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Juvenile Sex Offenders: Opportunity for Early Intervention
10 CEUs Juvenile Sex Offenders: Opportunity for Early Intervention

Section 25
Where Do Children Learn to be Violent?

Question 25 | Test | Table of Contents | Conduct Disorders CEU Courses
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Why has human life become so devalued for thousands of children? What have been their lessons in violence? Although violence is a tragic reality in the world of today's adolescents, the vast majority of young people grow up to contribute to their communities in many positive ways. Most violent minds mature into controlled behaviors; and although the glamour and appeal of violence remains, they are provided by books, television, and other media rather than by reality. Only a small percentage of young people commit most violent crimes, and even some of them outgrow their violent and destructive behavior.

Learning violence on the street
Consider the case of Shawn. He is eighteen years old and has a history of youth violence and gang activity. He lives with his mother, stepfather, and younger sister and brother in a section of a large city where violence is common. The following excerpt appeared in a statement prepared for his appearance before the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families at a hearing in March 1988:

"I am enrolled in the Day Treatment Program because I am involved in intensive probation as the result of committing a robbery. I committed the robbery because I am a member of the Cedar Avenue Gang. I have been a member for the past three years. We spend our time getting high by drinking beer, smoking marijuana, and using a little cocaine. When we are high we will do anything. . . . There are more than 100 gang members. The leader is a nineteen year old who has been a member since he was ten years old.

"Like many of the other gang members, I grew up in a single parent household. My father has had little contact with me since I was one year old. In my neighborhood, a lot of negative things go on. People sell drugs, a lot of the gang members' parents use drugs, and often these guys do not see their parents. Mostly, guys do not talk about their families.
We usually get together at other guys' houses. We do not usually meet at my house because my mother has a lot of nice things and I think that some of the guys may steal something or break something.

"When I was young, I used to wonder about my father. I also resented his not being in my life. Now I do not care. However, I think that I would not have become involved in a gang if I had had a job and if my father had had a relationship with me. .

"When we get high, I am the gang member with the most mouth. I am also doing better than all the other members academically. They are either dropouts or they are behind in their grades. I am the only member who is in the twelfth grade. If I had not become a member of the gang I would be out of high school and attending college now. When I joined the gang I stopped going to school or I did poorly. When I was placed on intensive probation, I started attending school regularly and doing well in class. I must also observe curfew. The other gang members laugh at me. I hang with them when I can. I can't leave the gang because they . . . would probably hurt me for trying to leave.

"If we still live in the same neighborhood when my five year old brother comes of age, I plan to steer him away from the gang. I do not like being a member but I have no choice."

Learning violence at home
Many young people involved in gang warfare continue to live with violence as a way of dealing with problems. They grew up learning violence from their peers and, in many cases, from their own families. Of the total instances of violent crime, violence in the home is considered most common. Misty is one of the thousands of children whose lessons in violence began at home.

Thirteen-year-old Misty is a young mother who has left her six-month-old baby with her own mother and is living in a shelter for the homeless. Misty wants to go home, but she still has bruises on her back from the last beating her mother's boyfriend gave her. When she lived at home, Misty was often beaten with switches and belts because she did something wrong. Sometimes she was beaten because her brother said she did something wrong, even when she really had not. These beatings started years before her baby was born.

About two years ago, when Misty was eleven, her teacher noticed the welts on her arm the first day she went to school in a short-sleeved polo shirt. Misty usually wore long sleeves, even in hot weather, so that no one would see her bruises. The teacher insisted on taking Misty to the principal's office, where there was a discussion about how Misty was treated at home. Even though she hated her mother's lover, Misty refused to reveal who beat her. The school principal called the family service agency and asked them to investigate Misty's home situation. After finding cuts and bruises on her back, the social worker took pictures of them for the court proceedings. It was decided that Misty should be taken away from her family. After a short stay in the hospital for treatment, she went to a foster home.

Life with a foster family was better than life at home in some ways. No one beat her there, and it was fun to live with five other children about her own age, even though there was a great deal of fighting. Misty kept one of the younger girls under control by hitting her, and she was punished for this. Misty did have one special friend, a boy who always took her side in a fight. Misty loved him so much that she was happy to go along with anything he wanted to do. She enjoyed his hugs and kisses, and before long, the two were enjoying sex together. When she was twelve years old, Misty learned that she was pregnant.

The family service agency moved Misty back with her mother, who now had a new live-in lover. He was not pleased to have Misty around, and he let her know this by punishing her for every little thing that displeased him. The punishment usually took the form of a beating with his belt.

About three months after her baby was born, Misty decided to leave the baby with her mother and try life on the street. There she found more hunger, more sex, and more violence. No wonder she wants to go home to take care of her baby.

How do you think Misty will deal with the problems that come with raising a baby? Might she try to control the child with violence?

Although this is not always the case, violence learned at home can frequently extend from one generation to the next. Some parents who grew up in violent homes believe beatings are the only form of discipline that works. Abusers can be lawyers or doctors as well as factory workers and custodians. They live in the city, the country, and the suburbs. They can be drunks, cocaine addicts, or people who never use illegal drugs. Usually, abusers use violence to get something they want. A husband may want comfort from his wife but does not know how to ask for it. In blaming her for his problem, he may become violent because this is his way of controlling the situation.

However, violence learned in the home does not always carry over from one generation to the next. There is a popular expression, "violence begets violence," but new studies indicate that only about one-third of those who were abused as children will grow up to abuse their own children. The majority, two-thirds, will not. This does not mean that lessons in violence are not learned from both parents and friends. A shy, passive child who runs away from home soon learns that violence is a part of life on the street. It does mean that better ways of parenting can be taught to protect those children who would normally be at risk.

The argument about nature versus nurture is an old one. At one time, many people believed that a baby's mind is a blank slate on which environment writes the program. However, most scientists now believe that both heredity and environment play their roles in determining the behavior and life-style of an individual. How big a role each plays is a subject of controversy to this day.
- Hyde, Margaret O. and Elizabeth Held Forsyth, MD, The Violent Mind; Franklin Watts: New York, 1991


- National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK); Social Care Institute for Excellence (UK). Antisocial Behaviour and Conduct Disorders in Children and Young People: Recognition, Intervention and Management. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society; 2013. (NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 158.) 2, ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOUR AND CONDUCT DISORDERS IN CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK327832/

Personal Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information about where children learn violence. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

There is a popular expression, "violence begets violence," but what do new studies indicate? Record the letter of the correct answer the Test.

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