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Ethicist: Making Sense of Disturbing Teen Behaviors

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, December 04, 2008 10:22 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Nursing Home Abuse, Premises Liability, Nursing Home and Elder Abuse, Ethics, Medical Malpractice, Teens

An ethicist tries to make sense of disturbing news about teen girls.  


National Voices

Kirk O. Hanson, ethicist talks about disturbing teen behavior.

Injuryboard Talks To: 

Kirk O. Hanson/ Ethicist/ Image Courtesy: Markkula Center for Applied Ethics University of Santa Clara


IMAGE SOURCE:  Smoking Gun Web Site/ Teens Charged In Nursing Home Abuse


The news Tuesday about teenage girls allegedly abusing and sexually humiliating mentally impaired, elderly residents of a nursing home, seems almost too unbelievable to be true.

The girls admit to many of the perverse and cruel behaviors in the MN. Department of Health report.  Others witnessed the acts and did and said nothing.    

At a time when teen girls are worrying about college, the latest fashions and reality TV shows - these girls are now facing jail time, a record, and extensive fines.

The news comes in a week where a stampede of bargain shoppers trampled a security guard to death at a Wal-Mart, and a report on 30 years of media saturation that appears to be making our kids not only fat, but giving them a skewered look at the world, including a distorted sexual identity.

So IB decided a little context might be needed here.  How do we make sense of this story in partcular about abusive girls?

Injuryboard talked to Kirk O. Hanson, the Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California. The Center focuses on ethics in the field of business, bioethics, legal ethics and is developing a seminar for parents, “Raising An Ethical Child.”

*Warning- the charges against the teen girls are very disturbing and can be read from the Smoking Gun Web site which has the  Complaint against the teens.  

IB’s Jane Akre talked to Mr. Hanson, about making sense of the teenage abuse story.

Kirk O. Hanson:  “Teenager behavior can spin out of control when there is no effective oversight and no one watching. It generally occurs when there is a peer group and generally led by the edgier people who want to show their peers they can take risks and be edgier than the rest of them.

“It’s a pattern that occurs frequently. Now it usually ends up with broken windows, but in a case in New York, young men would beat up a Latino once a week.  It is very similar pattern psychologically. They would engage in the same kind of behavior because there were no repercussions. So to prey upon the powerless is part of the pattern.”

IB: If you kill a kitten it is moving toward sociopathic behavior, doesn’t this approach that?

Hanson: “Edginess or risky behavior when it becomes abusive begins to move down the spectrum toward sociopathic behavior. We’ve seen people who move down the slippery slope when edgier behavior begins to be abusive. People who don’t get a rise anymore try to get the attention of their peers. That’s when we have the mass murder at schools. That’s the typical profile."

IB: What does this say about the nursing home?

Hanson: “You want to know there is effective oversight of your part-time people. We all know nursing homes are places where residents can be abused by the staff or the volunteer staff because individuals may feel there is no repercussions.

“If you visit once a week make sure they are watching out, that it’s clean and there is an effective protective system. This dramatizes the need for nursing homes to have oversight and the need for relatives to monitor nursing home management."

IB: A report we covered this week that 30 years of media messages is encouraging our children to become like the characters they see on television. Does that possibly have some influence here on these girls are acting out sexually?

Hanson: “This is part of the daily conversation today, more than a generation ago. So it’s not surprising this reflects the vernacular. This is their normal day to day conversation.  Teens don’t understand that common verbal repartee is highly objectionable if it becomes part of their action. The teenage mind may not make the distinction.”

IB:  Are these girls a lost cause?

Hanson: “I don’t think by any means they are a lost cause. They slid down the slippery slope but the legal process will become part of their education.  They can be educated about the impact of their behavior and damage. I’m a big believer in jail time, not necessarily prison, to understand the severity of their behavior."

IB:  What’s also frightening is that the teen witnesses said nothing.

Hanson: “Peer group pressure means you go along with the crowd, and only with substantial courage do you refuse to go along with the crowd. With greater courage you blow the whistle on the crowd’s behavior.

“Maturity is also an issue, Maybe adulthood came at age 13, 100 years ago. At 19 they are not mature today. Educators notice substantial changes between freshmen and sophomore and juniors and seniors. That’s a well known phenomenon.”

IB:  The story this week on the media, that kids spend more time with electronics than their parents, in some cases twice as long in a week. Should we turn off the TV?

Hanson: “Monitor it. We have to know what the child is doing and ask questions. Ask questions like, “How do you like to volunteer?” “How is it going?"

“They need to be engaged and talk a lot about how it’s going. Talk to them; also celebrate when they break through.

"It seems to me the fundamental role of a parent is through talking to the child, to stay involved and help them understand and interpret their world, than help them integrate that information into their own personalities. " #

Kirk O. Hanson is Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and 
University Professor of Organizations and Society, positions he has held since 2001. In 2001, he took early retirement from Stanford University where he taught in the Graduate School of Business for 23 years and is now an emeritus faculty member.

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is one of the most active ethics centers in the United States, working in the fields of business, government, and health care ethics, as well as in K-12 character education. Hanson coordinates the work of 15 scholars and staff who work directly for the center and 50 faculty who are affiliated with it. Its affiliated faculty work on all aspects of applied and professional ethics. #



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