Report on Children and Violence

While considering the causes of violence, you may be interested in the

following, which is an extract from the Gulbenkian Commission report on Children

and Violence, published in the UK at the end of 1995:

 

Key statements within it are:

 

1) Many factors are involved and their interaction is complex. The most

potent of the risk factors are clearly sited in childhood and within the family,

and are amenable to change;

 

2) Violence is overwhelmingly a male problem, and the roots for this appear

to be primarily social rather than biological, highlighting the inadequacies of

current socialisation of male children, and the promotion of macho male

attitudes and models in society;

 

3) Very substantial research evidence highlights negative, violent and

humiliating forms of discipline as significant in the development of violent

attitudes and actions from a very early age;

 

4) Inadequate monitoring and supervision of children can be crucial in the

realisation of a potential for violence;

 

5) The extent to which a society condones violence influences the values of

individuals within it. .Physical punishment and deliberate humiliation remain

common and legally and socially acceptable. There is ambivalence too towards

violence in sport, and adults and children show an appetite - possibly an

increased appetite - for violent images....;

 

6) Economic and environmental deprivation are powerful stress factors which

make it more difficult to be an effective parent:.. Prejudice and

discrimination can exacerbate economic inequality and poverty and increase

stress. Levels of violence tend to be highest in countries with the sharpest

inequalities...;

 

7) A high proportion of young people and adults who are victims and

perpetrators of violence have been drinking alcohol. But again the connection is

complex rather than direct;

 

Report:

WHY CHILDREN BECOME VIOLENT

 

If we want to reduce violence involving children, we need to know as much as

possible about the development of violent attitudes in children and what

triggers their involvement in violent actions. The Commission reviewed

international research and commentaries which are summarised in Section 1 of the

report.

 

In particular, available research on child development disproves the theory -

still popular in some quarters - of the original 'badness' of children. Research

into antecedents of violence cannot identify 'causes' beyond doubt, but it can

identify risk factors, and make judgements about the relative significance of

these factors.

 

Many factors are involved and their interaction is complex. The most potent of

the risk factors are clearly sited in childhood and within the family, and are

amenable to change. The best predictor of violence in adulthood is violent

behaviour in childhood. But that an individual child becomes violent is never

inevitable; families can and often do provide the security and love necessary to

'protect' children - even high-risk children - from becoming violent.

 

Violence is overwhelmingly a male problem, and the roots for this appear to be

primarily social rather than biological, highlighting the inadequacies of

current socialisation of male children, and the promotion of macho male

attitudes and models in society.

 

There is no good evidence of specific genetic causation of violence by children,

but a predisposition to violence may vary depending partly on an individual's

temperament.

 

Certain conditions affecting brain function may result in an increased risk of

violent behaviour - but the numbers involved are very small, and even with such

children, positive parenting can ameliorate the potential for violence. Genetic

and social influences are inextricably intertwined. From the earliest age, how a

child behaves will determine their relationships with others and how they are

treated, by parents and other adults, by siblings and other children, and by

teachers.

 

Most of the risk factors for violence are the same as those for delinquency.

Very substantial research evidence highlights negative, violent and humiliating

forms of discipline as significant in the development of violent attitudes and

actions from a very early age. Effects of family structure and break-up are

indirect, and can be mediated through the quality of the parenting process.

Inadequate monitoring and supervision of children can be crucial in the

realisation of a potential for violence.

 

The extent to which a society condones violence influences the values of

individuals within it. In the UK today there are ambivalent attitudes to

violence, and in particular to violence towards children. Physical punishment

and deliberate humiliation remain common and legally and socially acceptable.

There is ambivalence too towards violence in sport, and adults and children show

an appetite - possibly an increased appetite - for violent images, which some

commercial interests do not hesitate to feed and exploit.

 

Economic and environmental deprivation are powerful stress factors which make it

more difficult to be an effective parent: in the UK there has been a massive

increase in the numbers and proportion of children living in poverty. Prejudice

and discrimination can exacerbate economic inequality and poverty and increase

stress. Levels of violence tend to be highest in countries with the sharpest

inequalities.

 

School experiences undoubtedly influence children's behaviour, but it is

difficult to determine their significance and whether it can be separated from

factors operating in the family. Thus while much bullying occurs in schools, the

principal identified factors contributing to the development of bullying are

found in the child and the family.

 

The connection between mental illness and violence is also complex. A small

proportion - perhaps 5 to 10 per cent - of adults and children involved in

serious acts of violence will be classified as showing some form of mental

disorder; a further significant proportion will have personality disorders.

 

Alcohol and substance abuse and violence may result from common factors. A high

proportion of young people and adults who are victims and perpetrators of

violence have been drinking alcohol. But again the connection is complex rather

than direct.

 

The extent of violent images in the media is a reflection and a part of a

violent culture; that a heavy diet of violent images does nothing positive for

child development is agreed, though the evidence that many children in the UK

have such a diet is disputed. There is a weighty body of psychological opinion

internationally which believes that higher levels of viewing violent images are

correlated with increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased

aggressive behaviour, and may de-sensitise society, and children in particular,

to violence. But these views are strongly challenged by others who suggest that

the analysis, and attempts to isolate such effects, are flawed. [See, however,

subsequent international reviews of research supporting the connection between media

violence and aggression in children.]

 

 

Children and Violence, the report of the Commission on Children and Violence,

convened by the Gulbenkian Foundation, was published by the Foundation in

November 1995. The report is available from Turnaround Distribution Ltd, 27

Horsell Road, London N5 1XL, England, price £10.95 plus £2 post and packing in

the UK (Contact by telephone to establish international post costs, on

+44-171-609-7836).

 

Printed copies of the Summary of the report are available from Calouste

Gulbenkian Foundation, 98 Portland Place, London W1N 4ET, England.

 

 

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