Youth Violence

Dr David Laing Dawson

Four teenage boys were murdered in Toronto in the last few days. One was killed inside his school with a knife. An eighteen year-old was killed by gun(s) in a back alley, possibly by a group of four other young men. And two boys lost their lives by gunshot while either observing or participating in a large social-media planned fight between rival schools.

Each of the candidates for mayor of Toronto has been pushed to address the problem of youth violence. Each has tried in their own way. Mr. Ford by talking about all he has done for youth in the past. Mr. Tory by promising money and programs. Ms. Chow by talking about poverty.

CBC interviewed youth workers and counselors. Each promoted an expansion of what they are doing now. Each was understandably distraught and a little angry about these killings. As we all are.

But before we throw money at the problem, or promote our favored panaceas, or recommend the unlikely and impossible, might it not be wise to study these cases? Let the police do their job and then look closely at each event (and possibly a few others). Hire two social scientists to cull the information, interview people, and come to an understanding of each story. Give them a deadline and task them with finding any elements in the chain of events that led to these deaths that could have been interrupted. And do we have the tools and means to do so?

There may be no commonalities to these deaths. The stabbing inside the school is inexplicable so far (untreated mental illness?). The back alley killing smells of gangs and drugs and retribution. The killings in the park sound like a group beef between teenage boys (over a girl, some disrespect, a perceived slight, a territorial infringement?). This last would not be a new phenomenon, but today fueled and expanded by Twitter and Facebook, and at least one boy brought a gun to what should have been a taunting stand-off, words and puffery, or, at worst, a fist fight.

But lets look at these events closely, study them. Are there any common elements? Are there preventable elements? And only then ask the question: What tools and programs and incentives are needed to bring about this prevention?

Dr Dawson is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and author of The Adolescent Owners’ Manual


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