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Violent Children:

Parents and/or Society’s Responsibility?

By Troy Spurlock

Since 1991, there have been 21 separate violent shootings by children while on public school grounds. The first being one single shooting in a years time, another single shooting the subsequent year, four the following year, another six the year after, and already four just this year, 1998 (Swisher). What is this rise in violence among children saying about the condition of the family structure let alone society? Clearly there is a problem, but where and who is responsible? Is it the parents responsibility or society? Whose fault is it for the complacent and desensitized attitude towards violence in general? Some experts claim it is due to the parents lack of supervision, lack of consistent upbringing practices, drug addiction(s) which carry over to the child, and witnessing violence and physical abuse in the home and neighborhood are such factors that lead to such violent behavior. Other experts claim it is systematic bombardment of violence seen in television and movies, media glamorization of violence, violence in musical lyrics, and even the violence played out in video games that desensitizes children in accepting violence as a normal part of life (Taylor and Blackmun). Moreover, as a result these factors a complacent attitude is taken towards these facets of society which nonetheless metamorphosis’s into apathy. Then there are some experts that lay claim to both sides of the issue, that parent(s) and society share the responsibility for such violent behavior as exhibited by children. In my own experiences as a former military law enforcement working in juvenile and drug investigations, seeing the source(s) of the breakdown first hand which was later reinforced by my furthered academic education, I have come to the opinion that it is in fact both the parent(s) (60%) and society’s (40%) responsibility.

There is an Ashanti Proverb that goes, “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of it’s people.” In the home is the family and the community in which it is a part thereof. This community, the makeup of each individual family within, bears not only the responsibility for their own family but in the conduct of others as well. I am not saying one family is to raise another families children and/or spy on the parents, but to report any improper conduct of those children and/or parents for the appropriate corrective action. Each individual family not only has the responsibility of its own, but in being a part of a greater family, the community, it holds the responsibility for maintaining the values of society as a whole. Therefore, the integrity of the society’s values and morals are maintained and carried on generation after generation via the family and collectively throughout the community. When certain values and morals are questioned and nevertheless tested, it weakens not only society, but the structure of the community and its members, the family, as well. There are numerous factors found within society that lend credence to a causal relationship of violence found among a family and its children. Some include but are not limited to the following: epidemic child and family poverty, pervasive drug and alcohol abuse, easy access to weapons, abuse and neglect, poor education and lack of employment opportunities (Lees et al). Such societal and family factors further the potential for violence through psychological (personal) means. For instance, low self esteem, impulsiveness, risk-taking temperament, frustration, victimization, direct behavioral models, and a blatant disregard for the consequences punishment brings and/or social disapproval (Lees et al). The historical roots of family violence in itself perpetuates the issue(s) of violence into a contemporary social problem that has been present for some time now, but only recently coming into full exposure. In the history of a child, it is born with essentially no intellect let alone an awareness to life. Children as babies act on instinct followed by mimicry. They “learn” from that which they see in the behavior of their parents, other family members, and other adult role models (actors, musicians, athletes, and other idolized public figures). Children, for the most part, have not been altogether good at effectively listening to their parents let alone their elders, but they never fail to imitate them (Baldwin). I believe this quote by sociologist Murray A. Straus, head of the Family Violence Research Program at the University off New Hampshire, summarizes this point best, “Family, the group to which most people look for love and gentleness, is also the most violent civilian group in our society.”

It is an accepted fact that as a matter of cultural norms and law that it is the parent(s) whom are responsible for their children, not the child. The parent(s) are entrusted to care for and provide all that is necessary for a safe and nurturing environment which would produce a responsible member of the community and society. Any deviation from that environment would nonetheless result in children going astray, thus the various problems that ensue. In defining a parent(s) responsibility I offer the following analogy:

There is a potential employee who goes to a major corporation for an interview in a relatively technical but potentially dangerous position. This position requires a minimum of 8 weeks of constant training in order to effectively and legally fill it. The potential employee passes the interview and is hired. The training begins but due to corporate cut backs, it only lasts 3 weeks. The employee is handed a manual for reference and put on the job. Confident in the duties of the position yet unsure of certain things, the employee goes to the corporation executives for some Q&A. The subsequent 4 weeks the employee receives sporadic training and can follow along as best as the employee possibly can, given the inconsistent training and ever increasing expectations. Feeling under pressure from the corporation, the employee attempts a part of the position not yet trained upon since no further training was forthcoming. Understanding right from wrong in what was about to be attempted, having no experience at all, the employee could not comprehend the difference from that right and wrong let alone the consequences since there was no point of reference to infer. All the employee knew was that if the job was not completed as required, the employee would be sanctioned. Therefore, the employee chose to move forward and continue with the required duties of the position at hand. Suddenly, an employee screams out, and another, and yet another. After all the commotion it was discovered that five employees were seriously wounded and another killed.

Who is responsible for the injuries and death of the other employee(s)? The employee who took it upon himself to do what the employee understood was wrong but didn’t comprehend the difference and/or consequences? Or is the corporation responsible in its inconsistent training, or lack thereof, and lack of supervision of the employee? Obviously the corporation is at fault, right? The corporation did not follow through what it was entrusted to do, what it was legally obligated to do, and/or what it was morally expected to do. If you are in agreement with this scenario, then apply it to the family structure whereas the parent (corporation) and children (employee) are concerned. Children, individually, may come to understand right from wrong through their upbringing (training), but if it is inconsistent and without meaning, the child will nonetheless be incapable of comprehending the differences between right and wrong let alone the consequences of each. For example, I have heard reports from ER doctors that state when children come in from gunshot wounds as a result of gang activity and/or other rivalry, they oftentimes hear the child say, “If I would have know it would hurt so much, I wouldn’t have done it!” The child must have had an understanding of right from wrong whereas guns are concerned, but it is clear they did not comprehend that difference let alone the consequences. Therefore, it is my opinion that the parent(s) hold a greater responsibility to the actions of their children than the child themselves. This, I believe, is the greatest factor that which affects a child most of all, yet society shares some of that responsibility as well.

What responsibility does society bear in the issue of violence among its children? I believe the answer to that question can be found within its complacency and apathy towards the issue of violence in its entirety. Television, media, song lyrics, and so forth have been cited as contributing greatly to the desensitization of violence, thereby increasing society’s tolerance. This tolerance is what perpetuates the ever pervasive apathy observed among society through its various facets of communication. Television, for example, is one of the greatest influences in a child’s life next to their parent(s). During the last 20 some years, the average child will view 8,000 or more murders and 100,000 or more other acts of random violence (Myers). The American Psychological Commission on Violence and Youth concluded in 1993, there was no doubt (at that time), that higher levels of viewing violence on television was correlated with an acceptance of aggressive attitudes supplemented by increased aggressive behaviors. (Myers). The same can be said for the other facets of society, music, media, movies, video games, and now computer games. Which are far more graphic in their display of violence than ever before. The American Psychological Association has long since advised parents to limit their children’s viewing time (television, movies, video games, etc.), and to watch the same programs in order to discuss the story in more detail with them. (Myers). Furthermore, the greatest effect television and/or movies have on the family is in its displacement. For every hour watching television and/or a movie, that is one less hour of communication and bonding of family members. Less time talking, playing, reading, or socializing among the family and/or friends. It makes one think, if there was less time spent with the television and more time with the family, how might that child be different? (Myers).

In the end, I believe that if parents would take the time to talk to their children (not at) about the things they see, hear, and/or learn as a result of their interaction with society, perhaps children would come to possess a greater comprehension of violence and the consequences of right from wrong that ensues from acting violently towards others. Without such discussion on the parent(s) part in order to express their (cultural) morals and/or values to their children, children have only society to turn to in order to “learn” and “mimic” what appears to them as accepted behavior. Behavior which is also learned from their parents in the, “Do as I say, not as I do,” scenario. Which, of course, does nothing but further the problem. Of course society does not mean for children to learn from that which it perpetuates through television, the media, etc., as it is more intended for adults than children. Nevertheless, children who are not supervised or talked to about certain aspects of society have free access to such facets and will learn from it, one way or the other. It is to this point that parents need to take an active role in furthering discussions with their children, about anything and everything. To take the time and ask how their child’s day at day care was, how school was, what did they learn, what their favorite television shows are and watch with them, and to discuss what those shows are about in order for them to see what is and/or is not acceptable behavior in society. Lastly, society (collectively the parent(s)) should continue its efforts to quell such free access to things meant for adults. For example, the “V” chip for television, which would lock out certain television programs from children. Some cable companies already offer a similar concept through their programmable converter boxes. In addition to restricted television access, there are computer programs designed to block certain connections on the Internet in order to curb children’s access to violent and sexual material. Working together, parent(s) and society, I believe a lot can be done in the effort to curb violence among children and increase the bonds of the family structure. In an ever increasing technological society which burdens parents with limited time with their children and society having far too much of the children’s time, it is time for such a change.

Your comments about this story; Subject: Violent Children - Troy Spurlock

About the author: In his early years the author, Troy Spurlock, served in the US Army Military Police Corps Airborne. He also served in Operation Desert Shield and Storm, then returned to work as a patrolman. Later he worked in juvenile investigations and finally as an undercover investigator on the Drug Suppression Team under the military's equivalent to the F.B.I., the Criminal Investigations Division (C.I.D.). His studies include Clinical Child Psychology, law, writer, musician, and artist. He's currently doing intensive research for a book about the human race, where it has been, what it is, and where it could go. His essays may not be reproduced without his permission. He can be reached at America...In Denial: Essays On American Culture. His web site can also be found in the Safe Schools Links section.

Works Cited

Swisher, Molly. “Deadly Schoolyards.” The Oregonian 22 May 1998 A22+

Taylor, Kate and Blackmun, Maya. “Search for roots of youth violence often futile.” The Oregonian 22 May 1998 A22+

Lees et al. Research Review: Factors That Contribute to Violence 1998. Online. Washington State University. Internet. 22 May 1998. Available: http://cooptext.cahe.wsu.edu/~sherfey/issue1.htm

Baldwin, James. Nobody Knows My Name 1961.

Myers, David G. Psychology Michigan: Worth Publishers, 1995

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