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
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
"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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 .