Putting it all Together: Connecting Science and Opinion
Traumatic events, such as a school shooting, elicit strong emotions and a demand for immediate solutions. The school shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018 killed eight students, injured two teachers and left 13 other people injured. Beyond that, it created a deep emotional scar for a community that all involved will deal with for years to come. Cody Jefferson, founder of Embrace the Lion, posted a message on Facebook where he outlined his promise to his son. His promises are admirable goals. His passion comes through his post and on his website. His devotion to his children is commendable. Showing his son life lessons through sports is a valuable teaching tool. Being present, as he so often emphasizes, is laudable. The values that he promises to teach his son are obviously ones that he feels are necessary. There are aspects of his post which are very positive; however, there are also those aspects which may be negative. This post also tends to make assumptions about how children should and do grow up. When diving more deeply into the issue of parenting, school violence and childhood development, it becomes clear that there is not one simple solution.
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There are three concepts of delinquency: the normative concept, the social constructionist concept and the critical concept (Bates and Swan 2018, 6-8). Reviewing the argument made by Mr. Jefferson, he appears to be using an argument based on the Critical Conception of Delinquency. This concept is based on the idea that those in power wish to maintain that power. The typical designation of authority in this case is a white, male, middle-to-upper class individual (Bates and Swan 2018, 8). His proposal seems to follow this definition as he reiterates the point that the fathers are typically absent, implying that fathers hold the power in a family. He also makes it a point to teach his son how to add value and make money, which implies a middle-to-upper class existence.
Several lessons that Mr. Jefferson suggests assumes a certain standard of living and a certain lifestyle. There is an argument made that being involved in athletics would seem to decrease the likelihood of a juvenile being delinquent. The social bond component of involvement would substantiate this claim (Bates and Swan 2018, 108); however, these activities may not be available for juveniles in all locations. There is an assumption that a father will also be present. In today’s changing family landscape, there may not be a male figure present. There has been a rise in single-parent families, along with a rise in same-sex couples with children. There are approximately anywhere between one million and nine million children living in a home with same-sex parents (Linville and O’Neil n.d.).
One other comment that Mr. Jefferson makes is that the parents had “no idea” and that the fathers are typically absent. Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters, stated that she has been asked how she could not know and that is a punch in the gut. She felt that she had failed as a parent and didn’t know Dylan. However, she feels that it was not an issue that appeared overnight, but rather a culmination of at least two years of deteriorating mental health (Klebold 2016). The argument that Mr. Jefferson makes regarding fathers may also be faulty. It has been demonstrated that attachment to mothers appears to be more important than the attachment to fathers (Bates and Swan 2018, 192).
Based on the information at hand, one may conclude that the solutions suggested by Mr. Jefferson may have some impact on the level of school shootings in the United States; however, this would be very dependent on the sociodemographic status of the families where these ideas are implemented. Being involved in sports does show an increased level of attachment to a school, thereby reducing the likelihood of being delinquent; however, not all youth have equal access to sports activities. In environments such as these, it is important that after-school programs are developed. When these programs are present, it provides a place for the youth to go and modestly reduces the chance that delinquent activities will occur (Bates and Swan 2018, 398-399).
Mr. Jefferson’s commitment to being involved in his son’s life as a father is important; however, in his statement where he says that “I will TEACH you how to lose and learn, dream and work, add value and make money, treat a woman, what a gun is and what it’s for, what it is to be a PRESENT FATHER, and lastly, what it is to be a MAN,” there arises a concern that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to the myriad issues of juvenile delinquency. Again, these lessons may be able to be taught to a child in a white, middle- to upper-class family, living in a safe neighborhood. However, how widespread are these conditions?
The obvious starting point would be to determine how many children currently live in a family with a mother and father present. The 2017 Kids Count report indicates that 66% of children live in a two-parent home, 8% of children live in a father-only home and the remaining 25% lives in a mother-only home (COUNT 2018). When 1 out of every 3 children is raised in a single-parent home, there are inherent issues which arise when it comes to following the outline that Mr. Jefferson lays out. How do we handle the 25% of children who do not have a father present? How do the 8% of children with only a father present receive the full attention of the father?
Instead of breaking down each of the seven teachable lessons individually, the question must be asked, what about the 25% of children being raised without a father? Is a single mother incapable of teaching these lessons? What about the 8% of single fathers? They may not have the same time as a father in a traditional two-parent family. In these instances, how do we address the needs of the children? Perhaps the efforts of addressing those children would better serve the needs of the child? When the situation is ideal, these lessons may be able to be taught, but even in those situations, is it wise to force your points of view on a child or, as Mr. Jefferson states, “I am not going to leave you to yourself to “find your own version of yourself and what being a ‘man’ means to you…””
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It has been shown in many studies that a juvenile’s brain is still forming during these crucial years. Children will be more impulsive. Children will take more risks. Children may be more susceptible to peer pressure. That is not a failure of parenting or a failure of the child. That is simple physiology (Tsui 2017). As Tsui points out, the frontal lobe is still in training during the teen years. The child at 8 years old is going to be much different at 12 years old and still again at 18 years old. Personalities will develop. Involvement in activities will change. Perhaps the poem by Kahlil Gibran sums up how a child will grow – “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.” (Gibran n.d.)
After deconstructing some of the arguments that Mr. Jefferson makes, one can examine the suspect in this case, Dimitrios Pagourtzis. CNN published a story on him and he was a 17-year old High School student at the time of the shootings (Perez, Morris and Ellis 2018). Pagourtzis had been a member of the Freshmen High School football team and the JV team. He was also an honor-roll student in the sixth grade. According to the Jefferson’s argument, sports should have been a positive influence. This shooting, contrary to his Facebook post, was carried out by a teenage boy who was involved in extra-curricular activities.
Dimitrios also had a mother and father in his life. His parents also appear to belong to the upper-class socioeconomic group. His father owns a marine company and his mother works for a medical center (McBride 2018). When one reads the initial Facebook post by Mr. Jefferson, it implies that the suspect did not have a normal two-parent home, lived in a lower-class neighborhood and was not involved at school. However, when peeling back the layers of this juvenile’s life, one discovers that he seems to have had all of those things and still carried out this act.
One vital piece of information that the CNN and Heavy articles related was that Dimitrios kept a diary and had written that he wanted to die. This information is very similar to the story told by Aaron Stark in his TEDx Talk (Stark 2018). One of the students killed at Santa Fe High School had stood up in front of the class to tell him she would not go out with him. As Stark pointed out in his video, perhaps having just a friend treat him like a person would have been enough to stop this violent act.
To conclude, the argument that Cody Jefferson lays out in his Facebook post is one that has some value; however, it applies to a specific sociodemographic. Another issue with his argument is that he feels the need to apply his own set of standards and beliefs to his child rather than letting his child explore his own personality and interests. Does a parent need to set boundaries and provide guidance? Absolutely! However, as Dimitrios’ story shows, a person’s reasoning for killing goes beyond being taught to “lose and learn, dream and work, add value and make money, treat a woman, what a gun is and what it’s for, what it is to be a PRESENT FATHER, and lastly, what it is to be a MAN.”
People speak of gun control, life without parole, a “Get Tough” mentality and other deterrents. Mental health assessments and treatments need to be considered. However, listening to the mother of Dylan Klebold, listening to Aaron Stark, seeing the signs that existed in the weeks and months leading to the shooting carried out by Dimitrios, perhaps what needs to be done is to learn how to be a friend. Learn how to listen to someone who simply needs a person to talk to. Be there for someone who needs a friend. Do not bully. Do not belittle. Do not think you know what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Every juvenile has a unique set of characteristics and has lived a unique life. Listen to our youth. Respect our youth.
- Bates, Kristin A., and Richelle S. Swan. 2018. Juvenile Delinquency in a Diverse Society. 2. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.
- COUNT, National KIDS. 2018. Child population by household type. 12 8. https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/105-child-population-by-household-type?loc=1&loct=1#detailed/1/any/false/871,870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38,35/4290,4291,4292/427,428.
- Gibran, Kahlil. n.d. On Children. http://www.katsandogz.com/onchildren.html.
- Klebold, Sue. 2016. My Son was a Columbine Shooter – This is My Story. Accessed 12 7, 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/sue_klebold_my_son_was_a_columbine_shooter_this_is_my_story.
- Linville, Deanna, and Maya O’Neil. n.d. Same-sex Parents and Their Children. Accessed 12 7, 2018. https://www.aamft.org/Consumer_Updates/Same-sex_Parents_and_Their_Children.aspx.
- McBride, Jessica. 2018. Dimitrios Pagourtzis Parents: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know. https://heavy.com/news/2018/05/dimitrios-pagourtzis-parents-mother-father-dimitri/.
- Perez, Evan, Jason Morris, and Ralph Ellis. 2018. Dimitrios Pagourtzis: What we know about the alleged Santa Fe High School shooter. 5 18. https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/18/us/dimitrios-pagourtzis-santa-fe-suspect/index.html.
- 2018. I Was Almost a School Shooter. Performed by Aaron Stark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azRl1dI-Cts.
- Tsui, Anjali. 2017. “How Brain Science is Changing How Long Teens Spend in Prison.” PBS.ORG. May 2. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/how-brain-science-is-changing-how-long-teens-spend-in-prison/.
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