The rotten core of such programs is the belief that adults pose the greatest threat to adolescents -- as kidnappers, molesters, bad role models, or brainwashers (e.g., video game makers). The truth is that it's teenagers who pose the greatest threat to teenagers. Here and now, the three age classes (children, adolescents, and adults) have separate spheres carved out; as a result, teenagers compete exclusively with other teenagers.
Any good teen movie showcases this fact (see my reviews of Mean Girls and Clueless, or watch Heathers). The worst teen movies -- especially those made by John Hughes -- focus too much on the influence of parents or facets of adult society.
Recently, a group of girls in their mid-teens beat up another mid-teen girl and filmed it. You might think that news reports would emphasize the motive, but most that I've read (google Victoria Lindsay beating) have focused on the fact that the beaters planned to upload the video to YouTube. The idiotic father of the victim even went so far as to say:
Lindsay's father said the teens' motivation was to produce the best "shock" video, rivaling those readily available on sites such as YouTube or popular TV shows such as MTV's "Jackass." . . .
"I want stiffer punishments for these shock Web sites that entice kids to make these videos so they can be famous on the Internet," he said. "That is the motive, I am sure of it. It's crazy and it's terrible and they're gonna pay."
Now, my bullshit detector has a very low threshold, so it does produce false positives -- but never a false negative. Hopefully, you too thought to yourself, "teenage girls don't do that if they want to be internet celebrities." The news reports mention that at least one of the beaters is a cheerleader -- and I have a little theory about what 16 to 18 year-old cheerleaders would upload to YouTube if they wanted to shock, get attention, and become famous. Yeah, that's right. Why would they risk so much by putting a girl in the hospital, when shaking their butts in short shorts would earn them more fame (or infamy)?
Sure enough, the mother of one of the beaters explains what her daughter likely told her as the reason:
. . .the teens beat up Lindsay because she had been harassing and threatening them on MySpace.
Other reports say that this happened over text messaging as well. Now that's believeable. In fact, if you watch the video of the beating, you can tell the beaters are very angry for personal reasons -- not like a bunch of sociopathic boys who laugh in a detached way while filming themselves shooting strangers with paintballs. Perhaps the victim's father cannot read body language or facial expressions at all, but it's clear these girls didn't have fame on their minds.
However, "girl gets beaten up after verbally provoking other girls" is not the headline any of the reports are running. I obviously don't think the victim deserved a beating, but the grand solution to this type of problem is to warn teenage girls: "If you verbally tease or provoke other girls, especially in public forums where others can hear and spread the word, you might get beaten up." Pretty simple, really.
Instead, we must listen as grave news reports, clueless parents, and nutcase guidance counselor ladies inform us that these things are the fault of parents, bad role models, "shock" internet sites, removing God from the schools, or whatever else the person has on their agenda. Teenagers have been competing with, and beating up, other teenagers long before any of this, and they'll keep doing it: the urge to beat the shit out of your competitors is rooted in our imperfectable human nature.
To lessen the degree of savage beatings, we must first identify what the causes are, and then seek to prevent them. Only the non-deluded should be allowed to work on this, although fortunately tough-minded people are not in short supply -- they just happen to not work in the helping professions, where touchy-feely-ness is the rule, and where any honest attempt to figure out what caused the incident is met only with indignant sputtering: "You're blaming the victim!" Courts may deal with "oughts" when they assign blame and issue punishments, but crime prevention is mostly an amoral engineering problem; the moral part comes later, when we decide where we'd like to be along the trade-off continuum that the engineers have elucidated.