Youth Violence and “Uncommon Decency”
A commentary on the issues raised by the Seattle Bus Tunnel beating incident, March 2010
No doubt you saw it or heard about it because it made national news. The recent beating of a young girl in the Seattle Metro Bus Tunnel is, sadly, only the latest episode in an increasing epidemic of youth violence. Caught in excruciating detail on video cameras, the event highlights so much of what is dreadfully wrong, not only with our young people today, but even the adults. Like the incident in Connecticut in 2008 where a pedestrian was struck and injured by a hit-and-run driver, this act speaks volumes about the depths to which our society has fallen.
It’s one thing for teens to be beating each other up. That’s enough of a problem and one that must be dealt with, much more effectively than we’re doing. According to a recent Harris Interactive Report, nearly ½ of the students in Junior/Middle and High School reported that bullying and harassment were serious problems in their schools. Even scarier is that 69% of these students reported being assaulted or harassed in the past year, and that in many cases the teachers or staff did nothing about it when it was reported.
This failure to get involved is consistent with what we saw from the adult “security personnel” in the Metro bus tunnel. Sure their policy was that they were only to observe and report, but as one witness stated, “common decency” would have dictated they do something – at least check on the victim to see if she was ok.
Therein lies the problem: “common decency” is anything but common these days. If there is every a justification for why we need to bring effective social skills and character education into our schools its incidents such as this, the “Kill Piper” incident of last year in Federal Way, WA, and many more too countless to name. Our kids simply aren’t acquiring the vital social and emotional learning that tells them that treating other people – whether peers or adults – this way is WRONG. It’s not something that happened overnight; these teens didn’t go through their entire early childhood as model students only to wake up one day as a teen and decide, “I’m going to smack someone up today.” And, those adults who do nothing but stand by and watch are lacking some elemental thread of empathy and compassion because our natural instinct as humans calls us to help when we see someone injured, lost, or scared. Somewhere along the way, this instinct was squelched and this exhibition of “it’s not my problem” is the result.
Youth violence is a major problem on all levels. It has a $158B financial impact every year, not to mention the collateral damage of hurt lives and broken bodies, arrests and convictions, even death. For those who believe we can’t afford to take stronger action, particularly in schools, where we stand to make the largest impact, it’s a “pay me now or pay me later problem.” It may take only a few dollars to educate a student early in school in social skills and character programs that reduce this kind of behavior and attitude, but it takes $40,000 or more to incarcerate one offender for a year. And, more importantly, what is the cost of a life? What will this young victim go through for days, months, years after this assault, and how will those three security professionals be able to sleep at night knowing they could have taken action, but it was “against policy?”
We owe it to our kids, to our communities and to our future to start taking a deeper look at the problem of bullying, anti-social behavior and youth violence and commit to taking effective action against it. How bad does it have to get before we finally say, “Enough?”
Corinne Gregory, President and Founder of SocialSmarts®, based in Bellevue, WA is an education expert, author and speaker. More about SocialSmarts and its positive impacts on school discipline, morale and academic achievement can be found at www.socialsmarts.com. To contact Corinne directly for speaking engagements or media appearances email her at email@example.com.