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The idea that better gun control or increased school and Police interventions is the answer to stopping seriously disturbed people from committing serious crimes is perhaps the best example of a band-aid solution to a serious problem. We could compare this type of thinking to how we understand Terrorists. Once we find a way to foil their plan, Terrorists come up with a new idea. The same dynamics can be applied to a person who chooses to kill innocent victims. The focus remains on the problem, not the cause, which is more or less a spinning of wheels.
As with any serious condition, we need to get to the root of the problem. This is how the Medical Model works. Determine the etiology of the problem and work on early detection and prevention. Aside from the U.S. Government seeking stricter gun control, there is also talk about training teachers and other adults in how to better detect a disturbed student. This is a step in the right direction but not the complete answer. With the typical ratio being 25 students to 1 teacher, even the best of teachers can’t be expected to intervene with every student. There just isn’t enough time for a teacher to do this.
Peers, on the other hand, are on the same physical, academic, and social levels of one another and can see variance in ways that adults cannot even understand or sometimes detect. This happens all the time. Students detect something strange about a peer but decide not to get involved for a number of reasons. Fears of being a snitch, not wanting to be associated with someone strange or not popular, the social psychology theory of Bystander Apathy (the concept that someone else will help so they do not have to), or fear of what to say or do when a child faces off with a peer who drums to another beat. These concerns prevent what could save lives in the short and long run.
We also know how kids and teens tend to respect their peers more than adults as children try to become independent of their parents, so the potential for successful intervention is greater than relying on adults to connect with a vulnerable child. In fact, friends help soothe painful times as much if not greater than parents. The internalization of a peer who can connect with another is an enlightening experience and allows for entrance into a pained mind.
As with any form of caring, empathy and expressing warmth is the best medicine. It’s emotional chicken soup. Feeling the love and caring of another is healing, provides hope, and helps that person not feel so alone in their misery. Anyone who commits a serious crime such as shooting other children is miserable and hopeless. The degree of vulnerability and anger tips the scale and they finally lose all hope and lash out in desperation and then everyone loses.
Most children by the time they reach grade school have a sense of what seems normal or not. If you presented facial expressions to a class of first graders, most would be able to tell you what emotion that face would be telling them. They are able to describe feelings and most are able to connect behavior to emotions. This is due to both intellect and the development of empathy. If children were taught that their intelligence and empathy could save lives, most healthy children would want to be a Crusader to other children. It feels good to help people. If we teach kids how to reach out to another child in need, we develop child crusaders who look for the vulnerable and help them, not tease or abandon them. These are not cops or whistle blowers. These are kids helping kids. Being their friend, inviting them to join them at their lunch table, or perhaps just lending a caring ear, gives that vulnerable child hope. When people have hope, they don’t hurt others.
As a response to the latest school shootings, Your Family Matters TV/Radio (Wsradio.com) has developed the Kid Crusaders program designed to train children ages 6 – 18 in mental health “first aid”. Because of maturation differences, the training involved is age appropriately prepared and presented with the principles and goals being the same.
Our goal and motto for this program is to make it “cool to be kind”. If this could happen, significant change in our youth would occur and the degree of disturbance would lessen as the focus becomes prevention not trauma recovery. Dr. Keith Kanner has developed the Kid Crusaders program with the support of Kids Korps USA, where he is on the National Board of Directors. To learn more about the program or to sign-up, contact Dr. Kanner at yourfamilymatters.com or register at http://www.kidskorps.org. All proceeds of this program go to the volunteer efforts of Kids Korps USA.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.