Human beings have many fears; some are real and some are imagined. Young children might be afraid of the Boogey-man, a dark room, or a stranger. Pre-teens might fear not fitting in, failing at sports, or public humiliation. Adult fears tend to be more concrete and reality based. A loaded weapon is not child’s play, but rather a parent’s worst nightmare.
On Aug. 3, on the east side of Detroit an 11-year-old finds his father’s gun and takes it into an unoccupied car. Three year old Elijah Walker climbs into the car. The two had been playmates during the day. The 11-year-old shoots the three year old in the head and the toddler dies. The 11-year- old bolts frantically from the car running around in all directions. The latter account is based on news coverage of interviews with neighbors that lived in the immediate area.
It is virtually impossible to envision this horrific scene without grimacing in mental anguish. If one dares to wonder why this little child had to die so soon, the simple answer would be because the 11- year -old shot the three- year- old. Undoubtedly, there were a number of events and circumstances that permeated this horrendous act; subsequently, the simplistic answer might not be so simple after all.
A child’s development
According to the child development experts, three year olds begin to master cognitive milestones. They can say their name; speak 250 to 500 words; tell stories, and show you their age by holding up three fingers.
Equally important, they will start asking lots of questions: (American Academy of Pediatrics) “Why is the sky blue? Why do birds have feathers?” Questions, questions, and more questions!” And if one has been around children for any length of time it is very evident that three year olds willingly show affection for family and friends. They also comprehend and command the notion of “mine.”
Child experts maintain that eleven and twelve year olds crave for more independence, and they do need a bit more freedom. Yet, they are not as capable of dealing with the real world as much as they would have others believe. Having competent adults establish limits to safeguard preteens is definitely needed for a healthy development.
Preteens begin to consider things that they have not experienced but have internalized through observing adults and watching the media. Smoking cigarettes, experimenting with drugs, and playing with guns all fall under the realm of possibility when established in the mind’s eye of a child.
Preteens become more vulnerable if given a wide range of adult choices for which they are not intellectually able to adequately process and resolve. It is also reported that when accused of doing something wrong, their behavior is likely to be justified by saying “…everyone else is doing it” or “I didn’t intend to hurt anyone.” As such, preteens often believe that they are invulnerable to negative events (Ozretich & Bowman, 2001).
Subsequently, two young boys at different stages of development dramatically detoured from the predicted course of childhood development. The 11- year -old’s developmental milestones took a very adult detour which includes charges of manslaughter. A competency hearing was ordered on Aug. 10 to determine if the 11 -year -old can understand the charges leveled against him.
Elijah’s developmental milestones have ceased altogether. Kicking, throwing a ball, hopping on one foot, and running will not be part of his development. The child experts also maintain that three- year- old’s imaginations are tremendous. Fantasy and pretend become commonplace, as do unrealistic fears such as monsters under the bed or creepy things in the closet. They can also be very trusting and will play with any familiar face, leaving them vulnerable to misfortunes; especially when not under constant adult supervision.
Each of the two situations are dire. This writer is certain that Elijah’s pretend monsters did not involve loaded guns or a very premature and devastating end. Furthermore, one can only speculate the depth of reasoning the 11- year- old maintains at this point in his life. The nightmarish scene that he caused and witnessed might become the most fearful image he will have to contend with for the rest of his life.
In our society it is presumed that adults have mastered their developmental milestones. However, for the adults who have not accepted full responsibility for their adult status, Judge Frank Szymanski, who is presiding over the proceedings provides some very sobering suggestions:
“If you have guns at home, under your car seat, in your home, in a closet or under the bed or in the attic, here’s a message from the Third Circuit Court: you need to lock them up. We shouldn’t be here on a case like this…. If you have ever left a gun unsecured anywhere in your lifetime, for even five minutes, you can say a pray of thanks that you’re not involved in the nightmare that is this case.”
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Developmental Milestones: 3 to 4 Year Olds.”
Ames, L.B., F.L. Ilg, & S.M. Baker. (1988). Your Ten- to Fourteen-year-old. New York: Delacorte Press.
Bradley, Jonathon. (1993). ‘Understanding Your Ten Year Old’. London: Tavistock.
CDC: “Important Milestones: By the End of Three Years (36 Months).”
The Mayo Clinic: “Child Development Chart: Preschool Milestones.”
Orford, Eileen. (1994). ‘Understanding Your Eleven year Old’. London: Tavistock Clinic.
Ozretich, R., & Bowman, S. (2001). Middle childhood and adolescent development. EC 1527.
Wood, D. Child Development Series Your Eleven-Year-Old http://www.washingtonparent.com (2012).