Harsh title, huh? If it caught your attention then it worked. Before I go on a tangent let me get to the point I want to make…
I always have the television playing in the background as I do school, writing, beat-making, etc. To avoid being distracted I keep the channel tuned to some form of news; either Al Jazeera America (when the channel is working properly) or one of the CNN networks. I don’t expect Turner’s brainchild to inform me of anything, but I did learn something today: parents are raising a generation of cowards.
Let me explain. I’m 27, so I grew up in the Columbine era. We were the first generation of students who had to endure frequent bomb or shooter threats, and I can attest to the fact that most parents and students didn’t take them very seriously. But do you know what else we had? Fights.
That’s right, teenagers fought. It wasn’t daily and it never warranted medical attention, but it still happened. And nobody shot or stabbed anyone. Some were suspended (fairly), others expelled (in my opinion unnecessarily), but it never escalated beyond fists and feet. This brings me to the point of this piece: when aggression has to be suppressed it becomes almost inevitable that it will resurface in an explosive manner.
Teenagers are insane. I can say that because 8 years ago I was one of them. They’re irrational, hormonal, aggressive, and unpredictable. And while we try to create this politically correct society where nobody gets their feelings hurt, we’ve boxed these teens into a corner. It’s human nature to be defensive or aggressive if threatened, and no time in life feels more stressful (and thereby threatening) than those awkward teenage years.
Violence isn’t good, and I don’t want to give the impression I approve of unwarranted violence. Here’s the thing though; I grew up taking martial arts, and fighting (full contact sparring) was essential. Did I assault people without cause or resort to violence at any opportunity? No. But the fact I had an outlet to release physical aggression is the reason why. Knowing this, it seems illogical to have zero tolerance policies that cause teens to be arrested for simple fist fights.
Sure, it’s disruptive. But do you realize what you do to the future of that teen when you arrest and prosecute them for a small fist fight where no great bodily injury occurred? You just made them a violent criminal, and if you charge them as an adult then you’ve effectively ensured that they will have to consider a life of crime due to a simple physical altercation.
Kids who have an outlet are never the ones who commit mass shootings or stabbings. We tell adults never to bottle their emotions because it can have tragic consequences, yet we force kids and teens to do exactly that. A fight is not an indicator of an emotional problem, but suppressing mild aggression until it boils over into homicidal rage is certainly an issue.
Give them an outlet. Add boxing or mma to the available sports for high school students if fiscally possible. Or just use common sense. A few punches should not have lifelong ramifications. And I can guarantee you that if students were punished proportionally for altercations you would see a major drop in serious violence like stabbings and shootings. Let them work it out, suspend them, but don’t expel or arrest a teen for throwing a punch. Sometimes getting your ass kicked is a great way to learn how to talk to or treat people, especially if you get your ass kicked for treating someone poorly.
There has to be a better answer than zero tolerance. It ruins lives, and fuels into the paranoia and hostility that dominates our society. I’ve met plenty of people who have never been in or around a physical altercation, and many of them share a common trait: they don’t follow the golden rule. While being punched in the face isn’t an ideal learning tool, I promise you never forget the reason why you were punched: usually for disrespecting or demeaning someone.
If we don’t find a balance between “keeping the peace” and letting the youth learn through experience, we will continue to see more and more deadly youth violence. Stop bottling their aggression and they’ll stop exploding. If we don’t address this issue and make serious change, we will have an entire generation of paranoid cowards who would rather pull a trigger than take an ass whipping that they probably deserve. And I assure you, we’ve all deserved to be punched in the face at one point….