The Social Butterfly: Transforming the Teenage Soul Series Part 3

Part 3: Beliefs behind Boston

In the wake of the Boston Marathon Tragedy, two suspects were quickly identified. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a former champion boxer, was the clear leader of the operation. Yet Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, also known as Suspect #2, is the one who seems to be on everybody’s mind. Why? Because at only 19 years old, Dzhokhar has committed one of the worst terrorism assaults on American soil of this century. How, and Why, could a teenager commit such a horrible atrocity?   

Throughout all the numerous reports on Dzhokhar’s interrogations, it has been noted repeatedly that his brother Tamerlane influenced and recruited him to participate in the bombing plot. Clearly, at some point in his journey, Dzhokhar became fully immersed and decided to partake in his brother’s radical activities. Was this his true sense of self? We’re not sure, but certainly this was not his highest sense of self.

The reason why I’ve decided to include this topic in this series is because it has everything to do with teenagers handling social sway and group dynamics. The level of immersion that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had with Tamerlan’s ideology was very, very, deep; so deep, in fact, that he lost the light of reason. The influence of his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had become too ingrained into Dzhokhar’s physical, psychological, and (this hurts) spiritual perspective for him to remain uninvolved. Whatever “dream” Dzhokhar had, supposedly to finish medical school and become a doctor, became overshadowed by his fixation with this terrorist thought. With his brother’s strong presence, Dzhokhar’s own presence seems to have been completely overshadowed. With Dzhokhar’s situation, I realized that his social dynamics could be broken down into a simple formula:

Immersion + Influence = Extremism (aka Complete Loss of Choice)

This same level is not only reflected in the Boston Bombings, but also in the lives of teens across the world. This group extremism can manifest itself violently in gangs, or it can appear much more subtly in athletics, Greek life, and other cliques. Gang activity and its influence on teenagers can be seen in the cities of Chicago, London, Cape Town, and even Beijing. In both small villages and vast megacities, teens are falling out of grace and falling in with the wrong crowd. And, like every parent fears, teens are making decisions that are extremely opposite of their highest potential.

My question for teens, and especially for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is simply this: what group is so worth being involved in that you lose yourself? If it is simply a matter of trying to be “cool,” it is not worth it. If it is a way to be “fun”, it is not worth it.  If it is the best attempt to be “popular,” it is not worth it.  The Self – the mind, the body, the spirit – is the beautiful manifestation of your consciousness. Why dilute it with someone else’s ideas to create a darker vision of an inferior version of you? Teens have the choice, and they can choose Who They Are in the context of every situation.

Some teens, however, still don’t believe that they have power in their choices. Using the equation from above, there is a way to incorporate choice into those beliefs: through the power of detachment.

          If you are in a situation where you cannot avoid the influence, choose not to become immersed. You can observe the beliefs and actions of the group, but decide not to become involved if the group’s direction does not match the direction of your own moral compass. Giving healthy distance will keep immersion from becoming over powerful.

          If you are in a situation where you cannot avoid immersion, decide not to become influenced. Deciding to act as an individual within a group is not an easy task, but it is manageable. Remember your core beliefs, and your sense of self, will keep you on your path.  

          If you are in a situation where you have experienced both high levels of immersion and influence, make a conscious effort to detach yourself from the situation as frequently as possible. By taking a moment of step outside the group/gang/ideology, the activities and beliefs of the group/gang/ideology can be reviewed holistically, or as a whole. Through analyzing what’s really being said and what’s really going, it becomes very clear on what is truly happening, and whether or not you want to fully embody the group’s purpose in your own life.  

With this in mind, we can stay true to our own physical, psychological, and spiritual beliefs. Instead of falling under the influence, we can choose to be guided by our own self in our own decisions. Having the awareness to know who and what is in control of the group, and possibly you, is vital in remaining centered with your own state of being. With this in place and present, the world can make sure that there will never be another Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  

(Lauren is a Feature Editor of The Global Conversation. She lives in Wood Dale, IL, and can be reached at

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