Read an Excerpt
Violence Proof Your Kids Now
How to Recognize the 8 Warning Signs and What to Do about Them
By Erika V. Shearin Karres
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2000 Erika V. Shearin Karres
All rights reserved.
You Can Stop the Next School Shooting
The era of World War II was the most violent time known to modern man. More than 50 million people lost their lives during the war and the events that led up to it. Twenty million of them were deliberately and cold-bloodedly murdered by the Nazi regime. Six million of them were Jews who were especially targeted by Adolf Hitler and his henchmen.
Whoosh! Twenty million lives were extinguished like candles blown out. Like many other people, I often wonder how the world would be different today had they lived. Would cancer be history by now? Would a cure for AIDS have already been discovered? What other serious illnesses would have been eradicated forever? What immense genius, what kindness, what creativity have we lost? How many more Mother Teresas would we have had? How many more Einsteins? How many more Menuhins? How many more Nobel Peace Prize winners?
The fact is, we don't know how much greatness was killed. We also don't know how much good a world at peace could have produced. All we know is that death and slaughter were the norm for nearly a decade in Europe's heartland.
I was born in the belly of the beast of that war.
Indeed, the most violent war years were the years of my childhood. And after WWII was finally over, in 1945, came another decade and more of starvation and violence among the rubble and ruins for the surviving Germans, me included.
Major wars always have aftermaths of hardship and violence. It's as if the blood-soaked earth cries out for revenge; even those still living aren't spared. They too are marred by the killings forever. If you've watched violence wash over your country like a tidal wave and destroy it, and then watched it wash over your family, you too become violent. Or you become the victim of violence.
Or, in my case, you become an anti-violence expert.
I came to the United States at age twenty-one, started teaching in l967, and have been teaching ever since, first in a public junior high school, then in a high school, and finally at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. During the past thirty-three years I have taught tens of thousands of students, advised dozens of school clubs, sponsored innumerable school activities, worked with countless school committees, and held a myriad of student and parent conferences.
And in the evenings and on weekends, I took college courses on almost every aspect of education, researched burning education issues, and now hold a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the oldest state university in the country. At present I'm involved in teacher training, which gives me an even wider scope of influence because I get to teach young teachers. What a thrill!
But even more important: From the moment I first started teaching I have collected data on how kids can best reach their potential, and what stops them from achieving it. I know first-hand what works best with our kids and what our kids need so desperately.
These days, what kids need so desperately is to be safe, so that they can concentrate on their learning. So that they can reach their full potential. For that reason I have poured one-third of a century's worth of work into this book. We can, we must, violence proof our kids now!
The Wake-Up Call
The Columbine High School massacre woke up the nation to the magnitude of the problem. Until then, many people viewed school violence as a minor irritant, something that rated a headline or a special news bulletin for a short while.
However, the "Mass Killing in the Rockies" changed that. It sent shock waves around the nation and the world. I was one of those deeply shocked. As soon as I first heard about the tragedy, I felt enraged. How could this happen in this country? This wasn't Germany in the late 1930s! Those poor kids and their teacher killed, many others hurt or maimed for life, and thousands of other kids, innocent bystanders all, scarred forever.
That week, in my column for the Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina, I wrote:
You can stop the next school shooting.
One person. A teacher or a guidance counselor. Or a coach or a minister. A neighbor. Just one single human being.
That's all it would have taken to prevent last week's Colorado school shooting. Just one man or one woman. Just one single person. Just one.
So where were they? Why didn't anyone see the signs and do something? Because there were signs; there always are.
That's a question that has to be asked. After all, kids don't demand much. Their needs are few: food, clothes, and a roof over their heads. And several more things that cost nothing.
The first thing kids need is attention. They want to be recognized.
"Here I am, world," they scream when they're born. "See? I'm the latest and best human model. Just hot from the manufacturer. Am I not the greatest?"
We have to listen and hear them, look at them and recognize them.
Kids aren't objects to be picked up, admired for a few moments, then stored on a shelf for later. No, they demand attention now—and even more as they grow and become complicated.
So kids need and crave attention. And if they don't get enough in their early years, they'll get it later, one way or another.
Kids also need correction. They want to be shown how to live and do things right. How and what to learn. How to grow up. When they slouch, they want to be told to stand up, and when they mess up, they want to be taught to clean up. Whenever they stumble, they want to be instructed. And when they try something new and muddle it up, they want to be guided into doing it correctly.
Kids need protection, too. Oh, how they need it. Like a roof over their heads, they need to be shielded from bad influences. They need peaceful time to grow at their own rate and not be deterred by sordid interruptions from the outside. Yes, it takes time to discover what lies within, then mature and let one's talents flower.
Would you hire a baby-sitter who curses, drinks, smokes, takes drugs, packs a pistol, and has intimate relationships in your living room as your kids watch?
Of course not. You'd fire that crude criminal slimeball so fast his or her head would spin. Then why do you let TV be your child's sitter? Why let lurid, detrimental and violence-laden shows take over your job?
Parents have to set standards to protect their kids. The same is true for the Internet and video games, CDs and concerts.
We've thrown kids to the lions. And then we wonder. Yet there's no reason why guns and other weapons should rule this country. Guns must be locked up and be out of reach of kids. And gun-glorifying programs must be switched off. That's it. Kids cry out for protection. Let's not withhold it from them.
Kids also need a connection, a sturdy link to life, hope and happiness.
Building that connection is easy. Introduce them to church, sports, clubs and hobbies. Bond them to fun and joy. Let them face healthy challenges and meet them.
Ideally, making the connections is a job for a father or mother, but other adults can fill in. They can help kids tunnel or climb to something meaningful. They can open doors to interesting things. Train kids in a tiny skill that'll lead to a bigger skill. Give them values.
The more satisfying connections kids have, the more secure they'll be. That's why sports are so important and other activities done with an adult, be it talking or tutoring.
All that's left to provide is inclusion—for, most important of all, kids need to be included in someone's heart. It's great when it's their own parent but it doesn't have to be. It can be any human being. Our hearts are big. Surely we can make room for not only our own kids but for others as well.
But we must include our young people. Without inclusion into our dearest nooks and crannies, kids miss the most important ingredient of all—knowing that they matter and that they're loved. And when kids feel loved, truly feel loved, they don't become haters. They don't become shooters.
So, to prevent the next school shooting, all that's needed is one person. Just one. One man or one woman, related or not. A teacher, a coach, a bystander, anyone around.
Just one single soul who cares along the way.
That column elicited tremendous response and was used by schoolteachers all over the area. But what good is a one-time awakening? What good does a single call for action do if it's unheeded in the long run?
So I knew I had to do more. Maybe write a book? I wondered. One day as I was discussing possible chapters with friends at my health club, a crowd of other women, ages nineteen to ninety, gathered around. When I finished, one of them said, "This book can save our country."
So here it is. And whether you're worried about your own child, his or her friends, your students, the team you coach, the youth group you work with, your grandchildren, or your community, it can help you. But it'll do no good unless we apply its message. Just to be upset over the headlines does nothing. Think back to the 1930s and what happened in Europe. What good was a small outcry from a few German folks in 1938 when Kristallnacht happened, the night when boisterous young hoodlums and thugs smashed the windows of many stores owned by Jews? When all that broken glass showered sidewalks like broken crystal? When innocent people were killed by the dozens?
The small outcries from decent people were only a blip. But just think of the impact it would have had if all good Germans had united to prevent more such crimes. But out of fear or ignorance, they did nothing. Or because they were too busy with their work! So violence wasn't stopped, and evil took over.
If good people sit back, the bad will prevail. Every time, even now, especially now.
Let me tell you about two kids. You know them, don't you? We all do. They're Crystal and Kevin and live in Anytown, USA. They're your typical all-American kids, and they're good kids, really. No, great kids. When they were born their parents rejoiced, their grandparents beamed.
Oh, how cute they were! How round their little tummies! How fresh their little fannies smelled after their baths and a sprinkle of powder! You could just kiss them head to toe. Every time Mom and Dad looked at their babies, they knew why they had been born—to bring those little darlings into the world.
And those babies grew up beautifully. Their crooked fat little legs straightened; they toddled and got into trouble, but just the usual kind. They were bright-eyed, constantly in motion, always into new things. They gobbled up their Cheerios, slurped their milk, made faces at their pureed spinach. Soon they developed their own personalities. They looked ever more like you and me, like all of us really, as they grew. Oh, this was our chance to relive life.
Crystal and Kevin had so much fun, were so carefree, played all day long, babbled every new word they could, shot up by leaps and bounds.
Then they entered school, and it all stopped—all those wonderful carefree times. For in school they learned to fear, to mistrust, to hide, to cower. Where do I duck when the first gunshot comes? How will I get out when the building's blown up?
Those questions occupied Kevin and Crystal more than any books or toys. Those worries filled their minds, which should have been devoted to learning. They kept them from being as smart as they naturally were. They numbed and dumbed them! Their IQs stagnated.
How can you absorb new information when you have to be in fear of your life every day? When you can't trust the other kids in the hallway? In the cafeteria? When you have to dart across the school lobby fearing you might be sighted in the crosshairs of someone's gun at that very moment? When you are spending the biggest part of every day in a war zone?
For unfortunately, Crystal and Kevin were born in the school-violence era, a time that let school shootings mushroom.
But no more! By the time you reach the end of this book you will know how to stop the tragedy, how to fight back to restore peace and calm to Crystal's and Kevin's lives. You will become a crusader on their behalf, making sure that innocence isn't killed in this country. You can make certain our kids are not robbed of their carefree youth, that all the Kevins and Crystals in our nation will not be betrayed.
Because you know this: From nothing comes nothing. But getting involved will work wonders. So, let's all rise and act on our convictions. Only then will our schools be safe again. And safe schools mean a safe country, the safe country my mother envisioned as a place out of harm's way. In 1944 she fled Eastern Europe and carried me to the West and to safety even though it cost her her health. Completely worn out, she collapsed and died in 1945.
Eventually, with the encouragement of my broken father, I escaped to the United States—one place in the world where good is possible. So I know I have a responsibility. A mission!
But it takes all of us—parents, grandparents, neighbors, child care workers, teachers, coaches, church, synagogue, and community leaders. Everyone.
Fortunately, it's possible for all our kids to be guided in such a manner that they will not resort to violence. But we don't have a single moment to lose. Every day that passes brings with it the possibility of more school killings. So let's get going immediately. First, we must learn to recognize the signals that point to an inclination for violent behavior. Then we must commit to violence proofing our younger generation with the same passion and heroism our country exhibited in fighting World War II. We can win this war, too.
We can all work together for the safety of our most precious gift—our children. God has entrusted them to us for safekeeping. And the fact that you're reading this book means you can do what's required.
So let's get all our kids out of harm's way. Let's violence proof each and every one of them. Now!
A New Generation of Kids and Their Families
When teachers take surveys in classrooms today, they find that only 40 percent or fewer of their students live at home with both parents. In many cases, only 25 percent of the student body has a two-parent family. This drastic change in family dynamics has had major consequences for our young.
First of all, the job of raising kids, which used to require two adults, now falls on the shoulders of just one person, usually Mom. That alone wouldn't be so serious if Mom had the same amount of free time as mothers had in the past. But since most of those mothers now are also the main breadwinners—many fathers either are deadbeat dads who pay no child support or are late or stingy with their payments—mothers also have very little or almost no free time to devote to childrearing. And even in two-parent families, both parents usually need to work, and there is precious little time left for the children.
There's no world war going on now, thank heavens, but there's a war raging within our country: Our kids are up in arms. Our young target each other with guns at school with regularity. So our challenge now is to keep all our kids, our own and our brothers' and sisters', safe and to teach them right from wrong. Help them live good, productive lives. Keep them from turning to violence.
Jonesboro. Paducah. Littleton. What can we do so that tragedies like these never happen again?
We can do what it takes to make absolutely sure such tragedies won't slip up on us. To start, we must focus on our young and how their lives are different from ours were when we were growing up. For the truly astonishing aspect of being a parent or teacher now is that today's kids are a far cry from yesterday's kids. They may look the same and be identified by the same terms, but they're an entirely new species.
Kids of the past followed clearly identifiable patterns. They were
* first babies
* then children
* then preteens
* then teens, and
* then adults.
Today they're babies and children only until age seven, eight, or nine. And then? Then anything goes.
From the time kids are in elementary school, they are exposed to adult issues (like AIDS, smoking, drinking, drugs, and sex). This exposure hits them daily like a deadly avalanche in the form of TV programs, Internet access, print media, and their peer groups' wild ideas. Thus, where there formerly were borders between adulthood and childhood, and kids could grow at their own pace in the sheltered space of a stable family, now kids are flung to the winds like flotsam. No more are there segments of life that belong only to adults. Sure, a few of life's slices may still be labeled "adult," but many kids can get access to whatever adults enjoy now, with or without their parents' consent.
In fact, these days many adults blur the lines between what's suitable for grown-ups and for kids on purpose. "I don't want to shield my children from real life," those adults say. "So let's expose them to the utmost in sleaze, gory crime, and depravation." (They don't actually come out and say that, but that's the end result!)
Excerpted from Violence Proof Your Kids Now by Erika V. Shearin Karres. Copyright © 2000 Erika V. Shearin Karres. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.