Crime & Violence in Schools
Children and youth today are exposed to a wide range of factors that have been associated with violence not only within the home, but within the culture as well. Children who display aggressive behavior are at higher risk for delinquency, substance abuse, dropping out of school, early parenthood, and depression. However, in most cases, aggression and violence do not occur without warning. The four stages that have been identified in the literature are frustration, defensiveness, aggression, and self-control. Appropriate intervention early in the cycle can often help prevent aggression from escalating and can often break the cycle. There are a number of programs that have been developed that show promise for reducing the amount of violence in schools by promoting learning, maintaining appropriate socialization, and confronting behavioral challenges that are commonly faced in schools.
Keywords Abuse; Bullying; Harassment; Norms; Reinforcement; Socialization; Society
While it would seem that the incidence of violence and crime within schools today is increasing, statistics do not support that conclusion. Although the United States has one of the highest rates of violence among industrialized countries, statistics show that murder rates in the country have remained relatively stable for the nearly a century. Despite the well-advertised incidents of deadly violence at schools in Newtown, Connecticut; Santa Monica, California; Littleton, Colorado; Chardon, Ohio; and others, schools are still considered safe places. A 2011–2012 survey from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showed that as of June of 2011, school-related deaths of students were less than two percent of the total number of student deaths in the United States. Additionally, during 1992–1993 school year, a total of 47 school-related homicides occurred in the United States and 154 incidents of victimization per one thousand students were reported. Indicators from the 2009–2010 school year reveal, however, those numbers to have dropped with 25 school-associated deaths to have occurred nationally and 32 incidents of victimization per one thousand students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). However, violence is growing more rapidly among youth than any other group, not only as perpetrators, but as victims as well (Andersen & Taylor, 2002), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as of 2010, homicide was the second leading cause of death for young people ages fifteen to twenty-four (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
Causes of School Violence
Many feel that the violence and destructive behavior we witness today is the result of deteriorating social and economic conditions within society over several generations. Children and youth are exposed to a wide range of causal factors that have been associated with violence. Within the home, they may be exposed to or are the victims of violence and abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual); they may be raised by parents, guardians, or other caregivers who abuse drugs or alcohol or who have poor parenting skills; or they may otherwise live in the midst of a dysfunctional family. In addition, many children feel the effects of poverty, discrimination, and deteriorating neighborhoods. Other risk factors for aggression and violence include easy access to weapons such as handguns and early involvement with and exposure to drugs and alcohol, gangs or other antisocial groups, and extensive exposure to violence depicted in the media and online.
One reason that school violence seems to be so pervasive is due to the immediacy with which the Internet and twenty-four hour television news channels relay and spread information. Some sociologists posit that the media exaggerates and sensationalizes violence and this is used by some to divert attention and financial resources from other societal problems such as poverty, education, and housing (Faria, 2013). Conflict theorists in particular decry the focus on violence in schools. They note that violence in schools (particularly in inner cities) has been an ongoing problem for a long time, but when the victims come from the middle class, politicians attempt to put legislative remedies in place (Goff, 2012). On the other hand, feminist theorists note that the perpetrators of violence in schools tend to be male and the victims are often more likely to be female. As a result, they often view violence in schools as a type of violence against women (O’Keefe & Treister, 1998).
Between 1999 and 2010 in the United States, 120 anti-bullying bills and amendments to existing bills were introduced at the state level McCallion & Feder, 2013). As of November 2013, Montana was the only US state without anti-bullying legislation. Bullying (or harassment) is the persistent pattern of threatening, harassing, or aggressive behavior directed toward another person or persons who are perceived as smaller, weaker, or less powerful. Although many still excuse bullying in schools as a normal, harmless part of childhood, the results of bullying can be damaging both to the victim and to the perpetrator. Signs of bullying are often overlooked as a natural part of childhood. However, bullying behavior should neither be considered acceptable nor excusable. Bullying is a form of abuse and violence in its own right and can lead to continued antisocial patterns and escalating conflict as the tragic events too often reported in the news demonstrate.
The act of bullying includes a wide variety of antisocial behaviors. Bullies may intimidate or harass their victims physically through hitting, pushing, or other physical violence. They may also intimidate or harass their victims verbally through threats, name calling, or other negative verbal behaviors. Some bullies harass their victims psychologically by spreading rumors, making sexual comments or gestures, or excluding the victim from desired activities. Cyberbullying has become more and more pervasive and is a persistent pattern of threatening, harassing, or aggressive behavior carried out online, usually via social networking sites. ..FT-Far from being a situation of "kids being kids," however, bullying can have long-term, far reaching, negative effects. Bullying often interferes with school performance, and children who are bullied are more likely to miss school or drop out than those who are not bullied. Victims of school bullying also frequently suffer developmental harm and fail to reach their full physiological, social, and academic potentials. Bullied children tend to grow increasingly insecure and anxious and have persistently decreased self-esteem and greater depression than their peers, often even as adults.
The Effects of Bullying
The research literature suggests that children who display aggressive behavior are at higher risk for delinquency, substance abuse, dropping out of school, early parenthood, and depression later in life. Children who are bullies by the time they are eight years of age are six times more likely than other children to have a criminal conviction by the time they are twenty-four. Bullying behavior is often not a stand-alone symptom but part of a pattern of other inappropriate behavior including criminal, delinquent, or gang activities. In addition, bullying and more criminal behavior are often interrelated. For example, research has shown that victims of bullying were more likely to be criminally victimized at school than were other children. Victims were also more afraid of being attacked both at school and elsewhere and more likely to avoid certain areas of school (e.g., cafeteria, hallways or stairs, restrooms) or activities where bullying was more likely to take place. Significantly, victims of bullies were more likely to report that they carried weapons to school for protection, thereby potentially furthering the cycle of violence in schools.
Warning Signs of Aggression
In most cases, aggression does not occur without warning. Parents and educators need to be alert for the warning signs of aggression and violence and take timely action to keep violent tendencies from erupting and to teach at-risk children alternate patterns of socially acceptable behavior to express their feelings and resolve their conflicts. The four stages that have been identified in the literature are: frustration, defensiveness, aggression, and self-control.
• During the frustration stage, children show minor behavior changes that do not appear to be directly related to aggression and violence (e.g., nail biting, grimacing, muscle tensing). At this stage, children may also complain of not feeling well. Such indicators of an impending crisis are easy to ignore because they appear to be minor. However, when such symptoms are observed, it is important to intervene as soon as possible in order to prevent the frustration from escalating into hostile acts. Behavior management strategies such as proximity control and interest boosting are often helpful in deescalating problems at this stage.
• The next stage in the cycle of aggression and violence is defensiveness. At this stage, children may lash out verbally or physically, threaten other people, or withdraw physically or emotionally from others. One frequently observed symptom of this stage of the cycle is a struggle for power, including with the teacher. Ways to help deescalate aggression at this level include reminding the child of class rules, routines, and consequences and not engaging the child in a debate....
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