I read a piece last night about a sibling rivalry that troubled me, so much so that it lead me to ponder a broader question. But, first, the troubling story: a New York teen was arrested for killing her 9-year-old brother’s hamster during what was described as domestic dispute. The 19-year-old girl is accused of squeezing and choking the four-ounce animal to death, then throwing it across the street.
This is beyond disturbing for several reasons. First, how callous does one have to be to even jeopardize a 9-year-old’s beloved pet, much less kill it — regardless of what the much younger sibling had done? Next, many murderers first experience the act by killing pets. That puts this teen’s alleged actions squarely within the realm of sociopathic tendencies.
Or does it?
I first heard of the story over on Gawker and I was a little taken aback that the post was riddled with irony and crafted in hopes of eliciting a chuckle from the reader. Don’t get me wrong, it was clear that the author found the accused actions to be reprehensible. Still, this wasn’t the right type of story to go for giggles, at least not in my opinion. Then, again, it was Gawker, so I didn’t get too bent out of shape about it.
But as I clicked over and read the original story at the New York Times, my focus shifted to the bigger question. Was this an example of sociopathic behavior? Is this a teen we should be gravely concerned about? Or is this just some sick evolution of how (some) siblings fight these days. In other words, is this a sign of the times or just an isolated incidence?
My oldest child will be 19, when my youngest (who’s due in July) turns 10, so the age difference will be just about the same as it is in this case. And I can’t imagine how distraught I would be if something like that happened between the two of them. And if it’s something I simply can’t imagine, then I can’t help but to think that this is NOT a sign of the times.
I think all too often, when middle aged (and older) people see or read something they don’t like, they’re quick to say: “Kids, these days! That would have never happened in my time.” Then they’re equally quick to blame a nemesis, be it rock and roll, television, or perhaps nowadays, the internet.
But in actuality, not much is different from the way human beings behave these days than the way they behaved when I was a kid. Or when my parents were kids. Or when their parents were kids. Kids look different. They sound different. And they have different ways of communicating. They also have far more media available to them. And these elements may shape the way they interact to an extent, but human beings have and always will be governed by the emotions that come over them. And the emotions which drive behavior today are the exact same ones that drove behavior in generations past.
The internet hasn’t suddenly upped the ante when it comes to sibling rivalries. It’s not desensitized teens into thinking that killing a younger sibling’s pet is an appropriate measure of revenge. This story is not a sign of the times. It’s an isolated incident. One that is troubling, to be sure, but one that was probably just as likely to have happen in 1961 as it was to have happened in 2011.
The only sign of the times in this instance is that we hear of such stories far more often than we used to. Thanks to the internet, that is.
Or at least that’s what I think. What do you think?