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

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.


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


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