Frank Discussion About Social Isolation #ParklandSchoolShooting
February 17, 2018
I am ashamed. I am one of those emotional Mama Bear types whose first reaction to the news that Nikolas Cruz – the mass murderer in the Parkland school shooting – was captured alive is to think up the most painful, slow ways this little bastard could be taken out of society. I imagined my children in that school. I saw them hiding in a closet or under desks, trembling in fear, unprotected, and disarmed, and I wanted Cruz to suffer.
And then I read Jenny’s Victory Girls post.
And then I started thinking.
And then I let go of my hatred (believe me, it wasn’t easy), and began to constructively think about ways to do something.
For many people “doing something” involves more laws. As I mentioned in a previous post, the left’s immediate reaction to any such tragedy is to trot out the “MOAR GUN LAWZ” trope and beat it like a pimply teenage boy with a happy sock and Internet access.
Others, whip out the tin foil headgear and go full potato about government conspiracies to drug our kids into obedience, false flag operations, etc. (WARNING: do not open those links unless you want your heads to explode from the sheer dumbassery!)
The conversations about psychiatric drugs are almost more dangerous than gun control DERP! There is a very valid place for psychiatric medicine. It can be a critical supplement to talk therapy and other treatments. Blaming psychiatric drugs for school shootings ignores the underlying causes for their need in the first place, and it may prevent some from getting the treatment they desperately need.
Some relatively recent research into school shootings has uncovered some interesting information. Alone and Adrift: The Association Between Mass School Shootings, School Size, and Student Support reveals that factors such as school size, availability of support, and other “environmental” factors can exacerbate existing mental problems and elicit violent response.
Schools where mass shootings occurred had significantly higher enrollments than their state average counterparts. Additionally, students who committed a mass school shooting were significantly more likely to have previously attended a school with a smaller student body and/or a lower than state average student–teacher ratio.
Our findings are consistent with previous literature indicating that smaller schools are less likely to experience acts of mass violence. Additionally, our results suggest that transitioning from a smaller, more supportive school to a larger, more anonymous school may exacerbate preexisting mental health issues among potential school shooters. The results of this study have significant implications for educational policy reform.
This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but kids tend to feel more isolated in large schools than they do in small ones. You can get lost in a crowd. Your feelings of being a social outcast will likely be amplified if you’re ignored by a larger group of people. You can drift through a crowded hallway and still be completely alone.
My son was pretty small when he started 9th grade at a new school that was a lot more crowded than the small-town school system we had left the previous year. He was scared, because he knew no one, and because he would be sitting all alone at lunch in a crowd of people whom he didn’t know. His fears proved to be well-founded for the first few days. His first day of school, he was completely alone. He didn’t know anyone, and he was small and scared, so he kept largely to himself and hoped that someone would approach him.
No one did.
He called me at work, and when I asked how his first day went, he replied, “I didn’t make any friends today. I sat alone at lunch, and no one talked to me. Maybe tomorrow someone will notice the short, new kid.” That reply broke my heart, and when I got home from work, we had a conversation about how he could better fit in.
He eventually found some friends who allowed him into their group, despite him being new and different, but it was a small group in a large school, and they eventually drifted apart, leaving him adrift again, and exacerbating the feeling of rejection he felt when his father stopped paying attention to him after our divorce. The kid eventually got into some minor trouble, but I very quickly set him up with a good counselor and adjusted fire on my own work/life balance, so I could spend more time with him.
He certainly grew up to be an amazing young man – full time college student and Army Reservist, who is also working his way through college and learning about investments and finance along the way, as he invests his own earnings and learns about the stock market.
But I hold no delusions that things could have gone much differently had I not paid attention and gotten him the help he needed.
As I said in a previous post, there’s a common thread that seems to run through the majority of school shootings: “mental illness and depression due to bullying or other factors.” Social isolation has long been known to be a factor in those who commit mass shootings, according to mental health professionals.
Social isolation continues to be the keystone and hallmark indicator of propensities for the type of homicidal psychopathy displayed by mass shooters. But what creates the isolation?
▪ Early childhood neglect and abuse and subsequent low self-esteem
▪ Environmental factors combined with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses
▪ Family criminal history
▪ Feeling like a “stranger in a strange land” — the loss of a sense of belonging
The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare in 2015 also flagged social isolation as a potential killer.
Public health experts (House, 2001) now posit that the association between social isolation and health is as strong as the epidemiological evidence that linked smoking and health at the time U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued his now-famous warning. The health risks of social isolation are often studied in older populations, but isolation can be deadly for the young (e.g., the many school shootings perpetrated by individuals described as socially withdrawn). Thus, it is appropriate for social work to strategically address the challenge of social isolation. Working in tandem with other key professions, social work possesses the unique expertise to greatly reduce the risk and consequences of social isolation.
I remember being alternately bullied and ignored as a kid when I first arrived in this country. We were dirt poor, so I wore the same clothes several times per week. I didn’t bring candy for lunch (we couldn’t afford it – only the basics). I didn’t speak English, there was no TV at our house, and our furniture was cobbled together by my very handy father from stuff he salvaged at the dump. I was lucky to have had a very strong support system at home, and I’m grateful to my parents for having helped me get through some of the toughest years of my life by being there for me. I certainly learned a lot from them when I was dealing with my son.
But what I’m seeing in these more recent incidents of school violence is a lack of family support, a lack of friends and social groups, and a certain propensity toward depression and awkward loneliness, coupled with a lack of support at school and bullying, and I’m wondering why we aren’t addressing these issues – problems that have been obvious for years – instead of collectively derping about gun control or politicians doing nothing.
School psychologists are overburdened, and school districts are cutting those services in an effort to save money. So if a kid is having problems at home, with friends, with teachers, or at work, and school psychologist with a gigantic workload has no time for him, where is he to turn?
My own opinion?
Kids are being raised today to be selfish, entitled, and entirely focused on their own needs to be sensitive to others – even more so than ever before. When you raise a child to believe that they are the center of the universe, that they deserve participation trophy for merely existing, and that their precious little feelings trump any human decency they may exhibit toward others, you get a society of kids whose sensitivity toward those in pain among them simply does not exist.
Anyone remember the story of “Kyle,” – the isolated freshman who dropped the pile of books he was taking home because he didn’t want his parents to have to clean out his locker after he committed suicide, but who was befriended on his way home by a popular kid who stopped him from committing suicide with a simple act of kindness?
How many “Kyles” are out there, contemplating ending their lives because not a single person in their crowded school thought to help him, to protect him from bullies, to pick up his books when he dropped them on the ground, or to offer him a hand up when he fell?
How many kids out there say, “I’m not going to talk to this kid, because he’s weird?”
How many kids would stand up for a weaker, smaller kid?
One of my proudest moments as a parent was finding this tweet in my son’s Twitter feed.
Language aside (he’s my child, after all), this simple tweet showed me my son’s heart. It showed me that he learned how to be a human being. It showed me he had a degree of empathy, having been isolated himself. But notice how many people liked and retweeted that simple message of kindness! Out of what then was nearly 1,000 Twitter followers, two felt the need to retweet the message, and only 24 liked it.
This tweet is probably four or five years old now, but every time I look at it, I am reminded about the lack of empathy and simple human decency in today’s younger generation.
They don’t talk to the weird kid on the playground.
They don’t invite the odd kid to parties.
They physically walk away from outsiders who don’t fit with the group dynamic.
And we wonder why kids decide their lives are so pointless, and why they’re so filled with hatred for those who give them the Heisman every time they try to fit in, that they grab a weapon and proceed to take the lives of those they feel ignored them?
Maybe these kids aren’t snowflakes. Maybe they’re emotionally distraught individuals who – after years of isolation and bullying – decided their rage was all they had left. Maybe if someone had stood up for them, offered them a hand in friendship, or even helped them pick up their books from the floor, at least some of them wouldn’t feel that mass murder was their last option.
Obviously this won’t always be the case. Some people are just born evil. Some just have a predisposition to violence. Some have mental issues that are so profound, that no amount of kindness will quell the rage.
But maybe if someone had been a friend he obviously desperately needed – especially after having lost his mother three months prior to the heinous act he committed – maybe things would have turned out differently.
No one had ever been a friend to him. But what if someone had?
What if someone was a friend to Bryan Oliver?
What if someone was a friend to Jakob Wagner? Or Karl Pierson? Or Jose Reyes?
Maybe they would have at the very least seen some red flags, and maybe by being a friend, they would have helped somehow stop the pain.
Maybe we will not stop the majority of violent incidents at our schools; we certainly won’t stop madmen from getting guns, or building explosives, or going on rampages; but maybe by paying attention and being decent human beings, we will stop just a few and save lives in the process.
Wouldn’t saving just one life be worth it?
Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.
Love this Marta. Even though it’s not our job, it kind of is our job, if we look to our boss – a higher power. It’s very unpleasant to get involved or engage odd people, but I think if we want to stop these things from happening, this is a necessary component, and I would say the most important.
Another thing I’ve been thinking of, is the effect of so much focus on our girls, to the exclusion and derision of our boys. Being a mom of a son too, I’ve witnessed how little is thought of protecting and nurturing boys. I think they are hands down the most sensitive creatures in the world, and we act like they have no feelings. When they are little they need so much, so when they are grown they can carry so much. We are asking the impossible of them and give them so little support as a society.
I couldn’t agree more with Marta’s post and Jenny’s comment.
We again need to start teaching our children/grandchildren to be champions for each other no matter their circumstances.
A hug, a smile, a ‘yep we want you as part of our group project’ goes a long way to starting to change attitudes on multiple levels
Marta is dead on -DEAD on But no one in the public sector is raising any part of THIS nor the OBVIOUS existing conditions contributing to the increased violence right before their eyes, because it would require addressing both the loss of parenting skills and confronting what the result has been.
Let me repeat myself here: I am shaking my head at all this talk of “children” having to “learn” to “talk” to the “different” kids now. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? “Cool kids” don’t talk to each other anymore at the lunch table, less mind take notice of the less than socially adept kid. They all are glued to their phones. The child who is IN that isolated position or, even worse, tortured at school because of his “differences,” real or imaginary, USED to be able to ESCAPE once the school day ended and the terrible gauntlet of a bus ride or lonely walk home was safely passaged. NOW, there IS no escape. The torture comes at your 24/7, reaches into that formerly safe space where frazzled, hurt feelings could be soothed and quieted to face the next day, the next round. There IS no respite for the weird, the outsider now. No healing. No chance to mature, get your feet under you and, hopefully, grow out of the terrific resentment and hate built up by being SO different in this newer world these kids exist in. It’s horribly sad and terrifically dangerous. No conversational skills, no empathy development, no coping mechanisms learned, and THAT’S for the regular “everyone gets a trophy” crowd.
All I ever see, even in a group of school girls walking down the street, is heads in their phones. No giggling, hands over their mouths secret sharing. No shrieks of silly horror between them, unless it’s about a momentary picture they share between them. Then back to the screens. With nary a word. No wonder they’re melting down in schools, mentally and sometimes murderously.
There’s a flip side. Some people don’t need lots of society. CSLewis writes, in Surprised By Joy, that as a child he never understood why he had to accept party invitations. He would never do that to anyone else–why did they do it to him?
What’s important is accepting people, howevermuch they need or don’t need your group. The mob mentality is part of our survival strategy make-up. Like every other part of us, it needs to be civilized, not strangled. Because the things that are strangled don’t die. They come back for vengeance, on the self or on others.
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