Teens Who Kill

Murder is the second leading cause of death among American teenagers, after car accidents. The teen murder rate here is ten times that of Western Europe and seventy times Japan’s. The majority (75%) of teen murderers know their victims: 27% are family members, and 48% are friends or acquaintances. Eighty percent of the time, the teen killer uses a gun, and 75% of the time, the murder is about gang violence. Girls account for 10% of teen murders, and their victim is usually a parent, boyfriend or their own child.

What happens most often is that two teens get into an argument, which escalates into violence. Many murders occur in or around schoolyards. Some experts believe that if teens could learn to control their impulses and apologize, the murder rate would fall. In fact, one study of teen road rage found that violence ended when someone said, “I’m sorry.” Other experts link teen violence to mental illness and genetic factors.

The following circumstances double the chances of a teen committing murder: history of being abused or neglected, gang membership, and family history of criminal violence. These triple the risk: having a gun in the house, school difficulties and poor attendance, history of arrests, and having a neurological disorder.

There are several kinds of killers: the angry, impulsive teen who acts in anger or passion, the teen with an ongoing problem with a family member or friend, the teen who kills while committing a crime, and the school shooter. Sixteen percent of teen murders have no apparent motive.

After the Columbine High School shootings, the United States Department of Education commissioned a study to determine a psychological profile of school shooters. The only two descriptions that held for all of them were severe depression and a history of suicide attempts. Another study found that two-thirds of school shooters who survive to talk about the incident said they had been bullied and felt persecuted threatened and attacked at school. Yet another research team found that school shooters have no significant social bonds with family members or other teens, and tended to be angry, sullen loners with an extreme interest in violence.

Parents need to watch for signs of depression and suicidal ideation in their teens because aggression toward others is linked to self-aggression. Other signs of potential trouble are poor anger and impulse control, obsession with weapons and violence, being bullied or bullying others, social isolation, and mental disorders. Other markers for violence are lack of conscience and empathy, cruelty to animals or children, drug and alcohol abuse, nihilism, contempt for others, and black and white thinking. If you suspect your child has such problems, take him or her to a psychologist or mental health center specializing in adolescents.

Having a gun in your house triples your child’s risk for homicide and increases his or her chances of committing suicide ten times over.