Are today's kids angrier?

February 15, 2001

Are today's kids angrier?

Local Resource:

Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families


School used to be one of the sacred places, says Julie Van Metre, counselor at Eastern Elementary School in Hagerstown.

Columbine, although not the first - or last - of America's school shootings, changed that.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Last week an eighth-grade girl was suspended after New Jersey school officials learned she allegedly created a "hit list" of classmates.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> On Wednesday, an 18-year-old student was charged after bringing 18 bombs, a sawed-off shotgun and a loaded pistol into a high school, according to prosecutors in Elmira, N.Y.


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Thursday and Friday, there was a conference of educators, parents, law enforcement officials and students from across the nation in College Park, Md. Organized by The National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice at University of Maryland, the conference is not a reaction to highly publicized incidents of school violence, Sheri Meisel, the organization's associate director, said in a Feb. 15 wire service report.

Who'd have thought about putting surveillance cameras in Washington County schools five years ago? Bob Brown, principal at Western Heights Middle School, wonders.

Many of the models kids see in popular culture - on television, in video games - teach that violence is an acceptable way to deal with conflict, says Lloyd Van Bylevelt, vice president of the Peace Education Foundation.

Is civility a relic of the past? "It's not the good guy that's winning," Brown says about television's "Survivor."

Has the world changed?

"The culture is a thousand times different," says Rosanne Torpey, a nursing education specialist at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore. A psychiatric nurse, Torpey has worked with adolescents since 1972.

She's talking about single parents who have to work two jobs, leaving their kids unsupervised. She's talking about parents who are successful in careers but too busy to parent their kids. She's talking about kids who are "fried" - pressured, overloaded.

As a result, are kids angrier?

"I really believe kids are just as respectful and wonderful as they always were," says Jeanette Kauffman, supervisor of pupil personnel and guidance for Washington County Schools. "Parents are under more stress, and that comes down on kids. I think kids do respond to that."

Although statistics on discipline show a slight increase in reports of some violent incidents, the numbers are low. The suspension rate is low - first or second lowest in the state, says Martha Roulette, director of student services for Washington County Schools.

But there are more children who are coming to school with mental health needs - with anger - kids who probably would have been hospitalized years ago, Roulette says.

"The role of the school is different," she says.

Children are not learning how to deal with conflict at home, says Van Bylevelt says. Schools have to teach the skills. Dealing with discipline problems in the classroom takes time away from academic instruction. Kids need to feel safe in order to learn, Van Bylevelt says.

The main focus of the Florida-based Peace Education Foundation is conflict resolution, Van Bylevelt says. The organization, at on the Web, offers curricula for use in schools from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, lesson plans used in more than 20,000 - mostly elementary - schools in the United States.

Van Metre has used some of the organization's materials. She trained a group of students to be peer mediators, helping other students to work out conflicts. They are spreading the lesson that there are nonviolent ways to solve problems.

There are other positives. Research-based programs - such as a positive approach to discipline at Western Heights Middle School, peer mediation and conflict resolution in other schools, a program that teaches kids to control their emotions at South Hagerstown High School. "But it's hard to keep up with the needs," Roulette says.

Mental health services have come into the schools - where the children are, Roulette says. And there are community resources outside the schools - agencies such as Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families, and a host of nonprofit organizations that are available to help.

Considering the stressors that some of the children live with - they are coping. "They are doing great," Roulette says.

Despite difficult lives, there are resilient kids, Brown says. He knows students who accomplish more before they come to school in the morning than some people do in a whole day.

"We do have kids that are survivors," he says.

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