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Young aggressors

In the Journal of the American Medical Association for November 24, 1999, is a discussion on the problem of child violence. It was prompted by recent surveys by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into why youngsters exhibit violent behaviour patterns. In a nation-wide survey, some 18.3 per cent of high-school youngsters had carried a weapon on their person during the preceding year, while 8.5 per cent had taken a weapon into school with them.

Of the students, 14.8 per cent claimed to have taken part in a fight during school in the previous year, while 4 per cent had avoided attending school because of fears that they would be assaulted. An annual total of 2.8 million youngsters aged 13 to 18 had been victims of violence, while a further 9 million had witnessed violent behaviour at home or in school. Those who had witnessed violent incidents were suffering depression, anxiety or sensation-seeking attitudes some two years after the incident.

The risk factors for violent behaviour among youths include rejection by their peers, neglect by antisocially-minded parents, and failure to achieve academic standards expected of them. Evidence of an aggressive tendency during preschool years is often a prelude to later violent conduct.

Psychotherapy alone has not proved effective as a countermeasure, and attempts to draw children into support groups have tended to reinforce bad behaviour. Work to improve the communities where the children live is more helpful. In such communities adults are encouraged to monitor one another’s children and create social norms. The main objective must be to support susceptible youngsters, particularly those resident in poor localities.

Psychiatrists believe that creating empathy within children and adolescents is important to overcome the selfish approach. Children who lack feeling for others are often violent in their behaviour. Stress in susceptible children must be reduced as far as possible, otherwise the fight-or-flight response to any imagined competitor will come into play. Children suffering from conduct disorders often become aware of the dangers of emotional distress, but frequently they suffer dissociative states where they are not consciously aware of their behaviour.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20000131

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