Boy trouble

School shooters usually are sons of divorced — or absent — parents, writes W. Bradford Wilcox. Boys raised by a single mother are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father,” he writes.

“Fathers . . . are important for maintaining authority and discipline,” writes sociologist David Popenoe. “And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Family breakdown is tougher on boys than girls, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. When parents divorce, girls tend to “internalize” their unhappiness, become depressed, while boys act out, becoming more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Girls get better after a few years. Boys don’t.

Boys are slower to mature, writes Hymowitz. They need more “civilizing.”

Lone parents tend to have a tougher time providing the predictability and order that help boys become capable students and workers. Poverty undoubtedly worsens the problem: in general, low-income children have poorer “executive function,” such as self-control and cognitive flexibility, than do middle-income children, according to a 2011 study by a group of Berkeley neuropsychologists. But poor children in single-parent families still came out worse in the study than kids with poor married parents. This is probably because unmarried parents tend to break up more frequently, go on to new relationships, sometimes serially, and bring stepparents and half- and step-siblings into their children’s lives.

Low-income single mothers often live in neighborhoods where “gangs have replaced fathers, the threat of violence looms, and schools are filled with apathetic or hostile males.” Economic mobility tracks marriage, concludes a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project:  “Areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. . . .  areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children, including those from single-parent homes.”

Schools can provide structure, time for boys to play rough-and-tumble games and better literacy programs, writes Hymowitz. But it’s not clear what will work for boys growing up without fathers — in places where “fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous.”

Students invent classroom door lock

“Shaken by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and determined to prevent future tragedies, a team of high school students in Washington, D.C., has invented a new locking device for classroom doors,” reports Discovery News. Often classroom doors can’t be locked from the inside due to fire-safety regulations. They hope their low-cost device will help teachers keep intruders out.

lock

Ten Benjamin Banneker Academic High School students, led by math teacher John Mahoney, created the Dead Stop. A PVC pipe that’s hinged on one side can be locked on the other with a steel pin. Fitted over a hydraulic door closer, it will prevent the door hinge from widening.

 When the students did research about patents and commercially available door locks, they said most of the devices they found required physical installation either on the door or the jamb. Other devices were expensive and complicated to install. Theirs should cost less than $5 and be simple enough that a teacher could lock the door in under 30 seconds, they said. Once the danger has passed it should be easy to remove as well.

With a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant, the students plan to build and test several prototypes of their design, publicize the DIY instructions and collaborate with a company to manufacture the device. They’re hoping for pro bono help in applying for a patent.

School shooters are crazy

The Columbine killers and most other school shooters are severely mentally ill, concludes psychologist Peter Langman in Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.

Released just before the 10th anniversary of Columbine, the book is all too timely as Germans try to figure out why 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer murdered 15 people, including nine students and three teachers at his former school, before killing himself.  An unsuccessful student from an affluent family, Kretschmer had been treated at a psychiatric clinic for depression. Allegedly, the teen bragged about his plans on a chat room the night before the attack:

“I’m sick of this shitty life, always the same — everyone laughing at me, nobody sees my potential,” it said. “I’m serious Bernd — I got guns here, and I’m gonna head over to my old school tomorrow and have myself a good ole barbecue.”

Langman describes Columbine killer Eric Harris, 18, as a rage-filled, egotistical, conscience-less psychopath.  After reading the journals of Dylan Klebold, 17, Langman diagnoses him as “psychotic, suffering from paranoia, delusions and disorganized thinking.”

. . . Like Klebold, four other psychotic shooters profiled by Langman “were suicidally depressed and full of rage at the inexplicable unfairness of life,” writes the 49-year-old psychologist. “In addition, they were not living in reality. They all believed that people or monsters conspired to do them harm … They were confused and desperate and lost in the mazes of their minds.”

The most prevalent misconception about school shootings, Langman contends, is that they are perpetrated by loners or outcasts striking out against classmates who bullied them. In reality, most shooters were teased no more or no less than their peers, most had friends, and most of the victims were targeted at random.

How do you tell the kid who’s dangerous from the kid who’s just fantasizing? Look for “attack-related behavior,” says Langman. But it may be seen only in hindsight.