What News to Tell a Child
A 13-year-old Washington state boy was recently arrested, then released to the custody of his parents after making online threats of shooting up and blowing up his middle school. He also threatened to kill one of his teachers, specifically named, and then kill himself. It turns out he didn't have the means with which to carry out his threats, which prompted officials to close five schools in the area for a day.
A local television station interviewed a mother who said she felt bad for the boy. She also said that when she had told her young son about the situation, he had become very anxious and hadn't wanted to go to school. Well, fancy that!
For the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would feel bad for the 13-year-old. He's old enough to know he was doing something very, very wrong, yet he went ahead and did it anyway. In the process, he committed a felony that resulted in significant emotional distress for lots of folks as well as considerable economic cost to the school system, parents who had to stay home from work, and local employers who lost the productivity of those parents for a day.
The child in question is not a victim, by any stretch of the definition. He's a perpetrator; a young criminal. Whether he already qualifies as a young sociopath is yet to be determined, but what he did was certainly sociopathic. In other words, this youngster may already be a menace to society. In his fascinating but largely overlooked book Savage Spawn, psychologist and popular mystery novelist Jonathan Kellerman proposes that from early ages some children-even some children of reasonably good parents-seem inexorably headed toward lives of crime.
Regardless, the young teen in question deserves no pity. He deserves to be punished in a way that drives home the anti-social nature of what he did and hopefully, if it's any longer possible, deters him from future criminal behavior. No slap on the wrist-e.g. community service-will do. He needs to feel the full weight and force of the proverbial boom. Hopefully, both the legal system and his parents will cooperate to provide him that lesson.
To the issue of a young boy becoming anxious when his parents told him what had happened, I marvel at the fact they seemed compelled to tell him in the first place. Mind you, they told him before all the facts were in, before it was known that the threat was hollow. They probably, therefore, projected lots of concern themselves. So, duh, yes, the boy became anxious.
This sort of thing is completely unnecessary when parents follow my simple Rule of Telling: Tell a child what he NEEDS to know, when he NEEDS to know it. In this case, the child didn't NEED to hear anything from his parents about the incident. Would he have heard from other kids at school the next day? Yes, but by then the facts would have been in and the story probably would have circulated in a way that would have caused the boy no anxiety at all. He'd have come home and said, "Mom! Dad! Guess what happened at school!" to which they could have acted very nonchalant and all would have been well in this little boy's world.
In this information-overload world we live in, adults need to protect and maintain the innocent naivety of children as long as possible. That's as much a responsibility as protecting children from any other source of harm.
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