Campus: Cal Poly, Pomona -- September 7, 2000

Emerging Deviants: White, Middle Class, Suburban Teenagers?

Two high school sophomores armed with sawed-off shotguns and homemade bombs killed 13 of their classmates in the backdrop of their middle class neighborhood.

Five suburban junior high students were charged in an alleged murder plot of their teacher.

These stories are becoming too familiar, often provoking the same questions: why do children rage against their classmates, families and society in such destructive ways? And what leads them to cross the line from normal teenage rebellion into deviant and destructive behavior?

Well-known criminologist and sociologist Wayne S. Wooden has been exploring youth behavior for more than three decades.

"Youth violence is very complex - there is no one factor that we can point to," says Wooden, a Cal Poly Pomona professor. "A number of factors - biological, psychological and sociological - all play a part. Even the media."

Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws, Wooden's most recent book, helps define what is normal and what is deviant behavior among teens by distinguishing between socially harmless identity seekers - renegade kids - and volatile and potentially dangerous youths prone to law breaking - suburban outlaws.

Wooden focuses on the white, middle-class suburban teenager and their behavior as emerging teen deviants - the mall rats, metalers, party ravers, punkers, satanists, skinheads, stoners, taggers and others.

"I picked these groups of kids because of the misconceptions people have about them," he says.

"My style is to let them speak for themselves. The reader may not agree with what these kids have to say, but I hope to provide them with insight into where these kids are coming from and why they do what they do even if it is self destructive."

The book, a second edition, features new chapters that discuss suburban school shooters, punks and anarchy, and the piercing and tattoo trend. There are also updated chapters that analyze tagger crews, teenagers and hate crimes and white youth gangs. Wooden also explores why youths become deviant, what steps can be taken to help them not cross the line and the demographics of the next wave of teenagers - Generation Y.

"Some of the war paint these kids wear is a cry for help," says Wooden. "It's to offend and upset their folks and to elicit some type of reaction. Kids being kids is one thing. But parents still need to provide some guidance and not just let their kids do their own things."

Being observant is key to making sure a child doesn't cross the line. And the best place to look for signs of deviance is in a child's bedroom, a place of refuge. In the Columbine incident, authorities found a diary in one of the gunmen's dresser, outlining the planning of "the big kill." Lying next to the diary was a shotgun barrel and bomb-making materials.

Youth culture, which has been around since post-WWII, has been accepted as a part of growing up. But what often starts out as "cliques" at school can sometimes escalate into warring tribes. Wooden believes that one of the best things schools can do is to get the cliques talking together and decrease their social distance from one another.

"The good thing is most kids are on the straight and narrow. It's those extreme cases that media focuses on creating unnecessary moral panic."

In addition to being a sociology professor, Wooden is also the coordinator of Cal Poly Pomona's Criminal Justice and Corrections program. And, as a recognized expert in his field, he has been featured in Psychology Today and The New York Times.

Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws, co-authored by Randy Blazak of Portland State University, was published in July.

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