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thoughts on the mental illness that led to the NIU shooting


Over the past week, I've been thinking about the shootings at Northern Illinois University on Valentine's Day. There were 5 different shootings at schools in the nation last week. A different one happened here in California in a city by me. In that shooting, a 14 year-old boy killed a 15 year-old male classmate who had recently started wearing girl's clothing and makeup, and saying that he was identifying himself as gay.

That school had metal detectors. The metal detectors didn't help though because the shooting took place in front of the school before the students had to enter the building.

Is there a failsafe? I read someone comment that if students at NIU were allowed to carry guns (with a license), they could have taken out the shooter. But there's a good chance that the teacher would already be dead before the shooter would be killed or injured. Should be content with limiting the amount of casualties in a situation like that.

Mostly, I've been wondering what made the guy decide to open fire into a university lecture hall. I understand that some people are depressed. Some people are angry.  But how did he get to that point? If he had stayed on his meds, would that have prevented this? Fifty years ago, he probably would have been locked up, against his will, in a mental institution. That 'solution' was often abused, and for many reasons, is no longer considered acceptable.

I keep coming to the conclusion that there weren't just chemical imbalances with the guy that were the problem - society in general and possibly his family possibly failed. He was on medication once, but something within him decided not to try to find a regimen that worked for him - he simply stopped medicating. Anyone who's ever been on an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety med knows that quitting cold turkey may be a worse hell than never taking the medicine to begin with. All of the original symptoms are so much worse. So why did he decide to do that then? Did he not have an adequate support system of friends and family around him?

As far behind as the United States is becoming in education, there is still a lot of pressure placed on the youth in our country. When I was in my early 20s, I was a nanny for a summer for two young boys. One of them was trying to get into Harvard Westlake, one of THE premier private high schools in Los Angeles. The year after I nannied for the boys, the older one was denied acceptance to Harvard Westlake, and subsequently committed suicide.

I constantly run across parents who seem to be either too hard or much too soft on their children. Last week, at gymnastics, one of the team dads was yelling at his 9 year-old daughter because she couldn't get what he deemed to be an easy skill. He screamed "Your ruining our lives. You're not even trying, and we've done everything for you." She was sobbing uncontrollably. I wanted to butt in, to get in the dad's face and tell him that telling a 9 year-old that she's ruining your life isn't acceptable. Telling her that you don't see that she's trying very hard and you're upset because you had to take on a second job to pay for her private coaches is one thing, but that dad totally crossed the line.

Then there's another trend I see a lot: telling your child that they're doing great, even if you don't see that they're trying their hardest. New York Magazine had an article recently that discussed ways to encourage your child without pressuring them. It talked a lot about how praising their efforts even more than the end result produced better, more confident children. Example: a B-student who was praised for the effort they made in studying was more likely to try to get ahead in life than a straight-A student who was praised for getting good grades.

I also stumbled across another NY Magazine article examining why children lie.  It brought up the idea that children are socialized into telling white lies in order to make for a more polite society. When they receive a present that isn't what they hoped for, they are taught to act like they love it. I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you're OK with white lies in order to not hurt someone's feelings. However, the article suggested that if a child is a habitual liar by age 7, telling lies in order to avoid getting in trouble for things, that the child will most likely lie throughout their life. I don't think the article is very far off. The scary thing is that my daughter turns 7 in March. I don't think she lies to me very often at all. She'll often try to not tell me something, but when confronted, she'll start crying and tell the truth. But it does make me wonder, what other things have already been ingrained into her personality?  Things which I won't be able to help nurture, because it is now "too late"?  She gets frustrated easily, and wants to quit things which don't come naturally to her. Will she be able to work through that, and other than constantly encouraging her to try her hardest, is there anything different I should be doing?

Being a parent is a very scary thing. I send my daughter to school every day and in the back of my mind wonder if she's safe. I wonder if she's being "correctly socialized", and I wonder if I'm properly encouraging her to do her best in school, in activities, and in social settings. I'm just kind of airing thoughts here.

-February 21, 2008

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