A group of third-graders—kids ages 8-10—were caught plotting to attack and kill their elementary school teacher. They even had assigned roles—one child was going to blacken the windows of the classroom, and another was going to clean up afterward. The nine boys and girls in the learning disabilities class (kids in the class have ADHD, ADD and developmental delays) were organized enough to bring knives, a paperweight, handcuffs and duct tape. The plan was to knock her unconscious with the paperweight and then stab her. The reason why they were going to attack her? She’d scolded a girl for standing on a chair in the classroom. The teacher of the class, Miss Belle Carter, said that they were “good kids” and couldn’t believe they were planning to attack her.
It’s really sad, isn’t it? Here we have kids in the third grade who have already developed a gang mentality. There are many, many comments that could be made on this. But I want to be clear about one thing: this type of anti-social behavior and aggression doesn’t disappear on its own. These kids will have to be dealt with very sternly. To be sure, 3rd graders don’t have the same level of brain development as pre-adolescents and teenagers. So all learning experiences and consequences have to be addressed to their learning capacity.
People should be very careful about allowing these kids to escape responsibility for their behavior because of some mental health diagnosis. I want to note a few things here: the first is that studies show that there are many many people in prison with learning disabilities and mental health issues. There are also many many people not in prison with learning disabilities and mental health issues. What’s the difference? I believe it’s because the people in prison had excuses made for them, were blaming others and were not held accountable for their actions. In my experience, in many cases, kids diagnosed with ADHD, ADD, or conduct disorder seem predisposed to antisocial and even criminal activities. What these kids did was criminal and could have been very harmful. These kids responded to limits with aggression.
Many kids learn to comply with authority. Others don’t learn that for whatever reason and develop a pattern of defying authority which escalates throughout the course of their childhood. They have to be held sternly accountable for their behavior, as well as being held responsibly to learn alternative ways of dealing with authority and their own emotions. Any talk of family background in mental health diagnoses is less relevant than many people imagine it to be.
No matter what the background or the diagnosis, these kids had a plan to knife a teacher. Their parents didn’t come up with that plan. The diagnosis doesn’t come up with the plan. They came up with the plan. And they better be held accountable. If there are family problems or other issues, of course they need to be addressed, but that is secondary issue to the primary focus that these kids tried to knife a teacher.
About James Lehman, MSW
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.