Giving Teens a Voice

Detroit Free Press

Adults Face Gun Problem Empty-Handed

April 3, 2001
Susan Ager
Detroit Free Press

Heading home, tired and hungry, I settle onto the red vinyl stool at the counter of a truck stop to slurp chicken soup and listen to the lone rangers around me debate kids and violence.

"We'll see something lots worse than Columbine any day now, just wait," says a big guy halfway through a fat cheese omelet. His baseball cap is too faded to read. "And these kids aren't poor black kids. Nope, they're white, middle-class kids with nice homes and everything they've ever wanted.

"As John Ashcroft says, you can pass all the gun laws you want and that won't stop these kids, who don't care about nothin' or nobody."

The trucker next to me, with a chunky silver-and-turquoise bracelet on each wrist, lifts his head from his stuffed peppers to announce: "We gotta execute the little bastards."

No one blinks.

"We gotta strap 'em into those electric chairs and I betcha we wouldn't have to do more than that before the rest of 'em got the message.

"They may be 14 or 15, but they're not kids like you and I were kids. I never thought about taking a gun to school to blow off another kid. I never thought about taking a gun to school for nothin'.

"I tell you, we gotta execute 'em."

Our waitress swipes her rag across the counter and says, "Hell, you can't hit your 13-year-old with a belt or you'll end up in jail. I know, because I did."

Everyone sighs, and the men bend their heads back to their plates.

No solutions

Not one mentions if he has or ever had a kid of his own, or how that kid turned out. Nor do they say if they carry guns in their trucks, or keep guns at home.

But one man can suggest frying kids, and nobody howls these days, at least nobody at a truck stop in the Midwest.

There's not a PhD among them. Yet experts chin-deep in degrees are sighing in frustration, too.

I wonder why nobody's asking for advice from the kids.

A different administration might have called for a national conversation about school violence, with kids at center stage. It would use trained facilitators, adults who are good with teenagers, to lead small-group discussions at 5,000 high schools throughout the country. Maybe it would organize televised town hall meetings, with nobody over 18 allowed to speak except to pose the important questions:

         What makes some kids shoot up their schools?
         What can all of us, kids and adults together, do to prevent that?

But this administration dumped even global warming from the priority list. If solving the problem of kids and violence doesn't promote our national economy, I guess we'll just have to live with it, too.

Missing the point

And we are. School shootings with fewer than five dead might not even top the evening news if Alan Greenspan made a peep that day.

Nobody's talking enough about this and, worse, nobody's listening -- to the kids.

Every good parent listens at the dinner table, if that meal is still eaten sitting down. But that's not where kids reveal their anger and fear. They do it in poetry in their school notebooks or on their beds on the phone with a friend at 11 p.m.

Watch the fictitious drug scenes in the movie "Traffic," where A-students at a private high school talk about life, and you'll get a hint what we're missing.

I wish all of us could read the poetry and hear the talk, to begin to understand what kids know that we don't, and what kids need that we might give them.

Contact SUSAN AGER at 313-222-6862.
The Detroit Free Press