In recent weeks there have been a host of noteworthy arrests of juveniles who committed crimes out of bordom including the beating of a 88 year old veteran who was murdered. How can this happen? In past generations, when teenage children were bored they play baseball, listened to music, or rode thier bikes. Some believe adolescents are not equipped to deal with bordom and cannot tolerate having nothing to do. Some say this is linked to a need for “instant gratification” and hunger for stimulation triggered by computer video games. That is the subject of on-going debate. People ask “where are the parents of these children?”
In Spokane, WA police have charged two 16-year old boys with first degree murder for the killing of Delbert Belton, a WW-II veteran. People have said “there is nothing to do around here in the summer” according to an NBC News report. The Spokane police chief has called for youth programs to help mentor adolescents and provide appropriate role models. The uncle of Kenan Adams-Kinard, 16, believed his nephew had fallen in with the wrong crowd and now needed to be responsible for his actions. Adams-Kenard is charged as an adult with murder. In Fort Worth, TX, a 13-year old boy was arrested in June for murdering a 5-year old boy who was found bludgeoned to death. And in Logan, Iowa, a 17 year old boy living in foster care is alleged to have murdered a 5-year old with whom he lived. That child was found in a nearby ravine. The motives in each of these cases are not readily apparent.
Michael Sefton, Ph.D., author of The Evil that Kid’s Do suggests that a greater partnership between parents and the community is needed to provide for the emotional needs of teens. “Gangs and childhood violence result from a dearth of emotional resources and connection to others often compounded by exposure to domestic violence and child abuse” according to Sefton. Families need greater support than ever but many are living in the fringes. In The Evil that Kid’s Do, Dr. Sefton identified mentors, treatment for drug dependence, gang intervention, community religion, and keeping guns away from teenagers as possible action for keeping adolescents from becoming bored, angry, and marginalized. It is true that children who are bored often become frustrated and look for things to do. But healthy children fill in those blanks with prosocial activity – while angry, marginalized kid’s choose activity based upon underlying drives, tolerance and attachment.
As a police officer we are asked to come to juvenile court to present evidence and testimony in cases we bring forth. Some are cases of intact families with good support and others may be single parent families and still others are foster families. Would it surprise you if I said any of these family systems might have perfectly delightful children uninvolved in crime or delinquent behavior. We see so many of these kinds of families. In the same way, any of these family systems may produce a dangerous felon or drug dependent addict. It takes more than an intact family to raise self-confident, curious children who attend school with an appetite for learning. It takes a parental dyad that sets appropriate limits and model empathy, kindness, and social skills. Children need to learn what is right and wrong and what behavior will be accepted as they develop. All human beings make mistakes and should be taught how to succeed and shown forgiveness.