Soapbox Issues

The Violence Today…

Violence — can it be learnt?

And that’s how we solve things!

This is a topic that is taught in psychology right from the introductory stage. Early research by Albert Bandura on aggression in children showed that young children who viewed a video where their role model was behaving in a violent manner were more likely to imitate the same kind of play with Bobo Dolls as compared to those who viewed a video that was not violent. Basically, Bandura’s theory was that violence can be learnt at a very young age by viewing role models.

Research has shown that exposure to violent media (TV, movies, music videos, video games) increased the likelihood of aggressive and violent behaviours in the short and long term. The only problem is that most research in this area is correlational and hence the media have something to back their rights to continue depicting what they do (Note: Correlational studies only show that there is a relation between exposure to violent media and violent behaviour; it does not say exposure to violent media causes violent behaviour which therefore means there could be other factors resulting in aggressive behaviour). What seems to be missing is why only some individuals exposed to this react this way while others do not. Hence, there are still questions around biological factors (can one be more predisposed to an aggressive temperament?) and family factors (Is the child brought up in a house where aggressive behaviour is the norm?)

The reason I am talking about this. Well, there has been an increase in the number of violent crimes committed by teenagers. Most recently, a Scottish tourist was seriously injured by a group of 4 teenagers, two of whom were aged 13 while the other two were 17. One of the 13 year olds initiated the attack. Apparently, earlier in the night, this same group of kids robbed another individual. A fortnight ago, two other teenagers assaulted a wheelchair bound man out west. In certain areas around Sydney, teenagers carry knives with them and have gangs and get into nasty fights (and I’ve worked in those areas) A crime that till date makes me numb is the infamous James Bulger case in England. And of course, in the US, you have school shootings by teenagers. More recently, there was a case where an 11 year old boy allegedly shot his pregnant stepmother.

All these cases and so many more make me wonder — why do some teenagers and kids take this path? Is it the gory video games that are so realistic these days that they think they can do the same in the real world with no consequences? Or is it the way they are brought up seeing their parents using violence to solve problems? While most teenagers will be defiant and stubborn, what makes some of them meet criteria for a conduct disorder? And I guess most importantly, I wonder — what can be done to stop all of this?

Most of us play the blame game and point fingers at the parents. But not all these kids or teens come from abusive backgrounds. I personally know of families where parents are trying their hardest but the child still runs away from home ever so often to hang out with their gangs or smoke pot with their “cool friends”. There are calls for parents of these children to be given warnings and then hauled to court and jailed. But I doubt that will be an effective solution when after all, teenagers are egocentric. As a generalisation, the world revolves around them and they are unlikely to learn anything from their parents being locked up. Rather, something like this gives them free reign of the household!

I personally think the problem is that kids and teens these days in countries such as the US, UK and Australia have a lot more power than their parents and teachers and possibly even the system — and they know it. And they milk it for what it’s worth. Civil rights have been taken to the extreme where kids at schools threaten a teacher that walks near them. Teenagers know they can bully or hit others at school and the worst case scenario is an expulsion but then they get into another school. The best case scenario is a suspension because it means time off school. And more time to hang out with their mates who belong to other gangs. They do not fear any of these consequences unlike the days when children feared the cane or like in my case, getting your knuckles whacked with the side of a wooden ruler (It bloody hurt!!!) in front of the whole class. I am not saying that is the answer. That we revert back to primitive forms of disciplining. But there needs to be consequences. Consequences for the teenagers or children themselves. Consequences that will bring about some change. 

That’s why I think that in cases where juveniles engage in criminal activities — they should be tried in court and jailed (not in adult jails, of course). Screw rehabilitation. Or mandatory counselling. (Mandated counselling does not work because the young people do not want to be there and the therapist does not have a magic wand). There may be a few that show genuine remorse for their actions and it is likely that these children or teens will benefit from counselling and other forms of support and rehabilitation. But the ones that are cold and callous like the 11 year old I mentioned or the 13 year old twins or the Bulger killers…I honestly think there is something about their brain that deters them from making any change. And maybe, just maybe if that’s the case, and if science is able to determine that in the future, individuals such as these should not be let out. I understand it is a harsh point of view but honestly, apart from early intervention in families and banning anything violent in the media and somehow giving a little more power back to parents and teachers, I don’t see what else can be done.

Sadly, despite all the crime and violence in real life, Hollywood still continues to glorify it. The new movie Kickass is just another sad example of where the world is headed.

It’s at times like these I wonder why I enjoy working with adolescents.

I must be totally screwed up myself.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

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  • Reply
    ItsNu
    April 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

    adding to this I also think that the nature of kids get developed in the mother’s womb too..whatever the mother does..reads,watches,listens or does herself..is inflicted to some extent on the baby growing inside !

  • Reply
    Titaxy
    April 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Such sad state of affairs. You are right in saying that it’s partly the system too which the kids know how to use to their advantage. And don’t even get me started on the movies and such. Even otherwise, the WWW provides today’s kids with so many means to get exposure.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    April 13, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Hmm…I don’t know about reasearch around that so can’t really comment. But on the other hand, I guess if a mother is doing drugs, it could influence the kid’s brain in a way….

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    April 13, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Tell me about it…the internet is the means to everything and kids start using it at a very early age and goodness knows how many of them are monitored?! Sigh…

  • Reply
    Magali
    April 13, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I remember reading somewhere once that 3% of population is born without a conscience. They are usually evil from the start & grown up to be psychopaths. I think nothing much can be done about them. But then again there are those who are exposed to a lot of violence very early on, & end up becoming violent themselves. It’s sad, & I honestly don’t really know exactly what we can do about it, except raising our own kids well (when we have them!)

  • Reply
    Mohan
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    Well, getting such creative ideas of new crime is prevalent. Thanks to media for their negative journalism to sensationalize everything for the heck of their TPRs. The truth is such ideas get spread faster in the developing countries. Psychology is another field that is much ignored in such countries. The youth need counseling.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    And I don’t mind the rambling at all! 🙂 It’s nice when someone feels passionately about something and can comment on it…

  • Reply
    Indian Homemaker
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I think I rambled on and on in my comments, reading about the two year old baby just shook me too much. Can’t imagine what the mother must be going through. Do excuse he long comment.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I guess I was talking about parents and teachers having more power when it comes to at least those kids that can learn a bit. Indian parents are on the other extreme….authoritarian (as a generalisation) whereas here the system is becoming such that it’s not authoritative which according to research is the best form of parenting. I guess another option could be adults in general taking responsibility to teach kids. But then, kids nowadays think they know it all and don’t have to listen to any adults. Plus with the paranoia of strangers talking to kids, it wouldn’t work I guess. And that’s why I reckon at the end of the day, maybe harsh consequences like jailing and not letting them out might just be the answer for some.

  • Reply
    Indian Homemaker
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    But PB even if parents and teachers do have some power – how does one help kids like these? I doubt if punishments or fear of punishment would help them.
    Also then there is equal risk of abuse by the teachers and parents. Indian parents have all the control they can ask for, but we have had at least one such case where two boys killed a two year old by throwing a stone on his head in a small town in UP.
    In another case an older boy (class VIII) killed a younger boy again by throwing a stone at him, and this one was known to be a bully – and no idea if he grew up in a violent home, these two were studying in a public school in Delhi, and the driver noticed how they got off fighting one dragging the other – not at his own bus stop, but he did nothing (they are supposed to take car of the kids in the bus) – later the younger kids was found dead not too far from the bus stop, the older kid accepted he killed him.
    The other day I saw eight or nine year olds getting excited while playing, they were throwing bricks at each other – but always making sure it landed just in front of the child – that was dangerous but it stopped in time – (these were children of construction workers)…

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I saw the video of the whole James Bulger case…sort of like a crime investigation thing and it was horrible. And mind you, I thought I’d heard and seen it all given the clients I work with. But no client of mine has ever murdered another kid. Yet. You’re right…no one would have thought much about the 3 kids esp since if I remember correctly, they said he was their brother.

    I do reckon there has to be a biological theory behind some of these individuals. There’s a genetic marker or some problem with the wiring of their brain. I guess as science advances, this will become a lot clearer. It would be a lot easier if it was all according to enviroment but I’m sure twin studies have shown otherwise.

  • Reply
    Indian Homemaker
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    Couldn’t bear to read about the James Bulger case… this is going to haunt me forever. I wish someone who saw them had reacted, if only to help a hurt child.
    These two boys seemed to have a problem – like how we see bored children throwing pebbles at window panes, or kicking each other and getting carried away while fighting… how could they!? And how could all those who saw them not do anything about it? Maybe they because they thought these were just three kids!

    I feel some people are misfits, born with a cruel gene, and no amount of rehab is going to help them. Pedophiles and serial killers were children once, and if we notice abnormal amount of cruelty we shouldn’t ignore it…. ( though I agree many of these were abused as kids)…
    I have seen siblings,who are totally unlike each other, one is a liar, one is honest, one would steal what he likes, another would pester and demand but wouldn’t think of picking without asking… not all of it is upbringing 🙁 Though it would be so much simpler if it was all dependent on environment 🙁

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    September 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    You are right in that it would probably spread faster in developing countries and psychology is next to non-existent in these countries. And the media world-over does not help matters…

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    September 16, 2010 at 2:03 am

    Hmm…that’s interesting. Didn’t know about that…yeah best thing we can do is raise our own kids well…but look what we are up against. The entire media industry! :S

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