Book review: The Columbine Effect – Read it! and my fears about a top 40 loving son.

When my friend Beth said her book, The Columbine Effect: How five teen pastimes got caught in the crossfire and why teens are taking them back, was finally coming out I was so excited to read it! And, I was not let down upon reading it.  Beth is a fellow Mom and MetalHead as well as an accomplished and thoughtful journalist. I appreciate her insights on a daily basis. You can check out her thoughts on her blog Backward Messages  or at on twitter @beth_winegarner. You will not regret it.


This little ramble is a shameless plug to buy her book and read and give it to folks. And, it is also a little babble on my own parenting and a wee rant on the importance of seeing teens. We need to remember we are all former teens shaped strongly by what we fell in love with during those years. And, that while we were enmeshed in exploring those loves they were deeply emotionally important to us; helping to create our  own sense of identity and self, distinct from that of our parents – and often in some way opposed. It is easy to forget that and to see what we don’t understand or are not interested in as threatening or unimportant. This is especially true when things turn violent. It is so easy to blame the outward expressions of darkness and violence in our culture for causing violence. But, that is an easy and unuseful way out. In too simple of terms people are violent towards self and other when they lack voice and control over their circumstances or when they have a mental illness which removes their ability to respond appropriately. People are not violent because they Play Grand Theft auto or listen to Slayer. There are other factors, it is those factors that we need to open our eyes to and grow aware of.

The Columbine Effect is a clear and thoughtful tour of spaces of teen identity outside the mainstream of culture. This book meticulously and accessibly debunks contemporary cultural myths and media stereotypes connecting video games, role playing games, Occult, Satanism, Metal and Goth with teen violence, mental health breakdowns and suicide. It really really is a must read, especially if you know someone who thinks it is a love of Metal and too many hours playing video games that causes kids and young adults to go on shooting sprees or kill themselves. This book dives into the importance of connections and the problems that arise when there are none. It gets into the need to really look at mental health from a personal perspective not from an outside influence, fear mongering perspective.

Here is Beth’s blub for it

“Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren’t goth kids who played more Doom than their classmates. But after news outlets reported they were, teen goths and gamers felt the backlash for years. As police and journalists have rushed to explain other unthinkable massacres, heavy metal music, paganism, Satanism, occult practices and role-playing games have unfairly gotten caught in the crossfire. Adolescents’ brains may still be developing, but they recognize the rich benefits of pastimes adults have deemed dangerous. The Columbine Effect is filled with teens’ stories of self-discovery and healing–and the research to back them up. It reveals how we arrived at such gross misunderstandings of common but controversial interests. The Columbine Effect is the book that will make us stop blaming teen violence on the wrong things–and help us understand how Slayer, Satanism and Grand Theft Auto can be a healthy part of growing up.”

Book Trailer for The Columbine Effect

Now for the personal raving about why I love this book on the inside of my heart.

First off as a former teen punk rocker with gothic leanings, who dug into the Occult and fell in love with metal (and Neil Diamond), and has not stopped exploring any of the above – The Columbine Effect was a wonderful lap down memory lane. It reminded me how important all of those interests had been to me in helping me to create an identity that felt authentic and honest to the person I felt myself to be. I was not a mainstream kid. I liked the stuff on the otherside, the darker side. The pulse of metal, the brashness of punk, the beautiful darkness and love of history I found in Goth. These things led me to study religious systems outside of the Jewish-Christian line and Philosphy. It was empowering and the friends I found there embracing. In my heart I always knew that I lived outside the box and was never going to fit into it with comfort. This book was an affirmation of my thoughts on the good things I got (and get) out my journeys to the darker side. And, while I might be able to trace a direct line between these interests and a liberal arts education and a master’s degree in history I don’t directly blame those interests for my lack of a lucrative career or my inability to spell!  It also made me appreciate my Mom and Pops and their effort to understand my choices in clothes, friends, music and interests … to date. Thanks Mom and Pops for letting me be me.

Secondly I loved this book because it totally completely sure as the soles of Doc Martins freeze in the winter needed to be written, just this way. Thank you Beth, for writing a book that looks, not with judgment, but with curiosity at subjects that often get only viewed through judgmental and problem solving lenses – teens, video games (I am guilty of that, and this book helped loads to understand both my fear of them and to understand their appeal because I have just never ever been drawn to them.) RPGs (though I am glad she didn’t get into too much Ren Fair talk, I am still a wee bit judgy there – sorry – but it is true), Occult, Satanism, Metal and Goth. Those just mentioned things get blame heeped all over them as causes for the bad shit  teens do. But over and over again what the news seems to scream if you look close enough is that teens are in trouble because we are not paying attention to the violence, neglect, and lack of connection in their lives – not in their music or games. There is ready access to guns, but not such easy access to mental health services. Families – all the different kinds of them – struggle to make the ends meet and that means less quality time to parent. Those are problems.

Thirdly I loved this book because I find myself on the other side of the coin as a parent. My kid loves top 40 radio, the commercials included. He wants to play football and loves sports based video games. He doesn’t like dark stories or movies and is not a fan of visiting cemeteries for their peace and beauty. He longs to leave the city and join suburban life. And, I sit around thinking – is he okay?. Is he going through something terrible because he wants to be like most of his peers? I pull my hair out fearing he will become a Republican and not so subtly surround him with social justice news and literature. Thankfully when I pull out the Metal Vinyl we  can connect…though even there we are different…very different…I am a Bon Scot girl and while he likes David Johnson fronting his AC/DC, he likes Metallica over Motorhead …which I can’t understand. He can tolerate Judas Preist, while they cause me to ROCK out loud, much to his embarrassment. I understand the Keaton’s…I’ve got an Alex…though much less extreme . (thankfully he is no conservative – knock knock knock on wood!)

Fox news is good for something – Alex B Keaton’s best parent shocking moments…in case you forgot or just never knew…

Dealing with kids who are different than you is strange. You are faced with the fact that your child is their own person with likes and feelings that grow right out of them. As they strive to surround themselves with things that create an identity that speaks to what it true to them it is easy to feel alienated from what you don’t understand or don’t connect with. Beth’s book is a thoughtful guide in this landscape. She advocates for learning about the interests of your child so that you know what they are and have ground to stand on when talking to them and a knowledge that will help you understand when behavior is really something to worry about.

As for me and the young man we have found a few top 40 artists we both enjoy. I finally understand the appeal of Winnie the Pooh and have been convinced that not loving dark stories does not mean you don’t have a soul. I hold out hope that one day he will dress in black and read poetry and tarot cards in a grave yard with a pocket full of crystals and a handful of friends deep into the night. But, if he doesn’t I will be there to love him and listen to what does move him with an open heart, and curiosity about life on the light side.

As always thanks for reading.



~ by asmallfryup on December 2, 2013.

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