Gulbenkian Report, continued
This is a further continuation of the Summary of the 1995 Report of the
Gulbenkian Foundation Commission on Children and Violence.
D) 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
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
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.
Anyone interested in helping to reduce the levels of violence in the world,
and in reducing cruelty to children, is also welcome to contact George
Hosking, e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
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