major media should stop producing violent and sexually immoral films and recordings that darken young souls.
Our economy may be doing well, but we are a sick people. When kids take up guns and start shooting and killing other kids, it doesn't get any worse. The leading economic indicators continue to rise, but the moral, cultural, and social indicators are in a deep depression.
© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate