I recently talked with professionals who worked with the families and friends of Columbine victims last year. It is revealing that even trained professionals, after all this time, can't really explain why these things happen.
|As teens, you are the experts on the world in which you live; adults can only guess.... What do you think might have prevented these tragedies?
I believe one vital missing ingredient in our consideration of these tragedies is the testimony of the real experts--the teens of America. I believe that most kids today are decent, law-abiding citizens. You are part of America, but your words are not given the same weight as those of the adult world. And that's wrong. When the subject is what's happening in the teen world, I think that it's time that we heard what you have to say.
As teens, you are the experts on the world in which you live; adults can only guess. Are you worried about the violence in America? Do you think that there are too many guns? Do you think there is too much violence on television? Do you think that parents ought to take a stronger hand in the guidance of their children? Are you satisfied with the education that you are receiving, or do you think that you are being shortchanged? Have you ever been bullied in school by the "popular kids," as the Columbine killers complained they were? While it is impossible ever to know another person's thoughts, do you think that those young killers may have had reason to be angry (though not to kill)? Have you ever been very angry with others, and found a healthy, nondestructive way to deal with it? What do you think might have prevented these tragedies?
I would like to hear what you believe could account for these tragedies, and what you believe can be done to save your fellow teens from further examples of such madness. Your words could help us understand and contribute to the healing of America.
Beyond the search for answers, there is also the search for a way to give expression and meaning to our sorrow over Columbine. Even though most of you do not live in Littleton, Colorado, or any of the other places where shootings have occurred, the deaths of your fellow teens undoubtedly have had a powerful effect on you. Like many other young Americans, you may have felt that those deaths in the Columbine cafeteria were awfully close to home. And you may yet be looking for ways to express your sadness and grief.
Let me suggest that, in addition to telling us what you think went wrong, you could show by example what is right with the teenage world. I know and work with many teens who give a few hours each week to community service. You could do the same, dedicating your efforts to those who died. This might be helping in a center for the homeless or making up food packages for those in need. There is never a shortage of opportunities to be of service to others--or to channel your grief.
Or you might decide to tackle the issue more directly. You could establish a listserv of teens concerned about reducing violence. Or create a living memorial to the memory of these victims of teen violence--not a block of engraved stone or a statue, but a pledge signed by teens coast-to-coast to reject violence, hatred, and bigotry in their everyday lives. You could use Beliefnet as your vehicle--by putting a non-violence pledge up on one of the site's memorial pages--or spread the word any way that you want. You could even create a website of your own to tell your story and collect your signatures, similar to annscampaign.org, a site created by the parents of a slain young woman from my area. Whatever you do, taking positive action is a good way to help heal the wounds left by these puzzling tragedies.
Helen Fitzgerald's column focuses on the grief of children & teens. If you have a question you'd like to see Helen address in future columns, please send an email to email@example.com and be sure to include "Helen Fitzgerald" in the subject line.
Helen Fitzgerald is a nationally respected educator, author, and lecturer on bereavement. Her books include 'The Grieving Child: A Parents' Guide', and 'The Mourning Handbook.'