Tag Archives: Youth Violence

On the Radicalization of Youth – Written Before the Ottawa Events

benchDr David Laing Dawson

Why on earth would a young man, for even an hour of madness at four A.M., come to the conclusion that the way of ISIL/ISIS/IS is better than living peacefully in a liberal and secular Canadian democracy, no matter his ethnic and religious background?

When confronted by inexplicable outrageous behavior both writers and psychiatrists search within themselves for minor echoes, for nascent experiences that might shed at least a little light on the conundrum.

I hated medical school, at least until I discovered or developed some skill and competence. During that first year the faculty took us on a retreat, which meant sitting in small groups to air our grievances, and share our hopes. The question was asked of our group, “What had we given up to enter Medical School”. I don’t remember in detail what I said when my turn came, but I do remember being surprised by the extent of my anger and my grief. I was 23 at the time. Three of us were sharing a two-bedroom apartment. We lived on Kraft dinners at nine cents per serving, and augmented this on weekends with something we found in the grocery store labeled, enigmatically, “neck bones”. But what we had really given up was childhood: the sports, the comradery, the bands, the jam sessions, the Sundays at the beach, the parties, the security, flirtations, seductions – the endless summers.

Though always a small particle of courage away from dropping out and pursuing an alternative dream (which for me would have been notebook and canvas and a one-way ticket to Paris), I channeled my anger into making sure I got a passing grade.

Young men. Still angry at the end of childhood. Craving a life of significance with insignificance beckoning. Craving some security no longer provided by a family home, and only available through grinding work. Craving some certainty not provided by a liberal education, a multicultural society, and a profoundly complicated set of laws and rules to live by. Saddled with a set of aggressive and competitive instincts, no longer having an outlet on the soccer field. Craving a father, an elder, who will show us the way. Craving a good woman without all the trouble of seeking and impressing one. Craving some control over our lives, our future.

Most of us get through this, find our communities, discover love and the small pleasures, come to terms with being, more or less, insignificant within a vast mysterious universe, take pleasure and pride in working, in creating, in helping, and occasionally going on vacation.

But think what IS has to offer: a life of absolute certainty, a promise of profound significance, a very simple set of rules to live by and die by, no ambiguities, all the big questions answered with certainty, brotherhood, a father, adoring women, sex slaves, eternal life, and, people you can righteously kill.

The last phrase may be the most significant. The propaganda of IS taps into the rage and the primitive instincts of the young man on the sidelines facing a life of insignificance.

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