Only in their teenage years and three young people have changed their lives forever. One girl is allegedly capable of convincing someone to commit murder; one boy is allegedly capable of committing murder; and one innocent girl is dead.

It’s Toronto’s first homicide of 2008 and, sadly, the female victim was just 14 years old. Stefanie Rengel was fatally stabbed on New Year’s Day and left to die on the sidewalk close to her home. As many of you probably already know, it is alleged that a 15-year-old girl was jealous over Stefanie, and convinced her 17-year-old boyfriend to kill her.

It seems incomprehensible that such a violent crime could be committed, or even concocted, by people so young — but what we’re missing here is the reality of some teenagers today.


Anyone can see that young people are growing up much quicker than before. There’s a myriad of factors involved: from the hormones in our food, to the amount of time spent under artificial lighting, to the fast-paced technology that rules our society.

In other words, young people have less and less time to simply be children at play. But all of us adults need to take responsibility for the impact of this change. Parents, teachers, coaches, counsellors and religious authority alike — we all have to step up.

Puberty has always been chaotic for some kids, and now that it’s often coming on at an earlier age, when they have almost no experience or inner resources to handle it, adults around them have to be ever more watchful. It’s normal for some teenagers to become introverted, secretive and stand-offish. And, unfortunately, the negative aspect of technology allows them private communication through e-mails, iChat, IM, Facebook, etc., which can lead to even more hyped-up emotions.

In the case of this heinous murder, in which teenagers have been charged but are nevertheless innocent until proven otherwise, we cannot know how much motivation was from overwrought and immature emotions. And nor is that even something we can excuse.

But there is a lesson here for the rest of us: do not allow your teenagers, as hard as they may try, to close themselves off from you. Do not dismiss their exaggerated feelings and intense hurts as simple teenage angst.

Even if you’re not a parent, or someone who works with youths, be open to the ones you know. Give them the opportunity to talk to you and learn from the adults that are in their lives.

But, more importantly, because of the way teenagers isolate themselves, we adults cannot stand back and wait for an invitation. We need to show sincere interest and caring, and we need to be involved without invading.

A horrible tragedy has occurred — anything we can do to prevent another is worth the effort.

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