A future killer under our roof? What one parent would do differently
“I wish I had learned how to communicate differently with him and how to listen better. … I wish I had realized that things can seem perfectly fine when they are not, and the other lesson I wish I had learned is to shut up and listen.”
This is Sue Klebold, a mother who mourns still, after 17 years. Her son, Dylan, was one of the Columbine school shooters.
In spite of all the grief, guilt and confusion over his actions, Klebold says she never stopped loving him. Above all, she wishes she would have opened her eyes to the brewing violence in her son.
The importance of asking questions
Klebold says until the basement recordings of Dylan and fellow school shooter Eric Harris were discovered, she was in complete denial about her son’s part in the massacre. As many other Columbine residents, she didn’t believe such evil could originate in their small, suburban town. Klebold was convinced Dylan was brainwashed and recalled him as a sensitive and loving kid who doodled hearts and had a mindful sense of consciousness. So she didn’t ask many questions of him.
Klebold has racked her brain to exhaustion, trying to replay every milestone and memory of Dylan’s family life, to find when and where he went awry and what part she played in that.
“We went back and thought about that evening, and we remembered when Eric spent the night and he had brought a big duffel bag in and we had just assumed it was, I don’t know, perhaps a video camera or a computer – we weren’t in the habit of asking guests what they were bringing over – and we had to sort of put these pieces together of what the boys had been doing that night, and it was a complete shock.”
She and her husband had no clue the boys were recording videos bragging of planned destruction while brandishing guns.
Many American parents, in fact, don’t ask questions. If their child gets decent grades, seems not to be an addict or promiscuous and doesn’t get into fistfights, parents abide by the “keep out” sign on the bedroom door. It’s a type of “no news is good news” mentality. This is an egregious mistake. The Klebold parents likely never asked why Dylan would own and wear a shirt to school donned with the single word “wrath” that fatal day. There remains a heated
It was later found in Dylan’s journals – notes from two years before the suicide-massacre – about mental agony, pain, and wanting to end his thoughts altogether. He writes about wanting a gun and cutting himself. His mother says in hindsight she believes he was having suicidal thoughts and untreated depression that festered into his participation in the tragedy.
In addition to her profound grief and compassion for the victims and their families, Klebold is ever-mindful of the internet availability of the boys’ videoed killing plans. She says the ramifications thereof are dangerous for potential copycats and could fuel denial within their own families.
“I knew that if people believed that someone who was going to do something as heinous as Dylan did, acted openly as Dylan did in that tape, they would develop a false sense of security to be able to say, ‘My loved one doesn’t act like that, therefore I am safe. My loved one is not at risk.’”
Klebold laments, “I wish that I had had the ability to delve deeper and ask the kinds of questions that would’ve encouraged him to open up more to me.”
Larry Rosen, Ph.D., offers proactive steps to parent with purpose. He says you don’t have to spy to find out what your child is thinking. Rather, regular and natural quality time and the right questions will give parent’s insight.
“The bottom line is that once the question has been asked, the parent’s job is to sit quietly, with a neutral or positive expression and not say a word. This is the time to use your parental radar to really listen to your kids and assess any threats to their psyches.”
Research demonstrates at least four family meals weekly help develop trust and a solid family system. Further, family connectedness is correlated to a lessened chance of youth engaging in high-risk behaviors – such as violence and substance use – and fewer psychological problems, including emotional distress.
Why do some crave violence?
We’ve heard school shooters have often been the types to play violent video games and seem numb to violence on TV or in real life. Sometimes this is due to living in a dangerous environment or culture, while other times it is desensitization from entertainment. According to Glenn Sparks, Ph.D., even some mentally sound individuals are not fazed or even enjoy violence in entertainment, for several reasons:
- Some are biologically wired to enjoy high levels of physiological arousal
- About 10 percent of the population enjoys the adrenaline rush from scary events
- A small population has an easier time than most, screening out unwanted stimuli
- Males are socialized to be brave and enjoy social gratification from mastering threatening things
- Still others naturally have low empathy levels
What if my child is fascinated by blood and violence?
There are some parents who allow children to watch gore and encourage their love of violent, bloody displays. Some even fuel the fascination, laying claims to the “future in medicine” ideal. The question to ask oneself as a parent, loved one or authority is, “To what end?” Are they dissecting the family’s already dead fish or killing rodents in an alley? Do they rush to patch up all the neighborhood kids’ skinned knees or get visibly excite at the idea of smearing fake blood on mom and her friends?
If the child shows medical interest, there are mentally healthy avenues to support their curiosity and not shame them. Medical play involves acclimating a youth to the hospital milieu by introducing aspects in play. Play has been used in psychology as an unpretentious setting to broach heavy topics. Science teachers nationwide have provided “blood models” online to destigmatize and educate on the intricacies of blood.
Further, there are a host of careers that can capitalize on one’s ease with blood: phlebotomy, movie makeup, forensics and crime scene cleanup to name a few.
If gore is the interest, cinematography and graphic artistry could be a career path worth aspiring to. The key is balance. Is the adolescent comfortable and nonplussed, or downright obsessed with violence.
If they crave engaging all their senses in blood or violence with no apparent medical or cinema aspiration, there is a legitimate cause for concern. Be careful not to rush to judgement, however. A sudden burst of expressions regarding blood in drawing, dreams or dialogue may indicate recent personal trauma. In either case, communicating first with medical professionals is the first step.
The Sovereign Health Group stands as a nationwide authority treating mental health disorders which manifest in substance abuse, eating disorders and psychological distress. We are a hub of doctors, therapists, alternative therapy experts and residential attendants all dedicated to tailoring treatment to each individual for lasting recovery. Call our 24/7 helpline to get a professional opinion.
About the author
Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.