Friday, May 21, 1999

Children's Summit speaker raps 'toxic society'

Troubled boys now realizing lethal fantasies

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE — There have always been boys who felt angry, rejected and left out and took to violent fantasies in order to stave off their bad feelings, Cornell University Professor James Garbarino said Thursday at the 1999 Children's Summit in Louisville.

        But, in an ever-violent and “toxic” society, young boys are crossing a major psychological barrier — once an “unbridgeable chasm” — to get the weapons that will make those fantasies come true, he said.

        “That in itself is a measure of toxicity” in today's society, he said, stressing that children in suburban and rural schools now feel threatened where, once before, it was just inner-city children who lived under the threat of violence.

        Mr. Garbarino, co-director of Cornell University's Family Life Development Center and a consultant for media reports on children and families, spoke to 350 representatives from children's services agencies from throughout Kentucky.

        He has studied the impact of the Gulf War upon children in Kuwait and Iraq, and worked with young American murder convicts.

        When he spoke Thursday, he reminded the audience that there's no sure answer to keeping a child from becoming violent but that it helps if they grow up with a sense of security, stability and spirituality and attend a smaller school where students generally have a sense of feeling needed.

        “A boy can be very rich on the outside and poor on the inside,” Mr. Garbarino said.

        Mr. Garbarino said there's no denying that American soci ety has become more violent, that adults don't have the same authority that they once did and that a greater number of teens need professional mental health services and are more likely to resort to violence.

        There are some environments that some people can't survive, he said. His first example was a World War II study on men in combat for 60 days. Ninety-eight percent became “psychological casualties” afterward. The remaining 2 percent actually were classified as psychopaths and were the only ones who could stand the stress of 60 days of battle, he said.

        He stressed that there are “war zones” all over America now. These neighborhoods are generally impoverished, dealing with a lot of teen violence and, for example, 30 percent of young children know somebody who has died violently.

        Mr. Garbarino noted a contemporary study, in which the goal was to figure out the resiliency of African-American male teens who were abused or neglected as children and living in poverty.

        He found that none was resilient — or, rather, that all were in need of professional mental health services and had been designated for remedial and special education.

        There are risk factors such as poverty, being abused, growing up in a large household, being raised by just one parent, that make children susceptible, he said. The chances of children turning to violence increase when they start dealing with four or more of these risk factors, he said.

        Children's Alliance of Frankfort sponsored the summit, which will conclude today. The goal was to raise awareness of child abuse, neglect and others and how they have a strong connection to youth violence.


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