A Critical Solution To Violence And School Shootings
These should be the greatest days of our teenagers lives.
One of the questions, and many of the conversations, that I have seen lately concerns the rise in school shootings and violence amongst teens. It is a contagion.
I can’t believe we are talking about another school shooting. It happened this past week in Santa Fe, TX where a student came to school and killed 8 students and 2 teachers. The timeline is becoming predictable.
One source I read from BBC.com and CNN.com over the weekend showed school shootings since 1927. There were only about 6 incidents in the almost 40 years between 1927 and 1965. After that 40 years, there has been a steady rise and cycle that has been repeated over 60 times. Just in 2018, there have been 22 on-campus school shootings per BBC and CNN (May 18, 2018, Ahmed and Walker, CNN).
That’s about one per week.
And this has me thinking as we come off ythology LIVE! from this past Sunday night on Facebook. We had a Q and A discussion that centered around the campus shootings and how to speak to our students about this. Two questions had the same theme: How do we talk to our students about this? And, what are the signs of these shootings?
This past week has unveiled a mounting problem in The Teen Decade (2013-2019)? It is seven years that only happens once in a century. And the past seven years in American teen life has been violent. Maybe one of the most volatile we have seen in this 20 year rise of violence in our schools since Columbine High School in Colorado. How much worse could this get? We have come a long way in America as it relates to our anger and communication and problem-solving. A long way from success.
My parent’s generation was settling these issues by dealing with the teacher in a meeting, by spanking their child when they got home, or having a parent/child meeting in the principal’s office.
My generation settled it at the playground or the bus stop with a vigorous wrestling match and sometimes even our fists. And we then were sent home from school and grounded by our parents and the issue was over in a few weeks.
Parenthetically, I am not asking for a return to this kind of aggression. We are experiencing bullying and beyond today because of this progression (or, digression). Because we don’t solve problems with our children through communication, or parental grounding, or with the aid of respect for authority in the principal's office anymore.
No, today, a generation of young people are dealing with these same issues by not going to school, social media shaming, bullying, gangs, and shooting each other with guns in the hallway. What is next? Are bombs going to be the replacement for discussions, or wrestling matches, or fist-fights, or gun violence?
Over the years, my prayers and postings have been unceasing for the families in Newtown, CT and Anytown, USA. I have called local Church leaders in Columbine, CO, Newtown, CT, Parkland, FL, Santa Fe, TX, as well as others, and told the pastor or local youth pastor that we are praying for them and offered practical to help.
But it would be nice to never have to make those calls again.
Let’s deal with the main two questions from our live broadcast: How do we talk to our students about this? And, what are the signs of these shootings?
First, what are the signs we should be looking for?
The signs are pretty clear. And they are more than a sociological guess. Although not every violent teen or shooter has walked the same destructive path, the signs have become a recognizable pattern:
A student is hurt or bullied in some way, a student isolates themself, a student gets caught in violent gaming or videos in their bedroom, a student reads threads of violence and anger on social media, a student is filled with images and violent conversations from music and movies, a student discovers an infatuation with weapons, a student plans how to get back at the people or the system that hurt them, a family is disjointed, and ultimately, a student has no one to talk to. And so they act out of desperation, immaturity, and an under-developed frontal lobe.
We could further blame it on the political climate, 9/11 and the war on terror, the erosion of the family, or we could even go back to 1963 when prayer was removed officially from schools. The fact is, it is not going away and only increasing each decade in severity.
Take a look back to the problems in the 1960’s. When students were late to class, chewing bubble gum while they were talking in class, cutting in line at the lunch room, cheating on tests, and lying to their parents about whose house they were going to sleep over. Wouldn’t you love a return to those problems again?
Today, it is different.
Looking at the 2000’s, we have another set of problems. Students are not going to class or school at all, they are cussing their teachers out or beating them up, they are shooting each other in the cafeteria or hallways, and they are killing themselves or their peers or their parents. That is the reality we live with today.
There are many opinions about what the signs are that lead to this behavior. In a short blog like this, hopefully uncovering some of these signs will help us to see around us. And heed the popular advice of ‘see something, say something.’ We must help students be pro-active with their peers when they see these signs.
And this leads me to the second question from our live session this past Sunday on ythology LIVE!
Secondly, how do we talk to our students about this rise in violence and school shootings?
It is good to have conversations about political leans or bends in our discussions about guns and gun laws, police presence at schools, hardened schools with metal detectors or one-entry campuses, mental health counseling, and campaigns and march movements. We can compare gun laws in Japan or Australia, talk about whether guns shoot themselves or cars drive drunk, debate from a democratic or republican interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to the Bill of Rights, or even demand it all started when prayer was removed from school.
I tend to believe that there is more prayer going on in our schools than ever before. But, back to the post at hand.
So here is my ideal solution to the kind of talk we should be having with this generation right now. A solution that can solve the problem BEFORE the gun or weapon or media or hardened schools issues.
The Theological Discussion With Teens
Stop thinking - and listen for a moment. Let me explain the theological solution through the Christian worldview.
I know that some will say, that as a Christian, I am being narrow-minded and not being inclusive. And that religion has started wars and not ended them. Listen, hang onto your religion or theology tightly. And if you see a better way to solve this issue, then please promote that. But, venture to see in my post that I am holding tightly to what I believe to be a solution. That I am not judging you or yours.
And, at least, do not become narrow-minded or exclusive about Christianity.
Theology is the study of God. We have to deal with this in the Millennial and GenZ set because they have no structure for theology. It wasn’t passed down to them. They may be the truly ‘post-Christian’ generation in America that we have talked about for years. An accurate theology of God and man is critical for them. And that begins with an accurate interpretation and understanding of the bible.
I’m not talking about radicals who have killed in the name of religion, faith, or holy wars. This isn’t about radicals who were psychologically or socially or theologically unbalanced. And, I am not talking about taking the bible out of context and social meaning as it relates to national wars in the Old Testament.
No one could argue that a balanced religious (Christian or otherwise) person acting under the principles of their faith committed any of these school shootings.
What I am talking about is the heart solution that can only be rectified through a relationship with our Creator. There is a hole in the heart of every person. And we have tried every shape and object to fill that hole imaginable. But there is only one thing that fits into that hole. As simple as that sounds. One thing that I believe is the solution to all of this.
Stay with me. Most of religion is peaceful. Actually, almost all of religion is peaceful. Because most religions have their genesis in atonement or peace. One thing hasn’t changed in the last 60 years, or for all of time, for that matter - the heart of man is wicked and violent and without peace. And religions have tried to answer for that. Even the bible says that sin will grow worse and that evil will abound and not go away (Matthew 24.12).
There is one thing we have lived with for all of eternity. It is the sinfulness and disobedience to God that is manifested through violence and anger in the heart of man and has been acted out with a club, a spear, an arrow, a gun, and various other weapons available over time.
What we need is a Spiritual Awakening in our nation. A Religious Revival in culture.
I am a firm believer that the religious solution is not a conversation only. It is a conversion. It is not a list of rules. It is a relationship. A conversion to Christ and to the principles of Christianity. Conversion is central to Christianity. Conversion is the principle of atonement or peace with God. And our society has a problem with 'conversion therapy' or 'conversion' in general. Mostly because it admits a broken condition.
But it only makes sense that conversion is a critical need today. Because something IS broke! If we continue to do the things we are doing, we will continue to get the things that we got. Jesus Himself said that ‘unless you are born again you cannot enter the Kingdom of God’. (John 3)
This is the reason for my belief that Christianity is the solution to this issue. I have never been afraid to invite a teenager to consider the life of Christ. The principles of Christianity transform people from being the problem to being the solution. Why? Because the guiding principle of Christianity is love. There is no better definition for Christianity than love. Even in the midst of hypocrisy in the Church, don’t be confused. Love is central to Christianity. Jesus (and the disciples) described the Kingdom of God as love.
Simplistic isn’t it? Theology really is simple.
Here are 5 discussions to have with teens in America about the rise of violence and school shootings:
I truly believe that an elementary morality can lead people to a deep faith. Teaching basic manners and social skills at an early age can be formative for behavioral development. Saying please and thank you, holding the door for someone, deferring in the lunch-room line, sitting with lonely students in the cafeteria, helping a freshman student find a room, and even smiling are revolutionary acts of kindness that will change the culture and atmosphere of a school campus – and ultimately a society.
See the TEDxTeen talk by Natalie Hampton! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh7XFCysTr4&t=29s
Society (the home, Church, school, community sectors) must teach students to solve problems by talking and communication. If we can break the non-relational ‘screen addiction’ and the ‘digital native’ issues and get young adults and teens to talk, then we can solve many of our cultural problems with ideas and relationship. Ask teens questions and get them talking. Ask them about their hobbies, school, friends, goals, and their dreams.
3. The home
Christianity must be taught and modeled in the home first. We need more parents and guardians and siblings to lead the home with good practical theology in the home. That includes consistent bible reading, worship, and giving from the home and not only when families are in Church. We cannot merely go to church – we have to be the Church! It is critical that young people see Christianity in the home early and often.
4. YTH Ministry
YTH Ministry must teach a holistic and comprehensive theology. To help the Millennial and the GenZ students who may not come from a biblical or Christian worldview at home, the Church, and YTH Ministry specifically, must define the nature and character of God. Every series or topic should include a theology response to the issues. This is critical to spiritual development.
5. Unconditional culture
A culture of love can be built when we teach unconditional love and relationship. Judgment and cynicism have become the default way of thinking in this generation. I’ve learned how valuable unconditional love and acceptance is. It is almost foreign to our society. Everything in our society has become conditional. A sweeping unconditional acceptance in our schools would become viral amongst teenagers who are looking for affirmation. Christianity is unconditional affirmation!
It will take a compilation of conversations to solve this problem of violence and school shootings. Spiritual, legislative, social, institutional, civil, corporate, and familial sectors must all do their part.
But, I believe that theology (the study of God) could be the key. A Spiritual Awakening is needed in our young people. And because of the lack of theology in this Millennial and GenZ set, YTH Ministry could be the critical bridge impacting America’s greatest resource.
Its young people.