Juvenile violence is rising. We need to do something — and not just to the kids


Grown folks have come to fear this generation of youth. Like me, they probably know that confronting a juvenile over behavior our elders wouldn’t have hesitated to correct could be deadly.

You might get shot.


Recently, I read a disturbing story about juvenile gun violence, what contributes to it, and how it might be addressed.

Looking at the last 15 years of data in Colorado, where I live, the rate of juvenile homicide is eye-popping. The Common Sense Institute reported that the juvenile murder rate is up 210 percent since 2010. There are other alarming data points in the story. Nationally, juveniles committing murder jumped by 83 percent from 2013 to 2020, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

I understand the danger, especially with the prevalence of guns on our streets. I don’t honk at juveniles slow-walking across the street against a green light. I wait and let the situation pass unprovoked. I’m not in that big of a hurry to risk agitating a teen who might have a gun and be willing to use it. Not worth it.

The article I read did a good job of examining the intervention and prevention programs available to keep kids away from guns and out of trouble. I learned a lot.

But reading about a thirteen-year-old accused of killing an elderly man was bracing. Why in the world would anyone shoot someone for having a leg in an aisle when they were trying to pass by? I’m not letting kids off the hook who choose to use guns, but the problem is bigger than any one teenager.

The article urges us to not look away from this problem, which authorities told the reporter they believe is only going to get worse. That’s frightening.

While there are no easy answers, we must understand that — no matter their backgrounds and upbringings — teenagers are not fully developed beings. Sure, they have a sense of right and wrong, but their brains are not developed enough to properly process consequences. The science tells us there is a cognitive difference between adult and juvenile brain development. Rational discernment comes much later in life for a typical teen. Again, not to excuse inexcusable behavior, but science offers some perspective.

“The evidence now is strong that the brain does not cease to mature until the early 20s in those relevant parts that govern impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future, foresight of consequences, and other characteristics that make people morally culpable…,” according to Juvenile Justice Report. “Indeed, age 21 or 22 would be closer to the ‘biological’ age of maturity.”

So, given this information, more needs to be done to support juveniles negotiating the challenges of their times. These kids live in a world where any of their peers might be packing on any given day for any reason. There is no public space where they feel safe from gun violence. And some of their personal circumstances are desperate. But that doesn’t mean they have to commit violence of any kind.

My generation — their parents and grandparents — never worried about that kind of stuff. A fight over the block, candy or a girl was settled on the playground. Occasionally a brick or a stick got used. Even though switchblades were prevalent in my day, I rarely feared one would be pulled on me in a dispute. We settled matters with our fists or feet.

Today, it’s not unimaginable to be confronted by the underdeveloped brain of the juvenile with a gun who gets angry over the slightest infraction. Society needs to pay more attention to the forces converging on our youth and pick up better on signals. I hope people will pay more attention to this issue, wherever they are, as it can and does happen everywhere.

My eyes are wide open.

First, we need to take bullying more seriously. Progress has been documented on this issue, but not enough. A lot of bullying doesn’t occur in public; so much of it happens on social media. Any form of intimidation is bullying that can lead a kid to get a gun, feeling there is no other way out. A zero-tolerance approach to intimidation of any kind based on size, race, sexual orientation, income, or anything else, would be a good start. When a kid comes to an adult for help, they are already at the end of their rope. Do something!


Violent video games must be addressed. They have glamorized violence to the point it doesn’t seem real. I don’t have the solution, but we need the best minds on this. Video games should be fun. First-person shooters and other violent games should be banned. They are corrupting our youth and culture. That may seem extreme, but we should not accept the normalization of violence and death and military-grade weapons knowledge.

And the biggest problem of all: There are too many guns on the streets. Plain and simple. Since we don’t seem willing to address the availability problem head-on, we at least need to impose consequences for anyone who provides a gun to a person under 21 who commits a crime. Enablers get 10 years in prison. Period. We need real and meaningful deterrents.

I support prosecution of the parents of the Michigan mass shooter for providing him the gun he used to kill and for not managing his distress. There needs to be more consequences for enablers of these tragedies like the Virginia assistant principal charged with not doing enough to stop a six-year-old from shooting his teacher.

I hope the Michigan case was a wake-up call for parents. Gifting a gun to a kid as some kind of reward is insane. There must be consequences when that gun is later used for harm.

I hate being afraid of our youth. It used to be that an elder pulling a young’un aside to share wisdom would be accepted and appreciated. Now, that might be met with a gun or another threat of violence. That is not a world any of us want to live in. Let’s do something about it.