Violence by children and teenagers
Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Some children and teenagers prey on vulnerable people, exhibiting antisocial behavior, neurological dysfunctions, and mental illnesses. These youths may assault other children or adults for a variety of reasons, ranging from invoking fear as a form of entertainment to causing bodily harm as retribution for perceived wrongs such as social ostracism.
Youth crimes doubled during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and included shocking crimes that exceeded those committed by previous generations. Although homicide rates for teenage perpetrators began to decline in the United States by 1997, youth violence remained an urgent issue. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, violent youths were committing callous acts at increasingly younger ages. They also behaved more extremely with regard to weapons used or number of victims attacked during violent sprees. Crimes such as school shootings targeted individuals both known and unfamiliar to perpetrators.
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Who Is Violent? (Psychology and Mental Health)
Violent youths represent varying social classes and ethnicities, living in both rural and urban areas. Young males are twice as likely to act violently outside the home than are young females, but both genders are equally likely to be violent toward their families. Violent tendencies sometimes emerge when children are toddlers. Aggressive children may fight with other youngsters, act up in class, challenge authority figures, or steal. Some sadistically abuse animals. Such aberrant behaviors can intensify during adolescence.
Researchers offer contrasting theories about why some youths become violent. Violent youths may suffer from severe mental illnesses, display disruptive behavior disorders or antisocial personalities, or have experienced brain damage. Some researchers suggest that brain circuits containing the neurotransmitter serotonin have malfunctioned in violent youths. A few researchers speculate that some infants have innate repressed violent characteristics that develop when the child encounters biological or psychological triggers, such as sexual or physical abuse, illegal substances, or peer pressure.
Authorities agree that many violent children and teenagers have been exposed to violence in their homes or communities. Inadequate or abusive parenting can prevent children from learning appropriate values of right and wrong. Neglected or abused children can feel emotionally abandoned and become self-centered....
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How Violence Is Committed (Psychology and Mental Health)
Youth violence can be categorized into four major types. Situational violence, one of the most common types of violence committed by children and teenagers, is sparked by an event that upsets or enrages the victimizer. For example, a student might assault a teacher who gave a failing grade. Relational violence occurs when a child or teenager is violent toward a relative or friend with whom he or she has a personal dispute. Dating violence is one of the most prevalent forms of this type of violence, as when a teenage boy attacks a girl who terminates their relationship. Predatory violence describes thefts and muggings involving violence or violent activities carried out to prove loyalty and ensure acceptance by a group. Violence connected to competition, drug dealing, riots, and gang fights and the use of concealed weapons with intent to maim or murder is considered predatory. Less than 1 percent of juvenile cases involve psychopathological violence, which involves perpetrators who probably are neurologically damaged or mentally ill and who commit extremely violent acts. These individuals require pharmaceutical and management therapy. Other violent acts that may be committed by youths include hate crimes, vandalism, bombings, or activism such as ecoterrorism. Some violent youths are attention seekers who believe that they will become celebrities through their acts.
While engaged in violent acts, youths may be...
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Intervention (Psychology and Mental Health)
Mental health professionals stress that children who display violent behaviors should be identified as young as possible so that intervention measures can be implemented to prevent them from harming other youths. Facilities that treat violent juvenile offenders include boot camps, detention centers, wilderness programs, and group or private psychotherapy sessions. Both public and private schools attempt to identify emotionally disturbed students who might interfere with the learning process of other students by disrupting classes and challenging faculty members.
Violent youths who are mentally ill should receive counseling and medication. Other options are available to those whose behavior has social and emotional roots. These youths may be enrolled in programs that promote self-esteem, emotional resilience, and self-control. Parents can teach their children appropriate coping techniques to prevent violence. Communities and churches can provide children with supervised recreational activities during afternoons, which are the hours when youths are most likely to act violently. Mentoring programs can demonstrate alternatives to destructive behavior. Peer counseling has been shown to be an effective deterrent to violence. Violence-prevention curricula can teach children to resolve conflicts creatively and help them develop skills to control emotional outbursts.
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Eron, Leonard D., Jacquelyn H. Gentry, and Peggy Schlegel. Reason to Hope: A Psychosocial Perspective on Violence and Youth. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1996. Discusses youth violence as a form of juvenile delinquency and social handicap that can be rehabilitated.
Garbarino, James. Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. Focuses on why young males are more likely to commit extremely antisocial acts such as school shootings.
Gentile, Douglas A., ed. Media Violence and Children: A Complete Guide for Parents and Professionals. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2008. An expert on media violence collects essays from researchers who report on such topics as television violence, video games, and violent music.
Holden, Constance. “The Violence of the Lambs.” Science 289 (July 28, 2000): 580-581. Commentary on the various risk factors that investigators suggest cause children to become violent. This issue of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s magazine is devoted to scientific research concerning violence in humans and animals.
Katch, Jane. Under Deadman’s Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children’s Violent Play. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001. Explores how violence is learned and displayed by children through games and in social groups.
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