"How many of you have ever been angry?" asked the psychologist. Every hand in the room went up without hesitation. "How many have ever felt excited and happy?" The reaction was markedly less enthusiastic, as only half of the hands were raised.
It quickly became apparent during a recent anger management seminar at Clawson High School that teenagers know how it feels to lose control and they want help in handling their emotions.
"I like the respect that I get when I pick on other people," said Haley Valko after she and other students at the seminar were asked what motivated kids to call each other names.
Several students said they and others use ridicule to build their self-esteem. At the same time, they recognized that being subjected to name-calling and similar types of behavior is behind much of their anger.
"Emotions just are. They are not right, or wrong. Behavior is what youre held accountable for," explained Dr. Joanne Schouten, a Birmingham child psychologist.
Schouten is one of a handful of volunteers from the Michigan Psychologists Association visiting schools statewide to talk about managing anger. Their goal: To prevent violent outbreaks like the Littleton, Colo., tragedy.
The program grew out of a national campaign launched by MTV last month. The yearlong effort, called "Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Violence," includes an MTV news special being shown in each of the seminars. (More information about the networks anti-violence program can be found at www.mtv.com.)
About 40 students, some of them in school conflict-mediation programs and others selected by school counselors, watched the videotape at Clawson. Afterward, many of them said they couldnt fathom a shooting at their school. Others were less doubtful, recalling a Clawson freshman who shot and killed another student two years ago away from the school.
Many kids said they dont feel theres a trusted adult to consult when theyre angry or upset. Some said they are comfortable talking to a parent, but many said they could not talk to their parents at all.
The last person Merri Simpson would consult is any grown-up at school. "If you tell any teacher anything, and you say, Dont say anything, the first thing they do is go run their mouth to the office."
"Teachers, administrators, counselors have to report things if theres a life in danger, or if kids are going to hurt themselves or someone else," said Mary Geib, one of two staff counselors at Clawson. "That puts constraints on us."
It takes too long to see a counselor when you need to get something off your chest, said Jenny Turowski. "We dont want to sit there waiting and waiting, wondering when are they going to have time to talk to us."
The seminar prompted an immediate change in sign-up procedures to visit with counselors at Clawson, allowing students with pressing needs to get in as soon as possible.
"Its very frightening to get out of control, and to do things that they later regret doing," said Dr. Elena Brand of Farmington Hills. "They want help, to feel more in control. Thats when we feel powerful, when we have control over what were doing."