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Youth Violence: Where Do We Start?

Updated: Mar 18

I never dreamed that the day would come when youth violence would be labelled by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as a “serious public health problem” or that the acronym HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) would join the plethora of other health-related labels: ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), IED (Intermittent Explosive Disorder), CD (Conduct Disorder), BD (Behavior Disorder)….; labels used to explain/justify unacceptable behaviors, including physical aggression. It seems that the list of acronyms for ASB (Anti-social Behavior) grows along with the daily reporting of senseless acts of violence. Fighting in schools is currently at an all-time high with homicide now the third leading cause of death among persons aged 10-24.

Teachers are on the front lines. Stressed, overworked, and underpaid, regular education teachers struggle to meet classroom demands that include following specified guidelines for mainstreamed students with a variety of learning and/or behavioral diagnoses. Disruptive classroom behaviors are a major concern. Unresolved behavior problems at the elementary school level can be signals that more serious anti-social behavior may eventually emerge.

Four common disruptive behaviors are listed below. Non-educators may have difficulty understanding how these behaviors can so negatively impact teaching and learning, but the degree to which they can disrupt a classroom cannot be overstated. For some students, these behaviors may be precursors to more overt anti-social behavior that may ultimately include violence.

1. Talking in Class – When students talk to other students at will, it is disruptive. This is a major problem in classrooms today.

2. Excessive Noise – Students who continually make noise (i.e., rummaging through desks, tapping pencils, humming, pretending to cough, scooting chairs back and forth…) are extremely disruptive. These behaviors bring attention to the student and disrupt the teacher and class. At the high school level, mobile phones are a common distraction (including ‘muted’ sound noise) with many students ignoring school guidelines for cell phone use.

3. Failure to accept responsibility – Students who do not accept responsibility for homework, grades, and personal behavior negatively impact student learning and teacher effectiveness.

4. Rude and/or threatening behavior toward fellow students, teachers – Enough said!

Youth violence is an emotional response that stems from anger. The violent acts committed by our youth demonstrate a lack of ability to logically analyze situations and apply appropriate problem-solving strategies; a lack of adequate coping mechanisms, including self-regulation and the ability to be resilient in the face of hardship - all of which are critical components of child-rearing. Hardships will always be a part of life but societal factors that lead to hardships cannot be allowed to justify violence.

Traditionally, children have been taught acceptable behaviors at home before entering school. For increasing numbers of parents today, demanding work schedules and other distractions have been cited as reasons for the lack of teaching important behavioral expectations during the first five years of life, with teachers now shouldering this responsibility.

Reversing the increase in youth violence is going to require a determined and diligent investment from parents. As a child’s first teacher, it is incumbent upon parents to consciously and consistently model respect (kindness and gratitude) and responsibility (self-regulation). Firmly instilling these character traits in children can do more to curb future tendencies toward violence than blaming outside factors. As humans, we are endowed with free will and, as such, good parenting does not guarantee a good outcome, nor poor parenting a poor outcome. Nonetheless, we owe it to children to model the type of adult we hope they will someday become.

Just as strong roots help trees survive the cruelties of nature (heat, cold, storms), a strong foundation that focuses on character development during the early years of a child’s life provides the roots needed to evade peer pressure, societal storms, and violent behavior.

Where do we start? At home.

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, November 5, 2021


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