The murder of 12 and wounding of 58 people at a theater in Aurora, Colo. and the killings of seven in a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee are national tragedies sparking debate on gun control. Based on my experience as a crime and violence prevention consultant over the past 35 years, I see a need to share what I have learned about violence.
The seed for violent behavior begins at home. Good or bad, parents are teachers. Disconnected families in conflict often fail to teach children how to develop healthy relationships.
Mental, physical or sexual abuse can make even the most intelligent child anti-social. If children's needs are not met, they can be thrown off balance, resulting in anger and feeling powerless. These children can become targets for abuse at school, becoming isolated and alone.
Peers and society also influence impressionable youth. The breakdown in American culture has created a "perfect storm" for violent behavior.
Family conflict, divorce and abuse can create confusion for children. They often suffer in silence or become bullies with little compassion for others. If adults don't listen, set boundaries, calmly discipline and demonstrate personal responsibility, children become frustrated and angry.
Without guidance and emotional support, children may fail to mature emotionally and often alienate classmates.
Children who excel in school can develop an inflated ego and feel smarter than others.
Without a conscience, emotionally unstable youth can become obsessed and decide to play "God" in other people's lives, which can turn deadly.
In many cities, neighbors are strangers. They expect someone else to solve problems and don't see their role in keeping the neighborhood safe. This attitude creates social isolation with no check or balance on youthful misbehavior that can develop at an early age. Neighbors must become role models and demonstrate an interest in neighborhood kids.
Disconnected residents allow fear to divide and conquer. Cities deteriorate as pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, gangs and the homeless take over the streets. Neighbors don't report criminal behavior and may even protect criminals who do favors for them. Crime goes unchecked, which allows gangs to fill the void. Without adult leadership, youth may turn to drugs, sex or other addictions to feel good while everyone else feels powerless.
Movies and television promote sex and violence because it sells. Men's weakness is sex. Women's weakness is tempting men. The entertainment industry reinforces human weaknesses.
Immature youth engage in sex without understanding the consequences. Children are desensitized as men and women devalue themselves and live self-destructive lives, which can turn violent as moral values disappear. We become what we promote as disconnected youth feel angry, alone and nobody cares.
There are thousands of churches, temples and synagogues in America; however, they don't work to inform the community about the power of the human spirit. During the past 50 years, the religious community has lost much of its influence after numerous scandals including pastors stealing from congregations and the abuse of children.
Many churches became political action groups as religious leaders did little to bring the community together, spread the need for spiritual values or demonstrate the power of "love thy neighbor."
Every adult needs to know community support helps raise successful children. Here are two things we can do today:
Gun control is not the solution to this complex problem. Government cannot fill the void with more laws or by increasing control over American lives. Concerned citizens must work together to strengthen families, organize to make neighborhoods safe for children and get involved to make communities peaceful places to live.
Everyone will benefit as children grow up healthy, happy and able to reach their potential.
Stephanie L. Mann is a crime and violence prevention consultant who lives in Orinda. Contact her at www.safekidsnow.com.