Any discussion regarding youth violence must start with a few dispersions of myth. Firstly, the youth crime rate is actually dropping while baby boomer violent crime is on the rise. Secondly, the sensationalization of the Columbine incident makes accurate information regarding that tragedy nearly impossible to isolate. Perhaps the best answer to the question of “What’s the matter with kids today?” is simply “Nothing, they’ve always been like this because people are like this.”

With all those disclaimers declared, there are lessons to be learned from the caricature formed from the elder generations’ fears that is Alex. Common sense states and psychologists such as B.F. Skinner proved that people can be conditioned, and thus environment does effect the development of a person’s psyche. Therefore, moral conditioning at a young age, or a lack thereof, can have a strong influence on the later behavior of a person. Alex’s parents’ behavior clearly exhibits this lack of influence at this stage in his life, however, we do not know whether they have always lacked influence, or if this is a result of frustration with his uncontrollable behavior.

Just as nature influences development, so does nurture. The genes that determine a person’s body also play a part in determining a person’s brain, it being a part of that body. A significant difference between the way one person’s brain forms and the average brain development (to call it an error is an act of extreme presumption and conceit on the part of the person possessing the average brain) can result in “abnormal” behavior. In some cases this abnormal behavior is seen as a “good” thing, such as unusually high math or art ability. In other cases it is a “bad” thing, such as hyperactivity or lack of consideration for human life.

If we can assume that the rate of occurrence of brains severely different enough to cause uncontrollable violent behavior is remaining constant (a large assumption, but one necessary for the sake of argument, with increased radiation and pollution having a non-significant effect on gene mutation rate), then as the population rises, there will be a constant rate of violent youths, but an increased gross number, resulting in an illusion of increased violence. A corporatized media who recognizes the high rating potential in stories that can scare already irrational parents into watching accentuates this myth.

What are the lengths to which it is acceptable to go to prevent crime? In the United States, our Constitution, the document that establishes the ground rules for our society, states that these lengths do not extend to the point where they become “cruel and unusual.” Conditioning someone to the point where he or she suffers pain any time he or she thinks certain thoughts, or even when he or she is exposed to extraneous stimuli that were inadvertently conditioned as well, is most definitely cruel. If a person is no longer allowed the choice of what actions to perform, then that person is no longer allowed to choose whether to live in our society or not, and is simply alive to perform in the work force as a slave. And if we have this power to condition people, then why use it only on those who have already committed crimes when we can prevent all crimes by conditioning everyone against those actions that the government declares illegal.

If conditioning an adult to create morals is wrong, then why is conditioning a child to create morals right? Evidence would suggest that in fact the human mind has evolved to prevent the conditioning of morals in individuals. Despite thousands of years of parents complaining about the rebelliousness of teenagers (at least as far back as the Romans have such writings), the behavior still exists. A change in body chemistry has been shown to correlate to this change in behavior, strongly suggesting, though admittedly not necessarily proving, a biological cause. If such a change in behavior has evolved, then it must have an effect on the species that if nothing else is conducive to survival. Recent research has shown that at the same time this rebellion against conditioning occurs, the moral centers of the brain begin to cement. Would this not suggest that it is at least evolutionarily beneficially to have each individual determine its own moral system?

If it is human nature to have a free will that results in a certain portion of that society that will harm other parts of the then should a society remove that will? If we remove that free will, then why not remove all free will so that there would be no harm to anyone? But if there is no free will, then why have a society at all? Those who have lost someone they loved for the sake of everyone else’s free will might say that that society is better than the one we are in now, and who is to say they are wrong?

A quote from a very well-known and influential writer:

"Boys and girls are dressing alike. They love luxury, have contempt for authority, show disrespect for their elders and prefer to chatter than to exercise. Children are now tyrants and not the servants of their households. They no longer show respect when elders enter the room, they contradict their parents, chatter over the top of their elders, gobble their food at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers."

Socrates, 467-400BC

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same...

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