HARRISON: Blame us, not things

America has witnessed a startling surge in mass shootings over the past few years. In the wake of unthinkable tragedies like Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbia, Md. mall shootings, it is tempting to assuage our consciences by calling these episodes anomalies. We assure ourselves that these are isolated incidents, freakish occurrences — ones that do not reflect any weaknesses in our own social paradigm. As a society, we don’t even entertain the prospect that we could be collectively responsible for this violence.

But we need to.

Neglectful parenting is wreaking havoc on our children’s ability to communicate, form friendships and function in society. But instead of having an honest dialogue about our children’s development, we tend to reach for more convenient explanations, ones that come packaged with immediate or short-term solutions.

We need to stop blaming inanimate objects like guns and electronics for our own inability to foster emotional and spiritual development in our children. Video games do not impart violence to our children; they simply fill an emotional void that is created when parents, friends and mentors shirk their responsibilities and leave kids to raise themselves. Nor are guns to blame for these mass shootings; it should be obvious that these madmen have already resolved to inflict damage on others by the time they procure the means to do so. We shouldn’t stultify ourselves with the notion that deranged men and women can be “disarmed,” when in lieu of guns, they can realize their goals with an array of alternative weapons. That James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, was found to have stockpiles of rudimentary explosives in his apartment on the day of his shooting spree affirms this fact. Should we require background checks on ammonium nitrate buyers, too?

According to the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Journal, more than one in 10 Americans are currently prescribed antidepressant medication. From 1994 to 2008, prescriptions for these potent SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have witnessed a 400 percent increase. This trend differs only marginally among age groups; SSRI use among adolescents — 12-17 year–olds — is rising at nearly the same rate found in their parents’ generation. The benefits of these drugs, when properly applied, have been well documented, so I won’t question their positive influence on society. But I am questioning the rationality of parents who put their children on powerful psychotropic drugs and leave them to moderate their own use.

This criminal negligence is well documented in a survey published by the Center for Disease Control in 2008. According to the CDC, only 29 percent of SSRI-taking adolescents said they had seen a psychiatrist or medical professional within the last year. These are powerful drugs with potentially dangerous side effects including suicidal thoughts, violent behavior and extreme emotional volatility. In a country where suicide is the third most common cause of death among teenagers, parental oversight for our suffering children cannot be an option; it must be an absolute imperative. More to the point, we must confront the question of why so many Americans feel the need to medicate their children. These statistics on antidepressant usage should prompt a national conversation about the role of family and friends in our children’s development. This dialogue can’t be restricted to medication. It also has to address television and video games, both of which are employed by parents who find it acceptable to distract their children instead of raising them properly.

We have to acknowledge that our own hands are not entirely clean in this mass-shooting epidemic. We have to stop scapegoating guns, the NRA and faulty background checks — and finally admit that our experiment of raising children in front of a television set has gone horribly awry. Don’t let your favorite politicians lure you back into willful ignorance of this fact; they, alongside the media pundits who obsequiously carry water for them, will always try to divert your attention away from issues that lack an immediate, concrete solution. The right to bear arms, as enshrined in the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution, was not designed with the likes of hunters, rightwing “fanatics” or gun-loving conservatives in mind. It was designed to protect us and to ensure that our government would never own a monopoly on violence. The NRA is not our enemy; denial is.

We have to confront the hard truth that our social paradigm needs fixing, because inaction will only prolong the senseless violence. This we owe to our children, to our children’s children and to America’s future.

Tom Harrison is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at thomas.harrison@yale.edu .

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