Monday, April 20, 2009

No mention of family structure in the analysis of the Columbine shootings -- remember this for next time

There's been some thoughtful reporting about the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings, like the NPR interview with Dave Cullen about his book, Columbine. The subject that fascinates the most -- still -- is what caused the two shooters to unleash their torrent of death and destruction. I'm as interested in this as the next person.

But I've been struck while listening by a simple fact. No one mentions the family structure of either young man. I don't mean that no one mentions their families. Of course the questions about what the parents knew, what they did and what they didn't do have received enormous scrutiny. Lisa Belkin reflects on this in today's New York Times.

But no one even asks the question about whether the family structure in which these children were raised contributed to their terrible actions. And that's because both were raised by their married, heterosexual, biological parents.

Imagine any other family form -- never-married mother, divorced parents, gay parent, same-sex couple parents, raised by a grandmother or other relative, raised by a step-parent, adopted -- the list is long. You KNOW that everyone would be asking about the impact of that family form on the children. Some would dismiss it, but still, everyone would feel the need to comment. I assume there would be some lengthy and serious feature reporting on the subject. Was the child reacting to the shame of a gay parent? Was he trying to get the attention of the mother who placed him for adoption? Did he lack a positive male role model in the home? The list of questions would be long.

If you add race to the mix, the questions would become a frenzy. Raised by a single black mother? Raised by a Latina grandmother? Many commentators would find both pathology and causation.

Should we be asking whether a culture of married, heterosexual, biological parents helped turn these two young men into killers? If not, then the next time there is a tragedy of similar proportions and the killers have a different family form, let's remember Columbine and look somewhere other than family structure to understand what happened.

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