American Morning

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December 17th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

Walk in My Shoes: Inside the teen brain

Editor's Note: This week, American Morning is examining the causes of youth-on-youth violence across the country. Yesterday, in part three of the series, "Walk in My Shoes," we walked to school with two students and witnessed the dangers they face every day. Today, we examine the teenage brain to look for an explanation for some of their behavior.

By T.J. Holmes, CNN

Mix the constant presence of violence kids on Chicago's west side face with the developing teen brain, and researchers say you've got a recipe for danger.

“The frontal lobe right here [points to image], is very late to mature. Not to about age 25,” and so teens are prone to act more impulsively, says Dr. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health.

“Whenever there's high emotion then this part of the brain is really taxed. It really has to work extra hard to sort it all out.”

That's true even for teens living in the best of circumstances, but add a constant barrage of violence to a kid's life and that risky behavior can become magnified.

“They misinterpret signs of danger. They overreact to it all the time and they have trouble calming themselves down and seeing the world the way other people see it," says Gene Griffin, assistant professor at Northwestern Medical School.

Dr. Giedd says the brain can actually get used to the violence, taking even more violence to shock it.

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Filed under: Crime • Walk in My Shoes
December 16th, 2009
07:00 AM ET

Walk in My Shoes: Surviving the walk to school

Editor's Note: This week, American Morning is examining the causes of youth-on-youth violence across the country. Yesterday, in part two of the series, "Walk in My Shoes," we talked with a group of teenagers about why they fight. Tomorrow, we examine the teenage brain to look for an explanation for some of their behavior.

By T.J. Holmes, CNN

It's not yet 7 a.m. and 17-year-old Eric Nimely is already facing his first test of the day – getting safely to school on Chicago's South Side.

Millions of American parents don't think twice about getting their kids to and from school each day, with expectations of a safe carpool, bus ride or short walk.

But for more than 400,000 public school students in Chicago a trip to and from school could become a matter of life and death. We took that trip with two students, and talked with them about how they deal with the constant threat of violence and the effect it has on their lives.

“Everybody gets on the bus and sometimes coming home they’re fighting, you know stuff like that on the bus,” says Eric, who switched his route to school for a safer trip.

To walk in Eric's shoes, is to get a glimpse into a world where getting to school is all about survival.

“If you don't have any friends … I'm not saying you’re going to get picked on, but it's like a group of guys standing on the corner and you're walking. If nobody knows who you are, I mean like they're going to try and say something to you,” Eric says.

Like 95% of the city's public school students, Eric is responsible for getting to school on his own. He says he tries to travel with friends, to avoid trouble.

“We definitely want to try to protect them from violence,” says Charles Anderson, assistant principal at Eric's Team Englewood High School. Anderson says it's not uncommon for kids to get jumped, robbed or worse in the tough neighborhoods of Chicago, where during the last school year, 49 public school students were killed.

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Filed under: Crime • Walk in My Shoes
December 15th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

Walk in My Shoes: Why teens fight

Editor's Note: This week American Morning is examining the causes of youth-on-youth violence across the country. Yesterday, in part one of the series, "Walk in My Shoes," we talked to one of the teens who participated in the brawl that left a 16-year-old boy dead. Tomorrow, we walk to school with two students and witness the dangers they face every day.

Across the country, teen violence is ripping apart families and entire communities. The CDC says 16 teens and young adults are murdered in America every single day, and many are killed by someone their own age.

We wanted to understand why so many are turning to violence. Our T.J. Holmes talked with some high school students on Chicago's South Side to get inside their heads.

T.J.: How many in this group – you can give me a show of hands if you want to – how many of you in the past year have been in a fight? A physical altercation of some kind?

[All students raise hands]

T.J.: All five of you in the past year have been in a fight of some kind?

Kevin: Last September for me.

T.J.: More than one? Anybody in this group?

Gregory: A couple of weeks ago for me.

For these Chicago teens, fighting is a way of life.

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Filed under: Crime • Walk in My Shoes
December 14th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

Walk in My Shoes: Teen talks about deadly brawl

Editor's Note: This week American Morning is examining the causes of youth-on-youth violence across the country. In part one of the series, "Walk in My Shoes," we talk to Vashion Bullock – one of the teens who participated in the brawl captured on video that left a 16-year-old boy dead. On Tuesday, we talk with teens about why they fight, and if anything can be done to change the behavior.

Derrion Albert, 16, was beaten to death September 24. His death was captured on video.

Derrion Albert, 16, was beaten to death September 24. His death was captured on video.

By T.J. Holmes, CNN

Teen violence – it's a problem just about everywhere. In California, a crowd watched a 15-year-old girl gang raped after her high school prom. Five of the six suspects are teenagers.

In Florida, a 15-year-old suffers second-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, when five teens set him on fire in a dispute involving his failure to pay them $40 for a video game.

And in Chicago, captured on a cell phone camera, 16-year-old Derrion Albert beaten to death by a mob of teens. A killing so senseless and brutal it strikes a nerve across the country, all the way to the White House.

“It was a stark wake-up call to a reality that can be easy for too many to ignore,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

A wake-up call to a startling reality where, according to the most recently released CDC figures, an average of 16 young people are murdered each day in the United States. In Chicago, twelve public school students have been killed in the last four months, including Derrion Albert.

“I got some regrets. I wish I would’ve stayed home that day,” says 17-year-old Vashion Bullock, one of the kids who took part in the Chicago brawl.

Facing expulsion from Fenger High School, Vashion says what the public sees in these images and what he saw that day are two different stories. In his world, he says, fighting is about survival.

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Filed under: Crime • Walk in My Shoes