Monday, May 16, 2005
Evil Kids? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
'Evil Kids' by Lauren GardinerA bizarre and disturbing news story from Aptakisic Junior High in Buffalo Grove, IL, with many more questions that answers:
A junior high school student is in police custody, accused of stabbing a classmate right in front of other students. ... Buffalo Grove police say the [12 year old] girl brought a kitchen knife to the junior high school. The knife was in a box with a ribbon around it to make it appear it was a gift.

Shortly before French class at 7:30 a.m., the girl stabbed the boy in the back as he sat at a computer.

"The information that we have so far does indicate it was a premeditated act, that preparations did begin last night that resulted in the box containing the knife being brought to the school," Cmdr. Mike Soucy with the Buffalo Grove Police Department. Students at the school were shocked by the incident. "It sort of scares a lot of people that somebody would really do that because everybody is really friends in this school," Silver said.

Gordy Gurson knows both students. "I think they’re both really nice," the seventh-grader said. He said the young attacker stood out because she dressed in black and once colored her hair green. He said his friend was next to the victim. "Once he saw the knife in his back, he pulled it out right away," Gordy said.

Crisis counselors were called to the school Friday. "In the school there was like a lot of people who were scared during class. There were people saying they were afraid to go in the hallway. And a lot of people were just like not focused on their work," said one 12-year-old student. The victim was taken to Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. He is listed in stable condition. His parents tell police that he will be OK. [more on CBS2.com Chicago]
As they say, "weird sh_t happens," but scattered occurrences like these add to the atmosphere of distrust and malaise in our nation's schools. Random acts of youth violence are what spurred what is sometimes called the "devil-child" media trend of the 1970's and 1980's [visible in the popularity of novels and films like Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen and Carrie, all the way up to what is often considered the last movie of that genre, Stephen King's The Children of the Corn] all reflecting the public's underlying fear of not-just-out-of-control-but-evil youngsters in the aftermath of shocking media-blockbuster crimes like the 1969 Manson Family murders. In reality, the individuals involved in the Tate-LoBianco killings were for all intents and purposes adults, but somehow the convicted were seen as emotional children in the thrall of Family "father" Charles Manson, and came to symbolize "evil youth" of all age groups.

Every era has had its notorious child crimes (e.g., the dreadful killing of UK toddler Jamie Bulger by a pair of 10-year boys - not to mention Columbine and its sequelae), but I think today's intensive media coverage gives the impression there's a lot more of it than there actually is. I'm not so sure today's kids really scarier than they were a generation or two ago, even though kids on both ends of the behavior spectrum get more "face time" than in the past.

However, one caveat: I think media coverage may not simply be a "magnifying glass," but an end in itself. One eerie thing about today's "kid crime" is that a lot of it, like the Columbine shootings, seemed tailor-made to generate the biggest media impression possible. In other words, the crimes aren't just a result of violent urges, but instead become acts of self-destructive self-expression. While underage criminals undoubtedly existed before television and the Internet, the public's rabid fascination with today's "devil children" guarantees a ready audience for these events as they occur - and unless they've had a complete break from reality, the kids perpetrating these crimes know it, too. [See an article called "Should Terrorism Be Reported in the News?" by Bruce Schneier, previously noted in farkleberries Links du Jour 88]

Like the spectre of terrorism, the real risk of "kid crime" has become distorted through the lens of popular media. Bruce Schneier writes,
Modern mass media, specifically movies and TV news, has degraded our sense of natural risk. We learn about risks, or we think we are learning, not by directly experiencing the world around us and by seeing what happens to others, but increasingly by getting our view of things through the distorted lens of the media. Our experience is distilled for us, and it’s a skewed sample that plays havoc with our perceptions. Kids try stunts they’ve seen performed by professional stuntmen on TV, never recognizing the precautions the pros take. The five o’clock news doesn’t truly reflect the world we live in -- only a very few small and special parts of it.

Slices of life with immediate visual impact get magnified; those with no visual component, or that can’t be immediately and viscerally comprehended, get downplayed. Rarities and anomalies, like terrorism, are endlessly discussed and debated, while common risks like heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, and suicide are minimized.

The global reach of today’s news further exacerbates this problem. If a child is kidnapped in Salt Lake City during the summer, mothers all over the country suddenly worry about the risk to their children. If there are a few shark attacks in Florida -- and a graphic movie -- suddenly every swimmer is worried. (More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good we are at evaluating risk.) [read full article]
What's troubling is that these scattered highly visible incidents of child crime lead to a vicious cycle of generalized mistrust of the young, which in turn engenders more internal rage and alienation on the part of kids. Where do we break the cycle?

[Image above is a print called "Evil Kids" by artist Lauren Gardiner; you can check out the portfolio on Tight Sweater Press]