Frankly, the first interview was disturbing to conduct. The parent, a young woman who had been a teenage mother was raising a daughter who seemed almost destined to follow in her mother's footsteps. Although the interview questions, themselves, did not elicit information that would lead the interviewer to that conclusion, the mother was very open about her own life experiences. She got pregnant at 15, when she was a freshman in high school. The father of her child was an adult at the time, a high-school dropout who had been involved in gang activity. He was incarcerated for the first time during her pregnancy, and has spent the last 15 years in and out of prison. He has been involved in robberies and other gang activity, and was a suspect in a murder, though there was not enough evidence to charge him with that crime. When he is not in prison, the mother often allows him to stay with her and her daughter. The father has been violent towards her on repeated occasions, though she minimizes both the severity and frequency of the violence. The daughter has seen her father pistol-whip her grandfather, which is the crime for which he is currently incarcerated.
Unfortunately, the daughter seems to be following in her mother's footsteps. Although the interview did not discuss sexual activity, the mother volunteered that she is aware her daughter is sexually active and that she has already been treated for one sexually-transmitted diseases, leading the interviewer to the conclusion that she is not practicing safe-sex. Her first significant boyfriend beat her up pretty severely, and, though the daughter broke up with him, she refused to contact the police and has discussed the possibility of reconciling with him. Although the mother seemed confident that her daughter was bright and described her as a good student, her grades are in the A-B range, and her mother did not indicate that she did a substantial amount of homework or spent time studying. In general, the interviewer had the impression that the daughter was coasting through high school.
The mother felt that her daughter's school was a violent and dangerous place, a reasonable assumption given that there have been multiple shootings on the campus. However, she seemed more concerned about the violence at school than the fact that her daughter had grown up in a violent home and had been assaulted by a boyfriend. Moreover, she was very matter-of-fact when discussing the fact that her child had experimented with drugs and regularly drinks alcohol at parties. This was a very interesting point, since she talked about children coming from homes without discipline, but does not appear to have made attempts to discipline her child and dissuade undesirable behavior like early-teen sexual activity, unsafe sexual practices, and substance use. The mother indicated that the school did not listen to parental concerns, but was not involved in any of the parent activities in the school. However, she characterized herself as an involved parent, because she had attended a community meeting with school officials after the last school shooting. She talked about her daughter being distracted by safety issues at school, so that she could not concentrate on her studies, but did not discuss any alternatives.
In contrast to the first interview subject, the father who was interviewed seemed very involved, not only in his children's lives, but in the community as a whole. Rather than simply discuss the issue of school violence, he took affirmative steps to make sure that his son was aware of the consequences of violence, not only taking him to the funeral of a slain student, but also taking him to the prison to talk to people incarcerated for violent behavior. The father acknowledged that the son's school was a violent and dangerous one with a substantial gang problem. However, the father also seemed to feel that a dangerous environment would not be an excuse for his son to be involved in violent behavior. In fact, though the interviewer had the impression that the family had the means to move outside of the neighborhood, the father seemed committed to raising his children to rise above their external environment.
The examples of the son rising above the external environment were numerous. For example, when asked about his son's temper, the father absolutely acknowledged that his son has a temper and that teenage boys are oftentimes characterized by a temper. However, he made it equally clear that he simply would not tolerate a display of temper by his son, demonstrating that he had set appropriate boundaries in his home. Moreover, he seemed to feel confident that the boundaries in his home would carry over into his son's school environment. While he acknowledged that there were safety issues in the school, the father did not view those issues as an excuse for his son to perform poorly in school. He praised the education that his son was receiving, made it clear that he would not tolerate his son getting grades other than A's, and was very proud that his son might be a member of the school's Academic Decathlon team.
In addition, the father talked about personal responsibility for safety. Unlike the mother who was interviewed, the father was very realistic about the limits of what the school could do to ensure safety. Having volunteered in a prison environment, he seemed very aware that the school could literally lock down the students and they would still find ways to bring in dangerous contraband. In fact, he thought that a zero-tolerance policy, like the school had, could have absurd results. However, he made it equally clear that he expected his son to stay out of the violence.
What these two interviews made abundantly clear to the interviewer is that the external school environment may be a less important predictor of school violence than a child's home environment. Although neither of the students involved had been victims or perpetrators of school violence, it was difficult not to predict that the young girl would somehow be intimately acquainted with violence for most of her life. Of course, while the father's approach could not ensure a violence-free life for his son, it did seem like the type of parenting that would allow him to be confident in his parenting, should anything untoward every happen to his son.
APA Help Center. "Recognizing Violence Warning Signs in Others." Warning Signs of Youth
Violence. 2004. American Psychological Association. 3 Mar. 2009 http://www.apahelpcenter.org/featuredtopics/feature.php?id=38&ch=3.
Lassiter, William. "The School Safety Test." Seen Magazine. 2007. South East Education