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Who's really to blame for teen violence? 

Violence among teenagers is on the rise. You may recall that not too long ago a 17-year-old boy was caught bringing a gun to West Charlotte High School. He allegedly stole the gun from his girlfriend's grandfather and brought it to school. When authorities located the gun, it was loaded with five rounds.

This is not surprising since violent incidents in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have been on the rise consistently, even though gun violence had been on the decline, according to a recent report on WSOC-TV. The discussion threads on the station's Web site about the incident questioned why the boy would do such a horrible thing. Many wondered if he stole the gun to cause harm or to defend himself.

This comes on the heels of a high-profile case in Florida where a 15-year-old boy nearly stomped a girl to death with steel-toed boots for allegedly teasing him about his brother's suicide. This, of course, happened at the same school where a 15-year-old-boy was doused in alcohol and set on fire by five classmates over a video game debt just last year.

If that's not enough to cause concern, nine teenagers were recently charged with "cyberbullying" a 15-year-old immigrant from Ireland -- who, as a result of the harassment, killed herself. Allegedly, the teens embarked on a three-month campaign of terror against the girl because she was dating an older football player. They bullied and humiliated her via e-mail, text messaging and Facebook.

You may also recall Lori Drew, the Missouri woman accused of posing as a teenage boy on MySpace, who taunted and bullied a 13-year-old girl, her daughter's nemesis. Drew, her daughter and a friend created a cyber identity to bully and taunt the girl, until she eventually committed suicide. What a great mom.

I could go on, but I won't. The point of this article is to say concretely that teen violence -- especially in the form of bullying -- must stop. It is mean-spirited, soul-shattering, hate-inspired and destructive to the very fabric of society. While I am not suggesting that everyone get along, I am saying that there is a way to disagree that does not have to be full of venom and hatred.

The rise in the cases of bullying, cyberbullying and the increasing levels of violence accompanying the bullying is mind blowing. In my experience, bullying has always occurred, but it seems to me that it was the exception instead of the rule. Every school had a bully, but it was one person, not a group or mob of folks who terrorized everyone, all of the time.

Many people are blaming the schools for not monitoring student behavior on a consistent basis and allowing this anti-social behavior to fester, resulting in increased violence. While schools have some culpability, I believe that ultimately parents are responsible. Kids may be learning to bully others at school, but that is not the only place where they're learning it. They're learning it at home.

One only has to turn on the television to see adults raging. Screaming, yelling racial epithets, spitting on people, getting in people's faces and hurling threats has become commonplace in our culture. I thought to myself as I watched people yelling obscenities and hateful comments at the top of their lungs, that these people are someone's parents. Even when people post hate-filled comments on this newspaper's Web site, I wonder if they have children. Some of them have children watching them, and this is how they choose to express themselves? If they are behaving this way in public, imagine how they are behaving in private.

Whatever happened to boundaries with words? While I am horrified that a boy would try and stomp a girl to death with steel-toed boots, I wasn't surprised that he did it after I read that she had been taunting him about his brother's suicide. Who on earth would do that? Where did she learn that? Where did he learn to respond with such violence?

Some would argue that it's the media's fault. I do believe that the media is at fault to some extent because of the amount of violence in the programming and products, but I don't think that the media alone can be blamed. Something else is at work here.

In our society, bullying has become something that is not exceptional, but the rule for dealing with opponents on national issues or the schoolyard. In the film, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, bullying is normalized. Most of the kids at the school are bullies, while the exception to that rule are nerdy, gentle kids, trying to survive on the blacktop. In the film, these kids are tormented, and there is no adult intervention.

Herein lies the problem. Adults have failed to model good behavior for children. They have also failed to intervene when necessary. Thus, there is a generation of kids either preying on other kids, or doing crazy things to defend themselves. Bullying must stop if we ever want violence in schools to decline and kids to value themselves and others. That will only happen if parents step in and step up. How many more suicides, vicious attacks or guns being brought to school do we need to witness? I've seen enough. Haven't you?

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