It is almost impossible for us to look into a child’s eyes and see them committing the ultimate crime – cold-blooded murder. No parent wants to consider the possibility, no school wants to be responsible for preventing it, law enforcement typically doesn’t deal with it until it is too late, and the mental health community often doesn’t have the resources to treat it. But kids DO kill, and with alarming frequency.
Government and religious figures want to blame this violence on the media, television, Hollywood, video games, music. And certainly there is blame to be handed out: school officials are reluctant to get involved because of lack of training, risk of culpability, and they do not want to be accused of overreacting; mental health worker’s hands are tied by stingy HMO’s and the trend toward de-institutionalizing the mentally ill; law enforcement is the last resort and by the time they get involved, the violence has often already occurred. That leaves one responsible entity to which all the others must turn for help: parents.
Today’s parents are bombarded with wildly varied, and often conflicting, advice. What was accepted wisdom for our parents is not necessarily so today. I see part of the problem as “too much of a good thing” parenting. In an effort to express our love for our children we shower them with unwarranted praise, material goods, excessive protection from disappointment and are often blinded to their ill behavior.
Some of us have been brainwashed to believe it is wrong to expect our children to be responsible for their actions, their treatment of others, or even their treatment of us, their parents. I have seen it at the earliest ages: toddlers hurt others and aren’t disciplined by their parents, leaving it up to daycare providers. When the providers relay the behavior to the parent, the parent makes excuses: “Well, he never does that at home,” or “She is just acting her age.” This lack of accountability by the child and the parents may continue as the child passes through the school system, and if left unchallenged, may wind up in violence.
In his review, Eric Olsen describes the powerful documentary that addresses a worst-case outcome of these issues:
- SIX, a documentary written by Knoxville forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Smith, washes over the viewer with the power of shaped fiction as it traces, via interviews and court footage, the inexorable, “perfect storm” series of baby steps that led straight down a rural Tennessee road to the 1997 murder of a mother, father, young daughter, and the severe wounding of their baby boy, and the conviction of six Kentucky teens for the heinous crimes.
I interviewed Dr. Smith about the making of her film. When she was conducting interviews for Six, Dr. Smith encountered great resistance from the educational system, law enforcement, and the community that had responsibility for teaching and socializing these kids:
- “When you are dealing with unstable people, it is hard to get cooperation, no one cares much for time schedules etc. For example, at one point in Pikeville, we were trying to get interviews with the group’s friends and they could only meet late at night in a small smoke-filled trailer and some did not want to talk.
“The prison also gave me a hard time. They had let me come four years ago and interview the girls with tape recorders etc. This time, they would not let me bring anything, no camera, etc., which made the job of making a documentary difficult as we had to be creative and piece together material from the courts and their diaries.
“Many people were afraid to talk with us because they had been ostracized if they had known the six, and did not want to take chances. For example, Betsy Lane High School refused to talk on camera, but then we found teachers at Pikeville High who were very cooperative.”
All the kids involved in the Lillelid’s murder had troubled pasts. Dr. Smith gives a brief summary of their personalities and challenges:
- “Natasha – the supposed ringleader was bipolar, a cutter and suicidal. She had latent aggression, which she tried to inhibit but when one person after the next rejected her (probably with good reason) she felt hopeless. She was married on her 17th birthday and her marriage lasted less than one year. She feared abandonment and would not let her husband out of her sight. One day he came home, got his stuff and left for good without so much as a good bye. That probably set the stage for Natasha feeling utterly alone and desperate.”