Don't ignore the quiet child

Published: Dec 19, 2012, 10:48 IST | Hassan M Kamal |

The killing of 27 people in the US by a 20-year-old tells a lot about new challenges that lie ahead of modern families � lonely children, unresolved issues and a complete lack of family support. The Guide looks at possible loopholes in society and ways to spot disturbing behaviour in a child, and how to correct it before it's too late

The shooting spree in a small town in the US on last Friday that led to the death of 26 people including 18 children, shook not just the families who lost their loved ones, but also people around the world.

While some have blamed the relaxed gun laws in the US, others believe it has highlighted the need for better counselling for children, especially in broken families. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza, who committed the crime at Newtown, Connecticut, led a lonely life, often showing extreme signs of withdrawal from a situation. A sign, which experts believe had it been dealt with in time, could have prevented the incident. He first killed his mother, then walked up to the school and opened fire inside.

People mourn Victoria Soto, the first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed while protecting her students, during a candlelight vigil at Stratford High School in Stratford, Connecticut. PIC/GETTYIMAGES

The question now is what would lead the youth to shoot his mother and then go on a killing rampage. Was he planning it for a while or did an unresolved issue trigger it, instantaneously? What happened at the house before he shot his mother?

There are many things that we don’t know and would probably never know, The Guide tries to understand what could have possibly led to this and if there are ways to stop such episodes from occurring in the future and how school and parents can come together in helping young adults like Adam Lanza deal with issues before such minds go out of control. 

Art teacher Eric Mueller has created 27 angel wood cut-outs in memory to the victims of the Connecticut shootout. PIC/AFP

Meera Isaacs, principal, the cathedral & John Connon School, mumbai 
At schools, there are many levels to pick up an abnormal behaviour in a child. Firstly, it’s the peers with whom they live everyday and are more open than anybody else. The peers are the best source of support. Their support matters a lot, because they understand each other’s situation better than adults. It’s their world. You need the seniors to mentor the juniors and create support groups where they try to understand each other’s problems. Then there’s the Class Teacher, who is the first person of authority who’s in direct touch with the children. He/she is the first one who can spot any change in the child’s behaviour whether he is feeling left out, or becoming reclusive. Next, is the counsellor — he/she should be able to take on a problem based on the children’s age and understanding. We have a separate counsellor for each section. But at the same time I believe it’s also equally important to have a dialogue between parents and school — the two environments where the child spends most of his time. But the most important thing is that children should be able to trust the people around them. It’s important never to break children’s trust. What has been shared in confidence shouldn’t be brought to public. And, it’s when the trust is broken that children start hiding things, and their problems begin to rise.

Neha Patel, child psychologist
The person here was very lonely and obviously going through some sort of emotional disturbance. He was not fitting well in the school, had shown extreme withdrawal symptoms like walking away from people in different directions in a hallway and the mother also tried to home-school him. While it’s difficult to know exactly what would have been going through his mind that triggered him to shoot his mother and the 26 people at the school, usually things like this are unplanned and are impulsive reactions. The trigger could be anything. One of the likely things that happen in a situation like this is that you reach a point when you lose touch with reality. You are suffering for a really long time, and now you want to end it. Some commit suicide, and some may want to take revenge, especially when they feel victimised — perhaps being bullied in class, or made fun of — there are so many things that could go through one’s mind in a situation like this. The important thing is to know of the telltale signs and not let them encapsulate into something violent as this. My view is that anybody who is going through turmoil will make you aware of it, and reach out to you, which obviously didn’t happen in Adam Lanza’s case.
When depression is not taken care of, it could lead to anything from suicide to a mass rampage. 

Nandini Sardesai, sociologist
I think it’s time the US revisited their right to carry firearms. They think its sacrosanct, despite growing terrorism and new challenges of the world. It was necessary right when America was a wild country, but in today’s changing scenario they need to think about it. Secondly we are living in constant insecurity. An eleven-year-old is raping an eight-year-old, nurses are committing suicide — people are not able to cope up with the pressure. It’s a demonstration of the stress level in today’s society. We aren’t talking of an urbane locality but a small town in America. It’s a very telling sign of the time we are living in and what is our society coming to. It's a very scary thought. Thirdly, we are failing our children as responsible parents and society members. We are so involved with the rat race — that we have forgotten the humane side of life. Parents are not questioning their children, and society as a whole doesn’t care. The social fabric that once held the society together has weakened. There’s a sort of insensitivity towards each other. This killing is a representation of that. And, this is something, which is also very clearly visible in the Indian society.

> More than usual withdrawal from company.
> When kids are talking about being angry, never take it as a joke. Instead it should be broken down to the cause behind it.
> Sudden change in mood.
> When a person is going through turmoil it’s better to get some help to release the turmoil inside.
> Sometimes, parents seem to brush away the developmental problems. Pay attention to that especially
more so to quiet children, because there could be a lot going on through his/her mind.

Violence back home
> A waiter was shot at in a Delhi restaurant for serving leftover food.
> Chennai witnessed a teacher being stabbed to death in the classroom of a private school by a 15-year-old student. The student was upset at being reprimanded for not doing well in studies.
> A 23-year-old girl was gangraped in a bus and then thrown in an
isolated area in Delhi. The boy accompanying her was beaten up.
> In February this year, Chennai witnessed a teacher being stabbed to death in the classroom of a private school by a 15-year-old student.
The student was upset at being reprimanded for faring badly.
> In November, the protest of CSJMU students in Kanpur against the hike in examination fees turned violent
as students lashed out against security personnel and university staff, and destroyed college property. Security personnel allegedly attacked the students with canes and left several injured.
> In April 2012, a Class X student brought gun to his school. He was planning to open fire at the head master who refused him entrance to the school with a cell phone. 

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