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Further Reading

Family Briefing

Parental Guidance Required

Youth Violence & Family Breakdown

by Nicole King

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 35

In October of this year, a deranged young man named Christopher Harper-Mercer walked onto the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon and opened fire, killing nine people and injuring nine more.

The following weeks featured a blizzard of media attention, most of it focusing on how such a tragedy could have been avoided. The usual suspects were called up—shortcomings in the care of mental illness, too-loose gun control laws, the trauma of childhood bullying. But the media studiously avoided two significant facts: First, Harper-Mercer specifically targeted Christians, and second, his parents were divorced.

Two Neglected Facts

The first fact is in some ways in line with history. Evil has always targeted those who profess Christ, although today Harper-Mercer would have gained far more attention had he targeted Muslims or, worse yet, members of the "LGBTQ" community. That the media has chosen to disregard the faith of his victims is a testament to the barrenness of this age, and a reminder to the faithful to pray for our nation.

The second fact is also unsurprising, although, again, you wouldn't know it from most news coverage of mass shootings. You'd have to scour the internet to find reports of shooters' broken family backgrounds, but if you did, you'd find that, in far more cases than not, those who commit such atrocities have divorced, separated, or never-married parents. Remember Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in an African-American church in Charleston in June? He was born to divorced parents who had gotten together again long enough to conceive a child, then broke it off. How about Adam Lanza, who massacred twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School? His parents had separated in 2002, when Lanza was still in elementary school himself, and finally divorced in 2009.

Corroborating Studies

After the Oregon shooting, conservative blogger Matt Walsh was one of the very few who pointed out that fatherlessness seems to be a factor in the perpetration of violence—85 percent of imprisoned youths, for example, are from homes without fathers. Countless researchers have known for decades that marital breakdown breeds troubled children. Here are summaries of just a few recent studies:

• A 2010 study by researchers at Towson University in Maryland, which tracked children from first grade through middle school, found that "high levels of neighborhood violence and [high] percentages of single males and female-headed households are related to an increase in aggressive behavior" in boys. (For girls, perhaps surprisingly, the correlation was even more pronounced.

• Another 2010 study, this one published in European Child and Adolescent Psychology, found that both students who bullied and, interestingly, those on the receiving end of bullying tended to come from households in which the parents were divorced.

• A 2013 study from Norway found that children of divorced parents tended to have a greater incidence of psychological problems, including both internalizing problems, such as depression and anxiety, and externalizing problems, such as aggression. Commentators on psychiatric illness in shooters tend to ignore this fact.

• A somewhat older study, from 2005, published in the Journal of Early Adolescence, found that adolescent children's lack of attachment to their mothers was most strongly correlated with internalizing psychiatric problems, while distance from their fathers was associated with a greater incidence of externalizing problems, including hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, and delinquency.

Uncomfortable Implications

These are only a handful of the studies done that show a connection between family breakdown and the perpetration of violence—many more could be cited. So why don't we hear more about these connections? Perhaps because of their uncomfortable ramifications for adults. We live in a selfish age, an age in which the needs of children are subordinated to the desires of adults. It's an age in which a couple might decide to hook up and break up, marry and divorce, with a child or two thrown in here and there, and policymakers, psychiatrists, and physicians rush in to reassure them that their behavior will have no long-lasting effects on the children. Everyone will be better off, so long as the parents are "happy." All family forms are equal.

But it's all lies, lies made evident in the violence of our age. And so long as we perpetuate these lies, so long we will continue to witness their brutal outcomes. 


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