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Ventura County Perspective

. . . While Mom and Dad Get Lost in Their Own Stressed-Out Worlds

April 01, 2001|CHRIS MILLER | Chris Miller is a graphic artist who lives in Simi Valley

On March 22, a teenager returned to his high school campus and wounded five teachers and students, less than three weeks after and six miles away from where another youth killed two and wounded 13 at his school. All day long, I heard people discussing their hypotheses about what had created this disaster.

I kept hearing things like "Why are these kids so frustrated?" and "These children are certainly not as content, fulfilled and well adjusted as mine" along with the constant echo "What went wrong?"

Although it's easy to speculate about the home life of any child who turns to violence, none of us really knows. We can only imagine the motivations in the context of our own experience. But as I reflect on ways our society has changed in the past generation, I think I see some clues.

I'm a baby boomer. I grew up in the 1950s and '60s. My peers and I preached love and peace. We got high and protested the establishment that was shipping us off to war. And then, somewhere along the way, we closed our eyes for a moment and became the establishment. We said we weren't the same as our predecessors (our parents). We weren't going to make the same mistakes.

So we mindlessly engineered our own mistakes. What followed was "the one who dies with the most toys wins." We leased cars so we could drive machines that we couldn't afford to buy. Our houses became so large that we considered closing off rooms to make cleaning less of a chore. One- or two-car garages became three- and four-car garages. Neighbors went from being friends to being strangers, from strangers to enemies. We moved into gated communities with others of similar socioeconomic status, still strangers and still separate.

All this time we felt we were smarter, better than our parents who made so many mistakes. We created a world in which to be anyone at all, you needed to have all those toys--the cars, the boat and the big house in the right location, location, location. Both parents had to work. And to be really cool, each needed not just an occupation but a career to be totally fulfilled.

As we got older with both careers screaming down the fast track, not necessarily in the same direction, pressures and stress swelled up inside and out.

We found that when both parents were together, sex--not lovemaking, because we live in a society of sexual performance--was not so easily achievable under this stress. So we reverted to what we knew: a pill. We can again feel young, vital and strong--until the drug wears off.

All this time I've been discussing us, the big me, what we want, what we need--what our parents did to us. But somewhere inside this story are the children, our children. Whether they are the ones who shoot or the ones who die, they're all our children.

We cannot separate ourselves and our responsibilities from them any longer. We can no longer search to find a difference between ourselves and the parents of children who kill. We are all responsible.

Together we need to become involved in each other's lives, in teaching ourselves and our children how to deal with life's disappointments, rejections and problems in a nonviolent way. We need to spend more time thinking of others and less on tee time, or tennis time or me time.

If we fail to take seriously these episodes of violence, fail to change and teach our children to change, then we will continue to wake up to news of our children killing other children.

Then when our children become parents themselves, what will they wake up to?

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