When Kids Kill Kids

When our daughter Annie was two years old she saw television for the first time. We were in Islamabad, Pakistan and she was invited to a birthday party of some older children. My husband took her while I stayed home with our brand new baby boy. When they came home he relayed to me her reaction to this first time of watching TV. She was watching a cartoon and the character was hit over the head with something. As often happens with cartoons, there was a bonk, birds flew over the head of the character and then the scene faded out. She began to cry. She thought the character was dead and was inconsolable. In her 2-year-old mind she was unable to distinguish real from imaginary on the screen.

This is huge. Until a child is seven years old, they cannot differentiate between imaginary and real; fantasy and reality. So when young children see television violence, it’s accepted as not only real, but a part of “normal” life.

Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, in an article released in 2000 called “Trained to Kill”, speaks in-depth to this problem. In nature, he says, “Healthy members of most species have a powerful, natural resistance to killing their own kind.” So while rattlesnakes bite others, they wrestle each other; while piranhas use their fangs on others, they fight each other by flicking their tails. So it is true with humans – we don’t naturally want to kill, we are taught to kill.

He talks about three ways of being conditioned to kill – the first is something we would think of when we think of boot camp. Everyone is taken and their heads are shaved, they are shouted at, they get up at unearthly hours and go through relentless discipline and violence. At the end the recruit believes this is normal. This is a perfect segue into a war zone.

The second is “classical conditioning” where violence is associated with pleasure. The author would suggest that “classical conditioning” takes place in kids as they watch violence while eating their favorite foods of popcorn and soda, or smelling a girlfriend’s perfume, all while watching horrific movie violence as “entertainment”.

The third is “operant conditioning” which is a stimulus response. This is where in target practice a target shaped like a man would pop up. If you shoot the target correctly, it will fall, and so on. Contrast this, he says, to video games, where for hours at a time a kid is pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting, getting better and better at hitting the targets and gaining points every time they do so.

The article is well worth looking at and provides irrefutable evidence of the problem: all this is teaching kids how to kill. The evidence is present in the tragedies that read like headlines from newspapers – because they are.

  • Jonestown, Arkansas Massacre 1998 – An 11 and a 13 year-old, camouflaged in the woods kill four kids and a teacher with ten others wounded.
  • Paducah, Kentucky 1999 – A 14-year-old opens fire on a prayer group at school and hits eight kids.
  • Columbine High School, 1999 – Two kids in trench coats terrorize the school ultimately killing twelve students, one teacher. 21 other students are injured and ultimately the kids kill themselves.

There are more but this makes the point. All of these have one thing in common – they are kids killing kids. It begs the question: Why are we shocked when we see child soldiers from the widely seen Kony 2012 video?

So why am I suddenly bringing up violence and kids killing kids? In the newly released movie “The Hunger Games” that is the premise and it has some people disturbed. And that is the very point of the author. My friend Stacy, who blogs at Slowing the Racing Mind, wrote an excellent post on this called “Hunger Games – Disturbing? Indeed” Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, wants us to be disturbed so that we can discuss this and question it, talk with our kids and know that there are times where we must stand up to what is wrong.

I won’t go into The Hunger Games further, as others have done a fine job of doing just that, but I would argue books like these, and movies like these, are not what creates violence in our kids. It’s gratuitous violence in movies and video games that evokes laughter as opposed to tears, mocking as opposed to compassion. That’s what we should be worried about. Crying because a 12-year-old was killed in a society’s sick attempt at control is a human response; laughing when a teacher tells you that a middle schooler ambushed a school, killing kids and a teacher, is a an inhuman response born of inappropriate exposure to violence at young ages.

It’s a big issue – What do you think?

“On June 10th, 1992, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a definitive study on the impact of TV violence. In nations, regions, or cities where television appears there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That’s how long it takes for a brutalized toddler to reach the “prime crime” years. That’s how long it takes before you begin to reap what you sow when you traumatize and desensitize children. (Centerwall, 1992).” (from Teaching Our Kids to Kill)


12 thoughts on “When Kids Kill Kids

  1. I only have a minute but have to comment briefly. I can’t believe what they wrote in 1992 – 20 years ago and was anyone listening? There are lots of concerned parents who do keep in touch with what their kids are watching and playing. It’s the latch-key kids coming home to empty houses where no one is looking over their shoulders and there are so many of them. About the “Hunger Games” I don’t think i can watch it – I would have nightmares! I have to be careful even what I read before i sleep. I guess I’m too sensitive…


  2. Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Marilyn. I too am less worried about efforts to stimulate thought and discussion about violence in some seemingly “violent” films and books and MUCH more worried about the times it is interwoven with humor or mockery without compassion. I’ve occasionally been immersed in a film when suddenly violence was clearly supposed to be funny . . . and it wasn’t funny at all, but I wondered how confusing that same scene could be to young people. Are you supposed to laugh? How many times does that happen before you do just laugh?? And forget that you should really be crying. And the use of violence in ‘play’ as in video games . . . disturbing isn’t even a strong enough word. Some of our friends from other countries, when sending their children to the US for university studies, expressed great fear, admitting that their image of US society is of guns and mayhem and violence on every corner. They begged their children to stay on campus unless they were with family friends like us they trusted. And most of these international students are from countries that might be described as “violent” or “lawless” or “repressive” by many in the US!
    PS I’ve been over-the-top busy of late but read your blog daily, with gratitude!


    1. It is so good to get your perspective…and I’ve missed your voice on the blog! I relate with your overseas friends. When we were in both Pakistan and Egypt I was petrified about coming to the dangerous United States. During the summer of our relocation we lived in a not so great area of Washington DC near Capitol HIll. I was terrified and there I was with 5 little kids. I would think “And people think the Middle East is dangerous??” in complete disbelief. My frustration comes in so many of us being aware of this but not being able to make a dent in the billion dollar entertainment industry.


  3. I think you’re right on. Children who watch violent murders come out being violent children, I believe.
    I work with 60 children living in a urban setting. Every one of them watches very violent videos, plays violent video games, and several have watched their dad/mom being killed in a very violent way. All of them have the same problem – their first reaction to anything that crosses their will is violence. They talk about killing as though it were a everyday occurrence. It shocks me. And we wonder why we have children going into schools with guns!
    I think you get my heart. I don’t know if these children will ever be able to deprogram all that they’ve taken in; I certainly hope and pray they will. But it’s scary, watching whole generation grow up like this. And I’m even more thankful that I had parents who didn’t allow me to grow up on violent videos and games. Would my life be the same had they allowed me to?


    1. Jessica – thanks for giving this personal perspective. Do you teach or work in another capacity in the community.? One physician said that the evidence of this violence affecting youth is “so irrefutable that to deny it would be like denying the Holocaust”. And I do get your heart…. I think that grace is the great deprogrammer.


      1. yes … I tell people that my life is a tale of two cities right now. ;) I’m working in two cities nearby – in the one, teaching English to a refugee family and helping with schoolwork and such, and in the other, working with urban kids, teaching them the Bible and just giving them the love many of them are missing. I love it. :)


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