A recent spate of shockingly brutal murders in Israel, committed by teens, has shaken the nation. Government officials, media pundits, communal leaders and terrified parents have been asking similar questions-what is happening to our youth, and what can be done to prevent such senseless tragedies?
Hebrew and English headlines, such as, ‘Rehovot teen stabbed to death near home’, May 6, 2012, encapsulates the above anxiety. “A 17 year old boy was stabbed to death in Rehovot early on Sunday marking the 5th violent death in a wave of homicides in recent days……..many youths walk around in groups and many are armed with knives. The victim’s father is a Senior Officer in the IDF”. In their reactions, law and government officials stated their concern about the rise in the partaking of alcoholic beverages among youths.
Clearly alarm bells are ringing, regarding the nexus between teenage homicides and substance abuse, yet life-saving questions remain unasked. What happens after the shock wears off, will parental/communal ‘business as usual’ attitudes prevail? In other words, will fingers continue to point towards the general, yet away from the specific?
More specifically, will the growing homicide phenomenon among teens become subsumed by the usual culprits and scapegoats, namely, a society increasingly infused with materialism, hedonism and secular pursuits, sans brass tack remedies?
While the above is indeed valid for another discussion, it fails to address the deep seeded crisis at hand. One only has to ask the next logical question-despite crass materialism and a veering away from spiritual roots, how does one make the quantum leap to murder? One can’t. One may become a slave to material acquisitions, and all that it entails, but committing murder is hardly a next step.
Therefore, something much more odious appears at play, (not in every circumstance, but in a preponderance of similar events) as such, the community at large has to be willing to explore other options, however uncomfortable they may be.
Consequently, a starting point should be the following-although one youngster may be more inclined towards hi-jinks than another, what separates them from a stone cold murderer? Does a teenager just wake up one morning, with a plan to commit murder at the most opportune time? It happens, but very rarely. In this regard,
Dr Seenefazel, a clinical senior lecturer in forensic psychiatry and forensic psychiatrist at the University of Oxford, does not even mention some very real peer pressures, (in addition to certain vacuous/offensive outer trappings of today’s youth) and also chooses not to highlight otherwise substantive mental issues. “The relationship between violent crime and serious mental illness can be explained by alcohol and substance abuse, the contribution of the illness is minimal”.
In furtherance of the above hypothesis, the World Health Organization (WHO) elucidates, “Harmful and hazardous alcohol use are risk factors both for being victimized and perpetrating youth violence, sexual aggression, and assaults occurring in the streets, bars and nightclubs……the consequences can be devastating.
"Across the world an average of 565 young people aged 10 to 29 die every day through interpersonal violence, with males at greater risk. The impact of youth violence reaches all sectors of society, placing huge strains on public services and damaging communities. Reducing harmful alcohol use and violence among young people should thus be considered a priority for policy makers”.
Developing efficacious remedies is a daunting challenge, nonetheless short cuts are not an option, and failure to do so will consequently cost many more lives Therefore, an honest assessment is urgently required, one which will draw the crystal clear connection between parental substance abuse, hence delineating the direct impact it has on adolescents they are raising. Said awareness, duly incorporated into communal- related health, educational, public awareness forums will finally revamp society’s relationship-or lack thereof-to the chronically addicted and the havoc they wreck, not as a punitive measure, but as a life-saving one.
Adolescents who use substances are more likely to have poor academic performance and to be involved in criminal activities.
Obviously, a parent’s social drinking, conducted within a responsible manner, is not at issue. However, as evidenced through my op-ed at The Jewish Press (December 16, 2011), ‘Alcoholism:The Wreckage In Its Wake’, a strong causal relationship links parental substance abuse, coupled with an enabling environment, to familial and societal human wreckage.
Most significantly, the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, tackles this toxic issue head on. Among many other red flags, the agency concludes, “Adolescents whose parents have SUDs (substance use disorders) are more likely to develop SUDs themselves. Some adolescents mimic behaviors they see in their families, including ineffective coping behaviors, such as using alcohol and drugs. Many of these children are victims of violence.
"It is hypothesized that substance abuse is a coping mechanism for such traumatic events. Moreover, adolescents who use substances are more likely to have poor academic performance and to be involved in criminal activities. The longer children are exposed to parental SUD, the more serious the negative consequences”.
Whereas substance abuse is an ‘equal opportunity’ affliction, it stands to reason that adolescents from affluent families, as opposed to those from hard scrabble backgrounds, are better equipped to hide their scars. Coming from families that appear intact, yet are broken at their core, they suffer behind closed doors, as their ‘functional SUD’ goes about their business. On the other hand, the adolescent suffering financial hardship too, is often visible as a ‘kid at risk’, yet few care/dare to intervene.
In its essence, whether teen homicide occurs in Israel or in the diaspora, this much is painfully clear-the death and destruction, wrecked through communal inaction, will continue to grow.
To wit, how many dead teens will it take before communities deal with the issue at its root, instead of allowing it to fester, only to revisit it when the next headline explodes?