THE BLOG
01/18/2011 12:02 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Jared Loughner and the 10-Year-Old Matricide: Signs of Dysfunction Ignored

In recent days, there have been two egregious shootings. One involved a 10-year-old boy who shot his mother in the head with the gun that his father had purchased him for Christmas. He killed her because he didn't want to do his chores.

The other shooting involved a 22-year-old male who killed six people and injured 12 others, including a nine-year-old child and a U.S. Representative. This indeed was one of the most tragic days in recent history and will no doubt impact lives for years to come.

Both of these gunmen were male, angry, and had given plenty of indication that they had problems. The signs of their dysfunction were everywhere, so why were their problems tolerated, massaged or ignored altogether? There are many answers to this question, but let me share a few possibilities.

Lets begin with poor judgment. The father of the 10-year-old did not support the mom's objection to letting the boy have a gun in his room. The boy had dealt with anger issues since the age of seven and had been in trouble for attacking adults at his school. Why would any parent let a child have a gun in their possession at such a young age? The argument has been that learning to shoot a gun is a rite of passage for boys in some parts of this country. However, a cultural habit should not negate common sense and good judgment. Childhood is about learning boundaries and being safe to learn about the consequences of one's actions. Children, especially those who struggle with self-control, are the last people on earth who should be allowed to own weapons.

The other gunman, Jared Loughner, had indicated mental instability in a number of ways. His writings on the internet revealed a paranoid mindset. He was rejected by the military, dropped out of school and had hostile feelings toward numerous political and social issues. But these behaviors did not show up overnight. They had been there a long time and there were indicators of his disturbed thinking while he was still at home. What was done to address his rants and obsessive thinking? Based upon the evidence of the mass killing, nothing effective.

Parents need to wake up and pay attention to what is instead of what we want it to be. Too often, parents go into denial because they do not want to face the realities of their offspring's issues, problems or dysfunction. Pride is a dangerous thing, and when parents refuse to address what they instinctively know or sense about their children, it will come back to haunt them.

As a psychotherapist, I have also heard parents say that their children's unruly behavior is just a stage that they will grow out of. I wonder if these boys' parents had such a mindset. I understand developmental phases, but many parents today hide behind that thinking. How long is one to tolerate a stage? I have seen adults who are stuck at age two, never maturing into the next phase of life.

Parents cannot allow themselves to be ruled by emotion. Culturally, we have become lazy and reactive instead of intentional and aware. Children and teens are constantly giving their parents clues that all is not well, but their parents seem to misinterpret them or even miss them completely. I especially see this in adolescents. Often a teen comes off as rude, difficult and selfish when in fact he or she is depressed, sad and confused. If parents react to what they see instead of studying their child, they will miss what the child is telling them.

Another challenge comes from the medical community. The pediatrician's counsel will often be the first a parent seeks out. Unfortunately, I have heard many parents tell me that their pediatricians encouraged them not to overreact. In too many situations, the parents view such comments as final instead of momentary. Parents give doctors tremendous power, and it would be wise if the pediatric community understood the significance of a parent's questions.

We have to become a nation that provides resources to parents seeking to help their children. Persevering parents who make a lot of noise for their children will often get the help they need, so we, as a society, need to educate and encourage parents to fight for their struggling children. Many issues could be resolved and problems prevented with early intervention.

It is too late for these two young men. However, if we take the time to learn from their tragedies, we can salvage family, community and society.