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,