Reaping what we sow?

I suspect lots of boys at the high school I attended carried pocket knives. But I never saw one used in anger.

And though I witnessed or was involved in my share of nasty fist fights, I don’t recall ever seeing one of the participants knocked down, then kicked in the head. Once I saw a kick aimed at a fellow’s ribs-but the assailant was grabbed immediately and prevented from doing any more, by his friends.

And though many of my high school classmates were very good with guns-the first day of deer hunting season was an unofficial holiday-no one, to my knowledge, ever suggested it was acceptable to shoot a human being, except in self-defense.

What changed?

The Wheeling Jesuit University family-and many outside it in the wider community-continues to mourn a senior student, Kevin Figaniak, who died of injuries suffered in a fight.

According to one report, Figaniak was knocked to the pavement, then kicked in the head.

Even fellows who, during my younger days, were thought of as bullies didn’t do that. “Never kick a man when he’s down” wasn’t just a figure of speech. It was a rule.

The other day at a Texas high school, two macho-types bumped shoulders in the school cafeteria. Within seconds, one student was dead of knife wounds and three others were injured.

This summer in Steubenville, 17-year-old Demitrius Thomas was stabbed to death in an alley. A 16-year-old boy is charged with killing him.

In February, another 16-year-old boy was arrested after he allegedly walked up to two men in Steubenville, then shot each of them twice. Both died.

Please do not tell me alcohol was to blame in Figaniak’s death. Perhaps it started the fight, but it was the root cause of most physical confrontations I remember from my younger days, too. No one was ever drunk enough to break the rule about kicking a fellow when he’s down.

And don’t tell me some violence by children is because they led horrible lives, perhaps because of poverty. In my youth, I knew quite a few kids with really big problems at home. None of them ever knifed or shot anyone.

So why?

Why do some kids turn vicious?

Defenders of video games, gunshot-filled television shows and violent movies claim research shows they’re not to blame. I’m not so certain. Part of the process of developing a good combat soldier is desensitizing him, after all.

Is it because some kids think they can get away with it? Possibly. In some states, as I recall, violent juvenile offenders can be freed from custody once they reach 21.

Is it where people live? Fewer murders by juveniles seem to be reported in rural areas.

Or has something about our culture made people less empathetic-meaner, in other words?

What molds a child’s character? His peers, to an extent. But first and foremost, the adults to whom he looks up. Too often these days, boys have to look outside their homes for male role models.

A good place to start in trying to sort out youth violence, then, might be with adults. Are we reaping what we sow?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at