We’re a month, more or less, into the new year and America has already suffered two school shootings. As usual, the usual voices are calling for increased restrictions on the buying and selling of guns. But guns are not the problem, a contention I can prove.
In 1963, at age 15, I packed my bags and went to live with my father in Valdosta, Ga., where I attended Valdosta High School. Hunting being a primary feature of male culture at VHS, I quickly acquired the necessary gear including a Stevens double-barreled shotgun. During deer- and duck-hunting seasons, I rose well before the start of school and joined several buddies out in the field. After a couple of hours of shooting (or just sitting in a blind and freezing), we put our guns in the trunks of our cars, drove to school, stripped off our hunting duds (under which were clean school clothes), and went to class.
Everyone — including the principal, teachers, parents, and kids who didn’t hunt — knew that the student parking lot contained a small arsenal. No one ever mentioned it, and believe me, it never occurred to any of us that our gun could be used to even some score or vent some frustration. Lots of males in my generation, especially those who grew up in small towns or rural America, report a similar high school experience.
No, guns are not the problem. The problem is feelings. I am a member of the last generation of American children whose parents disciplined not only our behavior, but also insisted that we exercise emotional self-control. I am also a member of the first generation of American parents who fell for progressive psychological propaganda to the effect that insisting upon emotional self-control was repressively authoritarian and would prime our kids for future serious mental health problems.
My graduate school professors stressed the need to help children “get in touch” with their feelings, talk about them, and express them safely. A child’s feelings, I learned, contained deep meaning that needed to be divined, discussed and properly directed. This was the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the 1980s, children were venting their feelings rather freely all right — including toward parents and teachers — and child mental health was tanking.
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Mass school shootings began occurring around the same time and are now taking place, on average, weekly. As I said, guns are the means but the problem is what I term emotional entitlement syndrome — the narcissistic belief that certain feelings are all the excuse one requires to justify anti-social and/or self-destructive behavior.
To widespread emotional entitlement one can add the effects of encouraging high self-esteem (which is associated, we now know, with low respect for the rights and property of others) and the demonization of shame, the primary purpose of conscience. A calamity was sure to ensue, and it has. It includes not only school shootings, but the widespread use of social media as a platform for acting out personal soap operas (i.e., emotional dramas), a dramatic rise in child and teen depression and suicide, cutting, epidemic bullying, and millions of children on psychiatric medications that may cause more problems than they solve (if they solve any).
The great irony in all of this is that psychology, the very profession that manufactured the propaganda that is fueling this calamity, is the very profession to which schools and parents turn whenever it rears its ugly little head.
And so, around and around we go and will continue to go until we figure out that therapy is no substitute for firm discipline.