By now I am sure that many of you have learned about the tragic killing that took place at Jonathan Law High School in Milford CT. early this morning. The story that is being reported is that a 16-year-old young man killed a 16-year-old young woman because she rejected his invitation to the prom. He is reported to have attempted to choke her and then threw her down the stairs before stabbing her to death at their high school. All of the details about what happened and details about the suspect and his relationship (or lack thereof) with the victim are not in yet so I am not going to prematurely attempt to explain why this killing took place and what the psychological dynamics at play were. To do so would be irresponsible at this point.
Nonetheless, I am being asked questions by concerned parents of teens and I understand this high level of anxiety. One mother's question struck me as particularly important. And, it is that question that I will attempt to answer to calm the hearts and minds of parents of teens everywhere.
This mom asked if this act of violence would start a trend. It is an excellent question. I certainly hope that the answer is an unequivocal no. It takes more than one well-publicized incident to start a trend. Additionally, if parents use this event as a teaching opportunity to talk to their kids about dating, violence, how to handle rejection and the ups and downs that they will face in relationships and life in general then an incidental effect may occur. Perhaps the rate of teen violence may decrease. I am not at all implying that the teen suspect in Milford was dating his victim. I am instead underscoring the importance of teaching our kids about rejection, relationships and how to handle feelings so that they are less likely to become frustrated and act in dangerous and extreme ways.
Parents have a responsibility to talk to their kids about their feelings particularly in relationships whether their kids are passive, aggressive, gay,straight or male or female. We cannot expect them to instinctively know how to handle relationship issues.
So, the answer to whether or not this horribly violent incident which occurred this morning will start a trend is that it is unlikely to do so. And, it is even less likely to do so if parents communicate about sensitive topics with their teens.
I hope that your teens enjoy prom season whether or not they attend their proms. Please also let them know that the lack of an invitation to the prom is not an indication of their goodness or their worth. You may even want to offer them alternative plans if, because of a variety of circumstances, they are not going. Proms, like the rest of life, are fraught with excitement and disappointment. This may also be an opportunity to teach your kids a crucial life lesson-that disappointment is yet another feeling that must be dealt with.