Violence is the act of purposefully hurting someone, and is a great concern with our young generation.
Statistics report that one in 12 high school students are threatened or injured with a weapon each year; however, reports of bullying are underreported and statistics are difficult to come by. Being between the ages of 12 and 24 puts someone at the highest risk of being a victim of violence, and studies show that there has been a steady rise in youth violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2011.
Another age group that is vulnerable is children who have been on the receiving end of violence from caregivers: the rise of child abuse is also noteworthy in Arizona especially, and research supports that victims of child abuse are at a higher risk for violent behavior.
Regardless of the etiology of violence, we all must be more aware and pay attention to what happens to our children.
The American Psychological Association (APA) compiled the following information in 2011: Many factors can cause violent behavior and if all combined, will significantly increase the risk to commit an act of violence.
Some people use violence to release feelings of anger or frustration. They may think there are no answers to their problem and turn to violence to express their uncontrolled emotions.
Often violence is used as manipulation to control others or to get what you want. It can also be used as retaliation or revenge. The good news is that violence is a learned behavior and can be changed.
Some of the factors that contribute to violent behavior can be:
• Peer pressure.
• Need for attention or respect.
• Feelings of low self-worth.
• Early childhood abuse or neglect.
• Witnessing violence at home, in the community or in the media (TV, Internet, video games).
• Easy access to weapons.
• History of mental health concerns.
Many times individuals who show violent behavior have trouble controlling their emotions and feelings and have the need to intimidate others through violence and threats, thinking this will gain them respect by others; however, the opposite is often true and the violent individual will find themself isolated and disliked.
The following are immediate warning signs for violence:
• A history of violent or aggressive behavior.
• Serious drug and alcohol use.
• Gang membership or desire to be part of a gang.
•Access and fascination with weapons, especially guns.
• Threatening others regularly.
• Trouble controlling ones feelings, like anger.
• Withdrawal from friends and usual activities.
• Feeling rejected and alone.
• Having been a victim of bullying.
• Poor school performance.
• History of discipline problems or run-ins with authority.
• Feeling disrespected.
• Failing to acknowledge the feelings or rights of others.
What can you do if someone threatens or bullies you?
First, be safe! Don’t spend time alone with the person and tell someone you trust and ask for help (teacher, parent, clergy, counselor, friend).
If you believe you are about to be a victim of violence, call the police or someone in authority, immediately.
Some people who have trouble dealing with their feelings may direct violence toward themselves.
The most final and devastating expression of this kind of violence is suicide. Potential suicide victims often behave in recognizable ways before they try to end their lives.
Suicide, like other forms of violence, is preventable. The most important steps in prevention are recognizing warning signs:
• Previous suicide attempts.
• Significant alcohol or drug use.
• Threatening or communicating thoughts of suicide, death, or afterlife.
• Sudden increase in moodiness, withdrawal, or isolation.
• Major change in eating and sleeping habits.
• Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness.
• Poor control over behavior.
• Drop in school performance.
• Impulsive, aggressive behavior.
• Lack of interest in usual activities.
• Problems with authority figures.
• Giving away priced possessions.
• Hinting about not being around in the future or saying good bye.
These warning signs are especially noteworthy if there has been a recent death or suicide of a friend or family member; a recent breakup with a boyfriend/girlfriend; conflict with parents; finally, news reports of other suicides by young people in the same school or community.
If someone mentions suicide, take it seriously and seek help immediately!
What are some ways to raising children to resist violence?
The APA says that “every child needs a strong, loving relationship with a parent or other adult to feel safe and secure and to develop a sense of trust.”
Parents who are involved have children with fewer behavior problems and higher academic achievement. Being a single parent, or a parent of a child with special needs, can make parenting extra stressful and challenging.
Ask your pediatrician or psychologist for resources and support to guide you into finding assistance in raising a child with special needs.
Children depend on their parents and caregivers for encouragement, protection and support as they learn to become more independent, proper supervision is essential.
It is OK to be “nosy” and question your kid about where they are and with who they are spending time with.
Open your home and welcome your child’s friends to get to know who they “hang out with.” Teen-appropriate activities are especially challenging in our community and unless your child is involved in sports or other extra curricular activities, there is way too much idle time for kids to come up with “silly ideas.”
Provide your home as a safe place for your child and their friends to enjoy supervised fun times.
Encourage your child to participate in after-school activities that are meaningful and supervised.
Demonstrate and model positive problem-solving skills and make yourself available to your child’s questions and comments about their life; kids don’t want us to “solve” their problems or even give advice, often they just want us to listen and give them a sense of validation and recognition.
Be consistent with parenting and teach your child to be accountable and responsible; bad choices may result in “natural” bad consequences, however, kids require guidance and need to know that we help them learn by providing appropriate consequences to negative behavior.
Children also benefit from having chores to teach them a sense of responsibility.
Above all, a child needs to know they are important and loved unconditionally and that they can count on a parent to be there for them, no matter what.
•Astrid Heathcote is a licensed psychologist with a residence and private practice in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach her at (480) 275-2249 or drastrid.org.