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In response to an email on the school killings in Colorado.....

>Wednesday, April 28, 1999 9:39 PM


>I have a question regarding the school shooting. Do you think what is
>happening is a result of boys not being able to express
>their vulnerable emotions, so they end up expressing themselves through
>violence?  Today we had a shooting here in Canada. They said it wouldn't
>happen here, but it did.  

Thank you .....Dave S. Alberta, Canada


I have a long answer to your question.  Here it is:  

  1. The US is promoting violence around the world both with its foreign policy and with its media.  

  2. The US models using force as a means of conflict resolution.  

  3. Parents in the US have perhaps the most dysfunctional, unhealthy value system in the world, (which is also being promoted internationally as more countries follow our lead in the pursuit of appearances and material "success, " for example.) 

  4. As the US becomes more fundamentalist and unenlightened in its approach to problem solving (i.e. using fear, force, threats, rules, laws, "shoulds," punishment, incarceration, school suspensions, metal detectors, knee-jerk solutions, school uniforms, dress codes, private security guards, judging, blaming, preaching, praying, and policing) we will continue to divide people and worsen the problems both here and around the world.  

  5. Until parents are taught how to be parents, (or better yet, licensed before allowed to have children) they will continue to raise unhealthy children.  

  6. Until:  

    - teachers are given emotional skills training
    - policy makers and administrators start to value emotions
    - respect is no longer defined as obedience
    - children are taught emotional intelligence  

    ...schools will continue to produce destructive children, whether it is property or lives, including their own, that they are destroying.  

  7. Until people address the underlying causes of problems, which in countries like the US and Canada are almost always unmet emotional needs, addressing the symptoms will continue to fail, and the problem will continue to grow.  

More specifically to the case in Colorado:  

  1. When a human need is denied, we feel frustrated. The more needs are denied the more frustration. The more frustrated, the greater the negative feeling and the greater felt need to act. The greater our negative feelings, the more energy is created in the form of "anger."
  2. One of our needs is to feel powerful. When we aren't listened to, when we are invalidated, when we are disrespected, disapproved of, rejected, ridiculed, mocked, humiliated, punished and bossed around (as is regularly done in public schools, we feel powerless and vengeful.  We feel devalued human life itself loses value.  

  3. When our life is meaningless, because our parents' and our society's values and beliefs do not work for us, we find a way to give our lives their own meaning.  

  4. When we feel unheard, frustrated, powerless, vengeful and energized, we find a way to fill our unmet needs.  

  5. Planning an act of vengeance, sending a very loud message, and destroying something valued by those who have deprived you, are all ways, albeit, very unhealthy ways, of filling felt needs.   


These boys in Colorado found a way to give their lives meaning over the past few years since they left school. They found a way to fill their unmet emotional needs. They found a way to feel powerful.  They found a way to fill the needs that were causing them the most pain-- Pain that was created by the society they lived in, by the parents who utterly failed to meet their emotional and psychological needs, and by the school system that teaches the wrong values and uses archaic and inhumane methods to do it.

Dave also asks:

>Any suggestions on what I can do as a therapist working with angry teens?  

1. Validate their feelings.

2. Help them express their feelings with feeling words.

3. Teach the difference between thoughts, beliefs, judgements and feelings.

4. Stop using the word anger. Teach that it is a secondary emotion.

5. Help them identify their primary unmet emotional needs.

6. Help them learn to take responsibility for their lives, to feel empowered and never victimized.

7. Study my list of human emotional needs.

8. Help them learn to find healthy ways to meet their natural needs.

9. Show teachers how to help fill their students emotional needs.  

Here is a little more "radical" suggestion:

Ask students to tape record sarastic, demeaning, invalidating comments
made by teachers and play the tapes for you. -- Then work with the teachers
or if they won't cooperate, ask the principal to take action. Show the kids
you are serious about their feelings.

And finally,
to help the prevent problems in the next generation, begin teaching parenting classes and work to help establish minimum competency standards for parents.  (See the book "Licensing Parents", by Jack Westman)