Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#33, April 23, 1999


by Marylaine Block

The news from Littleton was shattering, so it was not surprising that the national media immediately picked up and moved to Colorado. It IS an important story when kids kill other kids.

But it's also a story that raises the ratings, so the networks were working it for all it was worth and more. NBC not only devoted nearly its entire news broadcast to it, but two hours on Dateline and still more on its MSNBC channel; ABC devoted its newscast and an entire episode of 20/20 to it.

The excuse for this is always that they want to learn lessons from such events, find out how and why kids would do such a thing so that maybe we can prevent it from ever happening again. It does not seem to occur to these broadcasters that they are giving young killers more attention than they could ever hope to have garnered by legitimate triumphs, and giving ideas to still more of the aggrieved and angry young.

The "lessons" the newscasters are drawing are not, it seems to me, particularly useful. They say, "it can happen anyplace," which is true. But it's still extraordinarily unlikely to happen in any one particular place. Should schools divert already scarce dollars for teachers and books to pay for metal detectors to guard against extremely unlikely events?

The news anchors tell us to pay attention to warning signs. But a lot of the signs they point to are present in perfectly normal rebellious teens who do NOT go on murderous rampages. Are we to treat all sullen teenagers as suspect?

I see a more useful lesson to be gained from Columbine, that kids and teachers and principals alike could learn from. I start by asking how and why kids can build up so much anger and hatred.

What we have found about most young killers is that they were social outcasts. Many were mocked and abused and even beaten, day after day after day.

But surely, you think, the teachers and principals will intervene, punish the bullies? Fuhgeddaboutit. What the grownups do, way too often, is simply arrange not to notice. And if the bullying is done right in front of their faces so that they can't ignore it, often enough they don't punish the bullies; they merely arrange counseling for the victims, or punish the victims if they dare to fight back.

What do you think hapens to kids who know every morning when they wake up that they have no choice but to go to school for yet another round of punishment, and that nobody is ever going to stand up for them?

Remember, kids can't think in the long term, because all they've ever known is the short-term, day to day reality that seems to stretch out before them into infinity. Based on their experience, they have no reason to believe the torture will ever stop. It's enough to make kids desperate. And what can they do about it?

They've got three choices, really. They can simply give up. Seeing no hope that things will ever get better, they can kill themselves. A lot of kids have done exactly that, leaving behind sad little notes asking, "why did they hate me so much?"

Or they can agree that the bullies are right, that they are indeed hopeless losers, ugly fat little toads who don't deserve better treatment. That's a recipe for lifelong depression.

Or they can get angry. Deeply, passionately angry. They can resent the bullies, resent the injustice, resent the kids and adults who stand on the sidelines and do nothing. They can conclude that hatred is a pure and pleasurable emotion, and that revenge is sweet.

So if the media wants a lesson from this catastrophe, try this: parents and teachers and principals, when you see kids picking on other kids, stop them. Tell them that this is cruel, and that civilized society will not tolerate cruelty or its perpetrators. Teach children to respect each other's differences and learn from them.

Kids, take this lesson: you are not entirely innocent victims. You may not have deserved - NOBODY deserved - what school shooters do. But ask yourselves if you have been a part of what made them crazy.

You may not have taunted them yourself, tripped thenm on the stairs, pushed them into lockers. But did you stand by while other kids did it and make no protest? Have you giggled at the viciously funny jokes popular kids made about the outcasts?

The herd instinct is strong in children, and going against the group to defend the victim means putting yourself at risk. That's why grownups MUST do the right thing and demand that children do so as well. Adults must punish and counsel the bullies, not the victims. Not just for the sake of the victims but the bullies as well, because if nobody stops them ever, they will become monsters. And no child truly wishes to become a monster.

Most of all, grownups must step in to give the victims comfort and hope that there is a place for them in this world. It's a chance that every child deserves, and they know it - who other than children has such a gut deep sense of "THAT'S NOT FAIR"? If grownups do not help, if we allow "not fair" to leave the bullies' victims without hope, we are complicit in the suicides and murders committed by children.

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