A Study of Gothic Subculture

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Salt Lake Tribune
April 11, 1997
Byline by Stephen Hunt

Teens Playing with Dark Side May Be OK, But Monitor Them

Rebellion and experimenting with different lifestyles -- including Gothdom -- is how teens learn to become independent adults. Psychologists say that teens join peer groups to establish identities separate from their families. And costuming -- such as the black dress code of the Goths -- helps groups differentiate from one another, said Jordan School District psychologist Megan McCormick. Gothdom seems especially repugnant to parents, however, because its fascination with vampires and death clashes with Judeo-Christian ideals. "Kids are trying out who they are," said McCormick. "And they do try to be different from their parents."

But parents should watch for signs that indicate their teen's rebellion may involve something other than growing pains. This includes a sudden personality change, particularly the onset of depression; failing grades at school or an outbreak of truancy; self-mutilation; or substance abuse. Cult expert Rand Johnson, a West Jordan police captain, said other signs of a troubled teen are loss of a sense of humor, avoidance of family members, a change in sleeping habits, loss of touch with reality and an increase in fear or anxiety.

McCormick urged parents to seek professional help if their teen is acting inappropriately. Most schools have a school psychologist who can provide advice. Teens often are seen as uncommunicative and aloof. But teen years are the time when children most need to talk. "Communication is essential," McCormick said. "Teens get into trouble when they feel they can't talk to their parents." She urged parents to be aware of what their teens are doing, who they are associating with and how they are feeling. "It isn't being nosy, it's our job as parents," she said. Teens may act resentful at being quizzed, but they appreciate the concern.

Johnson said parents should worry if their child becomes involved with Gothdom -- or any activity -- to the point of obsession. Ask if the activity is "affecting interpersonal relationships, or damaging them spiritually, mentally or physically." Parents need to intervene early if an obsessive interest in Gothdom occurs. "Once they turn to rituals, good luck," he said. Signs or artifacts that indicate a teen may be dangerously immersed in Gothdom or Satanism are: 1) Possession of ritual items used for magical spells, such as ornamental chalices, daggers, candles, magical oils and powders, magic wands, occult signs like the pentagram, and books like the Satanic Bible. 2) A private or group diary of handwritten spells and rituals known as a "Book of Shadows," circles inscribed on the floor. 3) Preoccupation with death themes or talk of suicide. [These are things that could possibly indicate a problem, but not necessarily. You would need to evaluate the situation more closely. Wiccans also use several of the ritual items listed. You should examine the situation thoroughly for signs of obsessive or destructive behavior before evaluating whether possession of these items means anything negative.] Johnson said obsessing about death can lead to suicide. Nationwide, some 5,000 teens a year commit suicide. "Teens are going through such tough times, anyway," he said. "So much about Gothdom is dark. I've not seen much positive in this. I want my kids involved in something bright and positive."