Increasing violence in movies and television is making violence more acceptable in Utah, and troubled kids attempting to work out their frustrations are taking guns to school, according to local psychologists.
"Violence has become a more normative part of life, versus something that is bizarre and perverted," said Kent Griffiths, director of Alta View Center for Counseling. "There is a fine line between what is fake, mythical and in the movies and what really can happen in real life. That is getting really scary for us."That observation is frighteningly relevant in the wake of last week's incident in which a 12-year-old boy carried a semiautomatic handgun to Jefferson Junior High School in Kearns - and took a shot at his vice principal. In November a boy was injured when his schoolmate brought a loaded chrome .22-caliber derringer to Glendale Intermediate School in Salt Lake.
Law officers, who daily confiscate dangerous weapons from students, believe the violence is a sign of the times. They warn the "incidents" could repeat unless parents intervene.
The psychologists agree.
"People in general, and particularly children, are stimulated to action by what they see in the movies and on television - even to the point that over time and with continued heavy exposure to all the shooting, they get desensitized to the human pain and suffering," said James L. Anderson.
Troubled, problem-prone children with low self-esteem are more likely to be affected.
"He has a greater insecurity and therefore has a greater need for power and control to cover up this insecurity. There is probably a greater tendency on his part to resort to violent action because a weapon is symbolic of power and control," the specialist said.
Anderson, administrator/director of Primary Children's Residential Treatment Center, said most normal, healthy people can separate what is entertainment from what is acceptable in the real world.
"But young people who have problems can't always make those distinctions," he said. "There may be a hero worship with Charles Bronson and Rambo, and some of the `good guys' who use weapons and brute force. They (the children) see it as a positive thing that their heroes do." > Psychologists are disconcerted that the number of "troubled" youths is increasing. Some psychologists believe it could be as high as 10 percent of Utah's teenage population. > Primary Children's Residential Treatment Center, Anderson said, is a barometer of what really is happening in the Mountain West.> "Kids are coming to us more disturbed. They are young, staying longer and are harder to treat," he said. "We are seeing more multiple diagnosed kids, so making decisions just around how to prescribe medication is really difficult. We are seeing more physically and sexually abused kids."> The kids are also harder to place back in the community after they leave the inpatient facility. One in four is a permanently deprived child, whose parents have no custody rights.> The 24-bed center, which opened in August at the University of Utah Research Park, is already making expansion plans. The needs of troubled youth far exceed the center's current resources.
"There are more disturbed kids out there exploring different ways to relate to life," Griffiths said. "There are also more angry kids - angry about their home situation, angry with parents and peers."
Parents, the psychologists insist, need to do something about it.> Griffiths believes it's unlikely that Utah parents can influence people who make the movies or produce the toys; a movement against big-screen violence will have to take place at a federal level.
But both specialists believe that the violence can be curbed on the home front.