Deadly teen violence shocks Thailand
Two separate shootings spark calls to censor media violence and teach problem-solving skills in schools

Singapore Straits Times, 18 June 2003
By Nirmal Ghosh

BANGKOK - An eruption of violent incidents in schools has left parents shaken, counsellors urging more sensitivity and communication within Thailand's school system, and officials calling for tougher censorship of the media.

Two students died and four were wounded in a teenage school shooting in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, and an 18-year-old killed his ex-girlfriend's uncle and wounded her grandmother before shooting himself dead in Bangkok. The incidents took place within three days of each other over the second weekend in June.

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The first incident was related to a fight between students, while the second was the consequence of a relationship problem, with the assailant reacting to his former girlfriend's rejection with the lethal shooting spree.

In both cases, the assailants used weapons belonging to their fathers.

In the aftermath of the first shooting, the police began searching students' bags at the school and found a 20cm knife in the bag of one student who had a history of being involved in fights.

The incidents spawned anguish and debate, with the Education Ministry and the Department of Mental Health saying they would propose to Thailand's Cabinet an immediate tightening of censorship rules to screen out excessive violence in the media, including films.

Education Minister Pongpol Adireksan said censorship should target all media, especially films, television series, advertisements and video and computer games.

A minimum age would be proposed for strict enforcement of limits on access to media with violent content.

'It is time we reviewed the content of these media which have had the freedom to repeatedly emphasise violence as a way of solving problems,' Mr Pongpol said days after the shootings.

'This has led Thai youth to turn to violence as a means of solving their everyday problems.' In the short term, the government is assigning psychiatrists to the two schools where the incidents took place.

It has also asked executives and teachers from all schools under its jurisdiction to hold monthly meetings with parents.

The department is readying booklets advising parents and teachers on teenage behaviour and how to handle it, and listing service centres and telephone helplines that provide consultation and advice.

Mr Pongpol also warned parents, especially those who are soldiers and policemen, to keep their weapons away from their children.

Dr Prat Boonyawongviroj, director-general of the Department of Mental Health, said copycat behaviour was increasing among teenagers and increased censorship of media content was therefore justified.

Psychiatrists have chipped in with advice as well. Dr Wallop Piyamanorom, a psychiatrist and professor at Srinakharinwirot University, told reporters last week that the education system was inadequate in helping young people face real-life problems.

'Our schools need to focus more on how to disseminate problem-solving skills and relationship and communication skills,' he said.

Mr Somboon Suthinant, father of the perpetrator of the second incident - 18-year-old Panumas, who killed himself after forcing his way into his ex-girlfriend's house and killing her uncle and wounding her grandmother - told reporters: 'I spoiled him and gave him everything he wanted, but did not teach him to be sensible.

'I was always afraid he would not be able to cope with a relationship. I tried to teach him that if you are disappointed, you should not take it too seriously.'