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Monday, October 6, 2014

Violent Kids? Impressionable Youngsters and Their Role Models

Why are children more prone to violence today?

It surely must reflect the way in which they are raised and the environment in which they were raised. When most teens act out violence, it is usually due to a variety of reasons, rather than just one cause.

Let's consider these reasons now to make some important inferences about violent children:

* Both parents are often forced to work just to make ends meet. That leaves less time to teach, to love, and to learn family values.

* One particularly troubling problem is the absence of a father figure in many single-parent homes. When young men don’t have fathers, they don’t learn to control their masculine impulses.

* Some youth live with constant violence and terror at home -- both physical and mental abuse. Michael Males, a professor at University of California at Santa Cruz, says, "More than any past generation, today's kids are far more likely to grow up with parents who abuse drugs, get arrested, go to prison, disappear, fail to maintain stable families. Poverty, disownment, and messed-up adults are by far the biggest problems kids face, and the mystery is why only a relatively small fraction of modern kids are acting dangerously."

A 2006 report released by the Vermont National Education Association maintains that parental alcohol abuse, domestic violence, the presence of guns in the home, may encourage a child to follow in his or her parents' footsteps. (Constitutional Rights Foundation report, 2014)

* Mental health issues in children are monumental. Often times, access to mental health treatment is only available to people with money. Young people with learning disorders, emotional distress, or attention deficits are vulnerable to committing violent acts. Forty-eight percent of Americans blame the mental health system "a great deal" for mass shootings in the United States. (Gallup poll, 2013)

* Drug abuse among youth is widespread. Particularly troubling abuse concerns the use of prescription opioids and even heroin.

* Pop culture influences often feature violence and show little respect for human life. For example, murderous video games can train young people to kill, and parents are too busy in their own lives to monitor such influences. There seems to be a disconnect between fantasy and reality in relation to violence and its horrid effects.

* Television has become a violent, negative influence on children. Statistics contend "by the time the average American child reaches seventh grade, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television." (Constitutional Rights Foundation report, 2014)

* The media sensationalizes violence through films and reports of brutal incidents that can incite impressionable youth to commit savage acts. Twenty percent of Americans put heavy blame for gun violence on inflammatory language by prominent political commentators. (Gallup poll, 2013) And, eighteen percent of Americans blame inflammatory language from political commentators for school shootings. (Gallup poll, 2013)

* Some youth have very poor social skills, and they feel isolated, lonely, and threatened in a vibrant environment. Some experience an erosion of respect for the value of life, others rights, and the law in general.

* Guns are prevalent in society and readily available to access. Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines increase the killing power of weapons. Accessibility of the means to carry out extreme violence increases the likelihood of it occurring. Many parents do not take realistic ways to make guns child-proof. Forty percent of Americans blame easy access to guns for mass shootings in the United States. (Gallup poll, 2013) 

* Some believe much of the violence is the domestic consequences of a militarized superpower engaged in chronic wars around the world. The US spends more money on the military than the next ten countries together. It also has the highest level of domestic gun violence in the developed world. Highly militarized societies cannot compartmentalize foreign from domestic violence. They cannot prevent wars – and guns – from coming home.

* The exact number and location of guns and gun types is unknown. Acquisition of firearms is relatively easy, and the criminal element is glad to sell unlicensed weapons for very little money.

According to the 2011 Center for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, 16.6 percent of high school students carried a weapon at least once during the 30 days before they were surveyed. And, 7.4 percent reported that they have been threatened or injured with a weapon.

* Few restrictions in high-crime areas can allow children to have access to alcohol and/or buy drugs, get high and drunk, and then commit acts of violence.

* The spread of extremist viewpoints on the Internet is blamed for shootings in the United States. Twenty-nine percent blame such viewpoints for this violence. (Gallup poll, 2013)

* American children live in a very violent culture. In 2005, twenty-four percent of students ages 12-18 reported that there were gangs at their schools. There seems to be an acceptance of all the trappings of living with this bloodshed. 

Many resist legislation limiting guns. In contrast, in both Australia and Britain, large scale massacres with firearms led to passage and enforcement of new, stringent  laws limiting access to firearms. As of 2013, for 17 years, neither country has had a mass casualty gun-related incident (except in 2010 for Britain).

Paul Heroux, a State Representative from Massachusetts, says ...

"We love violence. We pay to watch violence at the movies. Parents pay money for kids to play violent video games. Certain businesses make money off of violence. We cheer when there is a fight in hockey. Mixed Martial Arts is more violent than boxing and its ratings have been skyrocketing. We have a violence problem in America."

Heroux claims we have a gun violence in the United States, but that isn't the leading cause of violence in America. He says, "It is just the most salient." Here is what he means:

"There is a legitimate gun culture in America that the anti-gun groups don't understand; this legal gun culture does not misuse their guns as they have a high level of respect for their guns and the responsibilities of owning a gun.

"On the flip side, there is also a case to be made that the pro-gun groups seemingly refuse to recognize, which is that where there are more guns, there is more homicide. But how we respond to this data matters. We can arbitrarily crack down on guns, or we can try to reduce gun offenses where they are happening by the people illegally carrying and using guns. I think the choice is clear."

(Paul Heroux. "America's Violence Problem (and It's Not Just With Guns)." 
Huffington Post. May 27, 2013)

* Living in a difficult age group itself may be a reason for youth violence. Young teenagers are often physically hyperactive and have not learned acceptable social behavior. Second, many middle school students have come into contact for the first time with young people from different backgrounds and distant neighborhoods. New friends could be violent acquaintances.

* Communities can and do neglect children, especially those of lower income. If communities are not responsive to the needs of families and their children, this neglect can develop into school violence. After-school and summer programs are not always available. Also, constantly shifting school demographics often reflect larger upheavals as communities undergo changes in size, economic well-being, and racial and ethnic mix. Too much change creates tension and upheaval.

The American Psychological Society reports people often commit violence because of one or more of the following:
  • Expression. Some people use violence to release feelings of anger or frustration. They think there are no answers to their problems and turn to violence to express their out of control emotions.
  • Manipulation. Violence is used as a way to control others or get something they want.
  • Retaliation. Violence is used to retaliate against those who have hurt them or someone they care about.
  • Violence is a learned behavior. Like all learned behaviors, it can be changed. This isn't easy, though. Since there is no single cause of violence, there is no one simple solution. The best you can do is learn to recognize the warning signs of violence and to get help when you see them in your friends or yourself.

Often people who act violently have trouble controlling their feelings. They may have been hurt by others. Some think that making people fear them through violence or threats of violence will solve their problems or earn them respect.

The APS also offers these warning signs of youth violence:
Some signs of potential for violence may be historical or static (unchangeable) factors like:
  • A history of violent or aggressive behavior
  • Young age at first violent incident
  • Having been a victim of bullying
  • History of discipline problems or frequent conflicts with authority
  • Early childhood abuse or neglect
  • Having witnessed violence at home
  • Family or parent condones use of violence
  • A history of cruelty to animals
  • Having a major mental illness
  • Being callous or lacking empathy for others
  • History of vandalism or property damage

Other signs of potential violence may be present over time and may escalate or contribute to the risk of violence given a certain event or activity. These might include:
  • Serious drug or alcohol use
  • Gang membership or strong desire to be in a gang
  • Access to or fascination with weapons, especially guns
  • Trouble controlling feelings like anger
  • Withdrawal from friends and usual activities
  • Regularly feeling rejected or alone
  • Feeling constantly disrespected

Some signs of potential violence may be new or active signs. They might look like:
  • Increased loss of temper
  • Frequent physical fighting
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Increased risk-taking behavior
  • Declining school performance
  • Acute episode of major mental illness
  • Planning how to commit acts of violence
  • Announcing threats or plans for hurting others
  • Obtaining or carrying a weapon

Click here for the entire Warning Signs entry:

In January 2013, the Warning Signs of Youth Violence guide was updated with assistance from the following psychologists:

Alan Berman, PhD, ABPP
American Association of Suicidology, Washington, D.C.
Eva Feindler, PhD
Long Island University/C.W. Post Campus
Phillip M. Kleespies, PhD
VA Boston Healthcare System
Peter Sheras, PhD
University of Virginia; Curry School of Education
APA gratefully acknowledges the following original contributors to this guide:
Alan Berman, PhD
American Association of Suicidology, Washington, D.C.
Eva Feindler, PhD
Long Island University/C.W. Post Campus
Arnold Goldstein, PhD
Syracuse University, Center for Research on Aggression
Nancy Guerra, EdD
University of California at Riverside
Rodney Hammond, PhD
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Peter Sheras, PhD
University of Virginia; Curry School of Education
Fernando Soriano, PhD
San Diego State University; San Diego Children's Hospital

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