By Kailey McEntire
A six-year-old in California attacked and nearly beat to death a small baby, who now suffers brain damage. In St. Louis a 15-year-old pregnant girl was shot and killed by another student. A group of students shot to death their high school band teacher in Fort Meyers, Florida (Macko 21). The list goes on and on. It seems like every time you turn on the news or radio, you hear about all the heinous crimes committed by juveniles in America. These youth have been referred to as “‘kids with no hope, no fear, no rules and no life expectancy’” by police officers, according to John Firman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (Macko 24). With a definite rise in youth violence, measures certainly need to be taken to reduce and prevent teen aggression from becoming worse.
Although juvenile courts were set up back in 1899 for the purpose of defending adolescent delinquents, today it appears that “the reasoning for the protection of the youths in the criminal justice system may be outdated and changes need to be made to accommodate these ‘14-year-old hardened felons’” (Macko 22). This brings up the long-asked question: how should the teen violence issue be addressed? Certainly, one of the first steps would be to recognize and publicize the upsurge in teen violence (Macko 21-22). Macko comments on efforts to do so:
There seems to be growing awareness now of this juvenile crime problem in the United States. Several experts . . . have been trying very hard to get the word out. People who have become victims of these young felons are angry and are calling for changes to be made in the juvenile justice system. (21-22)
With the increased endeavors to help people realize the severity of youth violence, hopefully positive changes can be put into practice “to break the vicious cycle of violence” that repeats itself over time (Minerbrook 44). Cracking down on offenders will not solve everything. Donna Hamparian, a crime consultant, agrees that “the projected number of juvenile offenders will probably be so high that ‘we can’t build enough prisons to keep all of them locked up’” (Macko 25). Therefore, it is important to reduce crime and violence before it spirals out of control.
Violence involves a plethora of different types of harmful acts, and some are more common than others in today’s society. Violence includes nonphysical acts like verbal harassment or intimidation, and physical actions such as hitting, biting, homicide, suicide, sexual abuse, and self-mutilation (Violence and Teenagers). Moreover, self-mutilation (cutting or burning oneself, for example) is “a relatively common phenomenon in our current culture” and is perhaps practiced more by teens who have been neglected or who have been involved in abuse (Violence and Teenagers). Also comprised in physical violence is the use of a weapon, which can range anything from a crowbar to a pistol (Violence and Teenagers). Surprisingly, students are three times more likely to use a knife as a weapon than a gun, according to an FBI study of crime at schools, colleges, and universities (Graves 87). Between a ten-year span from 1984 to 1994, the number of murders performed by juveniles under the age of 17 tripled (Macko 21). Facts also suggest that violence plays a part in three-fourths of the deaths of people between the ages of 15 to 24, which clearly illustrate the need to decrease violence (Violence and Teenagers).
Perhaps demography plays a partial role in the sharp influx in teen violence. The number of youth from the ages of 15 to 19 increased by nearly 25 percent in 2005, thus bringing about an escalating of crime “and other social ills associated with over population of youth” (Macko 24). Even more specifically, the number of teenage males and juveniles of ethnic minorities are rising (Macko 20, 24). Because adolescent males aged 14 to 17 and minorities are the most common delinquents, juvenile crime and violence are likely to steadily increase. Some of these minority teens are homeless, and they are most likely to become involved in violence (Violence and Teenagers). Many of these youth grow up in poverty and do not gain a beneficial education in the environment they live in, and these factors all lead to desperation, crime, and violence (Macko 20, 23-24).
Another considerable influence on the rise in teen violence deals with the media. Psychologist Leonard Eron agrees:
There can no longer be any doubt that heavy exposure to televised violence is one of the causes of aggressive behavior, crime, and violence in society. The evidence comes from both the laboratory and real-life studies. Televised violence affects youngsters of all ages, of both genders, at all socio-economic levels and all levels of intelligence. (Ojeda 16)
Nearly two-thirds of television shows include violent scenes, and much of media violence unrealistically portrays to viewers that aggression is common (Ojeda 15). It also suggests that violence is almost acceptable and that negative consequences do not befall on those who commit violence (Ojeda 15). Therefore, teens who watch excessive violence in the media often become more likely to perform similar acts in their own lives that mimic the violence depicted on television and in movies (Ojeda 15).
The internet is an additional reason why youth violence is increasing. Based on a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, close to 17 million teenagers aged 12 through 17 utilize the internet – about 73 percent of youth in this age group (Beck 69). With the vast majority of teens having access to the internet, violence (whether by online video games or sites like Youtube where brutal videos are posted for anyone to see) is widespread and deemed as tolerable (Smolowe 104-110). These games and sites, for example, are easily accessible and free for anyone with internet access. Thus, the internet is a major solicitor of violence in our world today.
Other problems that contribute to mounting violence in juveniles include the use of drugs, poorly structured family units, abuse, and the need to be accepted by peers (Macko 20, 23; Violence and Teenagers). With the surge of cocaine into America in the late 1980s and early 1990s “and the resulting gang and drug wars . . . , an explosion of juvenile crime and violence” has become evident (Macko 20). More than 25 percent of families in America display violence in their homes and these statistics show that family units are certainly falling apart. Because children first learn to interact with others and how to behave from their parents and siblings, future generation of teens will not improve unless serious measures are taken to stop violence at the root – the home (Violence and Teenagers; Ojeda 16). This goes hand-in-hand with child abuse. It is apparent that teens’ exposure to abuse can possibly cause “changes in their brain chemistry and . . . [prompt] violent behavior as the children . . . [grow]” (Minerbrook 41). Teens who are abused – whether physically, verbally, or sexually – often have low self-esteem and depression, and therefore have higher chances of getting into trouble (Violence and Teenagers). Abuse victims also continue the pattern of abuse when they have their own children (Violence and Teenagers). Teenagers’ desire to belong and fit in with their peers also sparks violence in an effort to assimilate with groups of people (Violence and Teenagers). This typically results in gang involvement for those not occupied in constructive activities like sports or visual or performing arts classes (Violence and Teenagers).
With all the unmistakable factors that continue to play a role in the growth of youth violence, action undoubtedly needs to be taken to reduce juvenile violence. Parents should limit how much television or movies their children view, and they should be cognizant of what programs or films are being watched in order to minimize the violence their children are exposed to (Violence and Teenagers). Internet usage should be monitored as well to prevent teens from gaining the unreal perception that violence is an acceptable part of society and that negative consequences of it are minor, if any (Ojeda 15).
Furthermore, parents have the duty to help reduce teen aggression by raising their children in such a way that encourages peace and nonviolence in the home (Ojeda 16). The way teenagers are talked to and disciplined by parents should reflect that violence is unacceptable. During conflicts between juveniles and grown-ups, adults should control and calm the situation by watching what they say and how they say it (Violence and Teenagers). Parents or guardians ought to be actively involved in teenagers’ lives because those youth who do not have proper role models in their lives usually end up hanging out with the wrong crowd. Neighborhoods and schools can be places of violence so parents should recognize this and know where their children are and who they are with (Violence and Teenagers).
If violence is present in the home, help should be sought – whether professionally or just by others who can be of support. In addition to professional assistance, parenting classes are a wonderful way to learn how to resolve issues peacefully to stop the pattern of violence from continuing (Violence and Teenagers). If drug or alcohol abuse (which frequently leads to violent confrontations) develops within a family, the user should attend a counseling program to receive effective treatment (Violence and Teenagers). Additionally, if a family member is a victim or perpetrator of abuse, experts should be consulted in order to help the family stop the cycle of abuse and appropriate steps should be taken to heal the victim that has suffered violence (Minerbrook 44). Obviously, there is much that can be done in our society to limit the crime rate and youth violence.
As illustrated, youth violence and crime are escalating in our society now more than over before. This problem needs to be recognized and efforts need to be made to reduce teen violence. In particular, factors that lead to violence such as the media, internet, drug use, broken families, abuse, and peer pressure need to be addressed. Small steps will eventually have a huge impact on teen violence. The statistics can be beat and violence can stop being “one of the ‘deadly rites of passage’ for teens as they travel from childhood to adulthood” (Violence and Teenagers).
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