While I focus on fictional accounts, there are unfortunately numerous examples of real-life prominent cases of violence and terror perpetrated by children and adolescents. One of the Boston Marathon bombers was merely nineteen. Vicious crimes are committed by teenage males (usually), sometimes individually and sometimes in packs. School shootings are now a fairly regular event, and their occurrence leaves us shaking out heads in confusion looking for reasons why these things happen.
We are destined to be confused after each and every occurrence because there are multiple reasons for each one, and these reasons differ across events. In addition, there will always be unknowns in each occurrence which we simply cannot identify. This missing data is frustrating because we cannot fill the gaps and we want to know – we want to be assured that this situation cannot happen to us. We want to think, well it’s no wonder this terrible thing happened, look at how he lived…or look at his parents – their lives are a mess, or it’s drugs, I tell ya…
Chances are, many of these variables or other related factors play a role in the disturbing acts of youth - or none of them do. More likely, though, the etiology is an unpredictable combination of genetics, biology, parenting skills, family dysfunction, abuse, alcoholism, mentally ill parents, individual child factors like poor social skills or coping skills or reasoning skills, neurological issues, violent TV preferences, living in a violent neighborhood, an absent father, the proliferation of automatic weapons… we can go on and on. And, this interacting combination of factors will vary from kid to kid. The same risk factors might produce drug abuse in one teenager and an eating disorder in another. Likewise, there can be multiple risk factors that vary across kids which promote the same problem.
For many parents, you don’t need supernatural events to watch your beloved child struggle on a day to day basis. The emotional distress in a child is enough to ravage parental hopes and dreams. The sense of panic doesn’t relent as parents watch their children grow despondent or become fearful or descend into a nightmare of self-destructive behavior.
When I went to college, I had it in my head that I would major in something like political science and then go to law school and become a lawyer. My freshman year I took an Introduction to Psychology class as an elective. I fell in love with the topic. I found myself really interested in developmental issues – the stages that kids go through as they mature, the skills they learn to navigate their world, how they mature in their cognitive or reasoning abilities – you name it, I found it fascinating. This class changed my life trajectory. I was intrigued with how kids develop and became drawn to examine factors that might play a role when things go wrong. I started studying and researching the moral and social reasoning in delinquent adolescents. This lead to working with adolescents to improve self-control skills and anger-management skills. Somewhere along the way, my professional interests shifted to kids who seemed to function okay on the outside but who struggle internally with anxiety and stress. From there, it was only a short jump to focusing on youth with chronic health conditions and any related adjustment problems or adherence problems. While some of this work was conducted in a clinical setting, the vast majority of my work occurred in academic settings. That is, as a university professor, most of my professional work emphasized the training of graduate students and conducting research on these very topics.
You’re probably wondering, what’s the point of all this?
Well, here goes.
There is one thing I can say about my life with absolute certainty: I am sure glad I didn’t become a lawyer.
This career has been very fulfilling. It has been an honor to work with graduate students in order to train them as counselors and psychologists. My work with teenagers and their families has also been very rewarding. I’ve seen kids learn new skills and make sense of their experiences. Sometimes, I’ve seen the impact of therapy through the eyes of my students – when they are excited in their reports of client improvement. These are truly remarkable moments.
Since I have been writing horror novels on the side, so to speak, I have tried very much to incorporate these observations. In Birth Offering, I wanted Ryan to experience a lack of certainty about what is going on with him. I wanted his mother’s concern that he is developing a mental illness to feel palpable to the reader. My incorporation of these notions into a horror story worked pretty well, I think. Incidentally, I will have a novella published next year by Damnation Books, entitled Dead Works (this is the first unofficial/official announcement, I guess), and the story line addresses this topic more directly. The entire novel takes place within the context of a therapy session between a doctoral psychology student and his 13-year old client. The focal point of the story is essentially this: is the client being haunted or is he developing a mental illness?
Well, I apologize for a certain lack of cohesion in this entry. There is a certain connection with the topic of the past two posts, mainly in terms of how “it all fits”. Now, if I can just figure out what it all means…