Friday, April 19, 2013

Young adults and the Boston marathon bombing

As a 10 year resident of Cambridge, I have been following the Boston marathon bombings, but it wasn't until I saw this tweet from a NYT reporter that I thought about the connection to young adults.
As the story unfolds, we will understand more about the motivations of the bombers:  nationalism, religion, or neither.  Right now we just have questions, such as which factors cause an adolescent to turn into the type of young adult who travels thousands of miles to Boston to become a statistics graduate student as opposed to a boxer or alleged bomber?   

We asked a similar question during my first year in college, when one alienated foreign student killed her socially-integrated roommate in a murder-suicide.  I remember that spring morning in 1995, wheeling a hand truck filled with boxes from my dorm to Dunster House and finding Dunster surrounded by police tape.  The rumors in the street were that a dozen people had been stabbed and the killer was on the loose; ultimately it turned out to be just 2, and the killer had hung herself an hour ago.  Meanwhile, I needed to figure out what to do with my boxes.  I threw them over the wrought iron fence into the side yard and hoped for the best.  Melanie Thernstrom researched the crime and published a book that included intriguing foreshadowing, such as the killer sending letters to strangers from the Boston phonebook asking for help with social skills, but no real answers. 

In this case, the alleged bombers seemed to be well-liked.  A photoessay of the older alleged bomber from 2 years ago is no longer available online, but this article has many photos from it and the key photo captions, such as saying that he has no American friends.

Whatever the reasons for these divergent paths, these patterns emerge during adolescence and young adulthood, although likely they are forged in childhood, infancy, and even before.  

Adolescents and young adults are at a turning point in life, and the uncertainty inherent in that transition is often stressful.  Here one 19 year old has put the entire city of Boston on lockdown.  He has made a huge negative impact on the world.  In the coming days, we will wonder what could have prevented him from taking such a destructive path.

We'll probably never know, but thankfully these extreme situations are rare.  More common are adolescents and young adults who destroy their and others' lives in more quiet ways.  UNICEF just released a report ranking the US at the bottom of rich countries in child well-being, below even Greece.  The entire nation is transfixed by a single demented individual, while entire sectors of US society are impoverished in ways that will increase their propensity for more mundane forms of violence, and we will feel the impact for decades.

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