Why Teenagers Turn to Violence

Why Teenagers Turn to Violence


By Dr. Bruce Narramore, Ph.D.

Most readers will recall the day when “School Massacre” and “Day of Terror” screamed in newspaper headlines reporting the carnage in Littleton, Colorado. It was the day two armed teenagers killed twelve fellow students, a teacher, and themselves, and wounded twenty-three other students. This followed six other murderous school shootings in less than two years.

In the light of such tragedies, we cannot help but ask, “What would cause a child or teenager to ruthlessly murder his schoolmates, teachers, parents, and others?”

The answers are as different as the ones involved, but there are several common characteristics of those who commit these murderous acts.

1. These are angry adolescents. Children and teenagers who kill have been living with rage for years. Sometimes it is obvious but sometimes it isn’t. They have lived with violent fantasies, books, television programs, and movies, but their outward behavior has shown few signs of their deep rage. Beneath their quiet exterior an angry emotional battle has long been raging. When they become old enough and strong enough to carry out their vengeful fantasies, they do it.

2. These are alienated adolescents. The rage these teenagers harbor reveals an almost universal feeling among children who murder. They feel cut off socially and emotionally. Their painful feelings of alienation and rejection are usually the cause of their intense hatred.

At the core, they have a deep
inability to love or connect
emotionally in any meaningful
way with another human being.”

3. These are deeply troubled, tragic teenagers. Anyone who kills is a troubled person. At the core, they have a deep inability to love or connect emotionally in any meaningful way with another human being. They neither feel loved, nor are they able to love. They have a severe lack of guilt or remorse, and a tendency toward impulsive or uncontrolled actions.

4. Many violent teenagers are seeking to feel powerful, important, admired, or big. They have vivid fantasy lives and dream of proving how powerful and potent they can be. Since they feel so alienated, unloved, and different, they try to silence their distressing feelings by turning to illusions of power and importance. Sadly they turn to the pseudo–power of violence.

5. Some acting-out teenagers are suffering from neurological problems or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. While such physiologically-based problems do not excuse hateful, destructive acts, their physical difficulties can help us understand why some teenagers act the way the do. The combination of feeling negatively about themselves, being angry, and being impulsive, increases the likelihood that they will engage in various kinds of antisocial activities.

6. Adolescents who turn to violence are also spiritually confused or lost. Most have no real relationship with God at all. Lacking any spiritual purpose and direction, they attempt to create meaning in life by building their own view of how the world should be. They decide who the bad people are. And who the good people are–the underdogs or inferior feeling people like themselves. And then they decide to even the score.

7. Teenagers who kill have lost hope for any enjoyable, meaningful life. We see this rampant in ghetto areas and among gang members who will cavalierly shoot another human being as an initiation rite. Feeling cut off from the larger society, hopeless about ever getting ahead in life, and with nothing much to live for, they see no reason not to steal or kill.

8. Having lost all hope for a decent life, many violent teenagers no longer care. After years of feeling different and unloved, they have given up hope. The only way they know to mask their hidden hurts and longings to be held, known, and loved is to quit caring. Outwardly they put on a tough, uncaring front, devalue all of life, and choose to leave at least one mark on this world, even if it is tragically hurtful for others.

9. Many violent teenagers live in subcultures that don’t value human life. As our culture becomes less Christian, people increasingly lose the only solid foundation for a sense of dignity, worth and value. Instead of seeing every person as created in the image of God, many see themselves and others as chance beings in a meaningless universe. To violent teens life of another human being means nothing to them.

The average child sees over
10,000 murders on television before
he graduates from high school.”

10. We live in a society where violence has become an accepted part of our entertainment industry and an acceptable way to solve conflicts. What can we say when the average child sees over 10,000 murders on television before he graduates from high school? The accumulation of these television murders, violent films and daily reporting of death leave their impact. We become accustomed to violent death. For troubled teenagers who are prone to violence, this deadening of caring removes one of the last barriers to carrying out their vengeful fantasies. In fact, rage music and murderous films can also give disturbed minds permission to kill and ideas of how to do it.

Preventing Teenage Violence

The next question we ask is, What can concerned parents, teachers and other citizens do?

  • First, be alert to danger signals including the following: Frequent loss of temper. Vandalism. Repeated physical fighting. Trouble controlling anger. Withdrawal from friends, family, and normal activities. Increasing use of drugs and alcohol. Strong interest in or fascination with guns. Interest in violent magazines, movies, videos and organizations. Association with violent or threatening groups. Hateful attitude toward all authority and/or carrying a weapon.
  • Second, within your family commit yourself to build the most enjoyable, loving and spiritually sensitive home possible.
  • Third, help your children develop a healthy emotional life and good communication skills.
  • Fourth, know your children, their friends, and their activities.
  • Fifth, help with youth activities in your local community.
  • Sixth, encourage your local schools and churches to take preventive action.
  • Seventh, financially support organizations that are helping needy children, teens, and hurting families.
  • Finally, pray always for your children committing and trusting them, along with yourself, to the Lord every day.

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