A problem we share

July 1, 1999

It isn't only that kids are killing kids on city streets and in schools. It isn't only that bringing weapons to school seems to have become as common a reason children are disciplined by teachers as talking in class. It isn't only that song lyrics children sing are filled with violence and cruelty.It's all of these changes in the behavior of our children that have made us pay attention, finally, to one horrible afternoon in Colorado.

EDITORIAL

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A problem we share

Julia A. McMillan, MD

It isn't only that kids are killing kids on city streets andin schools. It isn't only that bringing weapons to school seemsto have become as common a reason children are disciplined byteachers as talking in class. It isn't only that song lyrics childrensing are filled with violence and cruelty. And it isn't only thathomicide and suicide and AIDS are among the most common killersof teens and young adults in this country.

It's all of these changes in the behavior of our children thathave made us pay attention, finally, to one horrible afternoonin Colorado.

And just as it isn't one behavior that frightens us about thefuture of an unacceptably large fraction of our young people,there isn't one remedy and there's plenty of blame to go around.No one group wants to accept responsibility for past and futuretragedies that cause such personal pain and societal angst--notthe gun manufacturers, not the entertainment industry or the videogame manufacturers, not the schools, not the courts, not the police,not parents, not churches, and not pediatricians. No one groupof us needs to accept that blame, but all of us must. It doesn'tmatter how much of the responsibility belongs to which group.It doesn't matter that we can't prove who's at fault. Let's allassume we could do a better job creating a society in which kidsgrow up to be civil, to communicate without violence, and to understandthat it's their job to participate positively in school and familyand society.

It only makes sense that society limit availability of gunsto children, that parents and schools teach children to respectthe rights of others, and that the movies they watch and the gamesthey play emphasize solving problems and working together. Itonly makes sense that parents be involved in the lives of theirchildren and of other children in the community. It also makessense that pediatricians should be trained to screen for emotionaland psychological problems, to make screening a priority, andto refer their patients at a point when that referral will provideneeded help for children and families. And it makes sense thatthere should be a way to pay for the treatment those childrenneed.

More than 30 years ago we were told, "You're either partof the solution or you're part of the problem." It's stilltrue.

Julia A. McMillan, MD, Editor-in-chief of Contemporary Pediatrics,is Vice Chair, Pediatric Education, and Director, Residency Training,Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.