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Title: Clues Aren't Always in the Clothes

Source: www.tampabayonline.net, 4/26/99

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Clues aren't always in the clothes
of The Tampa Tribune 

TAMPA - Experts say parents should learn what constitutes normal, abnormal and dangerous behavior. 

Your teenager wears black, listens to Marilyn Manson and has a bad attitude. 

That doesn't necessarily make him prone to violence, according to Kathleen Heide, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida. 

She said parents need to watch for deep emotional changes, not clothing, to spot violent potential. Heide, a national expert on youth violence and author of ``Young Killers'' and ``Why Kids Kill Parents,'' said teens who seem alienated or extremely depressed should cause concern. 

``They think `my life is over,' '' she said. `` `I'm a nothing. My life is cheap. It doesn't matter.' '' 

Other telltale signs include destructive interests or fantasies. 

``Kids that spend time in fantasy games like `Dungeons and Dragons' and `Mortal Kombat' often get the message of death and destruction,'' Heide said. ``Alienated and angry kids who become familiar with violent messages can possibly cross the line into reality.'' 

A child witnesses 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television by the time he or she is a teenager, said Heide, quoting a 1992 study. 

``Violence can have a disinhibiting effect,'' she said. ``To kids who watch a great deal of violence or violent fantasy, it soon doesn't seem so awful or terrible.'' 

Sometimes alienated, depressed teens will turn to others with similar problems, she said. That joining together of mentally unstable teens into a group could lead to violence. 

``They can encourage one another in fantasy,'' she said. ``The kids may start talking about violence. But when the talk gets bigger and bigger they get afraid to back down. An unhappy, destructive ideology will [undermine] wanting to get back [to society].'' 

As a school resource officer, Cpl. O.P. Parrish knows teenage angst like few others. 

He mediates teen disputes from pulling hair to packing heat. He is a counselor, surrogate parent and law enforcer rolled into one. 

After four years in the homicide squad, he decided to cut back his hours and return to being a school officer. Parrish said he wanted to spend more time with his children. 

Parrish, now at Wilson Middle School, spent eight years at Chamberlain High School. He said he believes many teens who don't have strong parents search for direction. He believes many teens wander through formative years being taught values by ultra-violent video games and nasty rap lyrics. 

Lt. Jane Castor, head of Tampa Police Department's criminal intelligence bureau, said detectives often look to school resource officers for information on potentially violent teen groups. She said a group of teens espousing bizarre views would not necessarily cause concern for the gang unit. 

However, if those views include racial violence or bomb making, detectives would immediately investigate. Tampa police are unaware of hate groups in area schools, but national figures point to a potential for violence. 

A study in 1995 by the Centers for Disease Control found that one in five high school students carried a gun, knife or club within 30 days of the study and that nearly 10 percent of students carried a weapon onto school property in that time. 

The research is part of an effort to prevent youth violence and firearm-related violence. Preliminary findings focus on education to emphasize problem-solving skills, anger management and development of social skills. Programs to promote bonding between students and their parents also showed promise, according to the CDC. 

To parents who see their children falling into destructive patterns or groups, Heide recommends straight talk. She recommends not attacking their beliefs but trying to reattach a broken emotional bond. 

Young people who commit violent acts often feel no emotional connection to anything. If the child has become severely depressed or violent, Heide recommends finding a qualified mental health expert. 

``These kids feel they are left out,'' she said. ``They want to make a statement on how they are wounded.'' 

Ace Atkins covers law enforcement and can be reached at (813) 259-7800 orwatkins@tampatrib.com 

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