Why Teenagers Turn to Violence

By Dr. Bruce Narramore, Ph.D.

Most readers will recall the day when "School Massacre" and "Day of Terror" screamed in newspaper headlines reporting the carnage in Littleton, Colorado. It was the day two armed teenagers killed twelve fellow students, a teacher, and themselves, and wounded twenty-three other students. This followed six other murderous school shootings in less than two years.

In the light of such tragedies we cannot help but ask, "What would cause a child or teenager to ruthlessly murder his schoolmates, teachers, parents, and others?"

The answers are as different as the ones involved, but there are several common characteristics of those who commit these murderous acts.

1. These are angry adolescents. Children and teenagers who kill have been living with rage for years. Sometimes it is obvious but sometimes it isn’t. They have lived with violent fantasies, books, television programs, and movies, but their outward behavior has shown few signs of their deep rage. Beneath their quiet exterior an angry emotional battle has long been raging. When they become old enough and strong enough to carry out their vengeful fantasies, they do it.

2. These are alienated adolescents. The rage these teenagers harbor reveals an almost universal feeling among children who murder. They feel cut off socially and emotionally. Their painful feelings of alienation and rejection are usually the cause of their intense hatred.

At the core, they have a deep
inability to love or connect
emotionally in any meaningful
way with another human being.

3. These are deeply troubled, tragic teenagers. Anyone who kills is a troubled person. At the core, they have a deep inability to love or connect emotionally in any meaningful way with another human being. They neither feel loved, nor are they able to love. They have a severe lack of guilt or remorse, and a tendency toward impulsive or uncontrolled actions.

4. Many violent teenagers are seeking to feel powerful, important, admired, or big. They have vivid fantasy lives and dream of proving how powerful and potent they can be. Since they feel so alienated, unloved, and different, they try to silence their distressing feelings by turning to illusions of power and importance. Sadly they turn to the pseudo–power of violence.

5. Some acting-out teenagers are suffering from neurological problems or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. While such physiologically-based problems do not excuse hateful, destructive acts, their physical difficulties can help us understand why some teenagers act the way the do. The combination of feeling negatively about themselves, being angry, and being impulsive, increases the likelihood that they will engage in various kinds of antisocial activities.

6. Adolescents who turn to violence are also spiritually confused or lost. Most have no real relationship with God at all. Lacking any spiritual purpose and direction, they attempt to create meaning in life by building their own view of how the world should be. They decide who the bad people are. And who the good people are–the underdogs or inferior feeling people like themselves. And then they decide to even the score.

Continued on Page Two


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