UNDERSTANDING SCHOOL VIOLENCE AND RISK BEHAVIOUR IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

By The Social Worker

Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power against another person that is likely to cause physical or psychological harm to the other person. Youth violence typically includes persons between the ages of 10 and 24, although signs of youth violence can begin in early childhood. Children as young as pre-schoolers can show violent behaviour. School violence is youth violence that occurs in school or during school events.

According to a study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, 70% of children who bully have been victims of bullying themselves. Violent behaviour in a child at any age always needs to be taken seriously. It should not be dismissed as just ‘a phase they are going through’’.

Violent behaviour in children and adolescents includes a wide range of behaviours, like explosive temper tantrums, physical aggression, fighting, threats or attempts to hurt others ,use of weapons, cruelty towards animals, or setting things on fire and intentional destruction of property and vandalism.

FACTORS THAT INCREASE THE RISK OF VIOLENT BEHAVIOUR

Risk factors are traits associated with an increased likelihood that an individual will be a victim or a perpetrator of violence. Risk factors can occur at the family, school and community level. If an individual is exposed to more risk factors, the higher the probability of engaging in violent behaviour.

SOME RISK FACTORS ARE LISTED BELOW

  • This include past experience of violent behaviour, either experienced or witnessed in the home or community.
  • Being the victim of physical abuse and/ or sexual abuse.
  • The exposure to violence in the media ( TV, movies, etc)
  • The use of drugs or alcohol
  • The presence and exposure to firearms in the home.
  • The combination of stressful family socio –economic factors like poverty, severe deprivations, marital breakup, single parenting, unemployment and loss of support from the extended family.
  • Brain damage from head injury.
  • ADHD- if a child is suffering with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity.
  • Association with friends who engage in risky behaviour.
  • Youth who play truant from school or leave school before the age of 15.

School factors

According to Howell J C. Lynch (JD 2000), youth gangs in schools reporting the presence of drugs or gangs in their midst have a higher rate of school violence.

The South African Human Rights Commission has found that 40% of children interviewed said that they had been the victims of crime at school. More than a fifth of sexual assaults on South African children were found to have taken place in school. Exposure to domestic violence, gangsterism and drugs have had a substantial impact on student performance. According to a Youth Risk behaviour survey conducted by the Medical Research Council in 2008, 35% of the 10 000 school pupils (from grade 8 to grade 11) surveyed, claimed to drink alcohol. There is no doubt that the abuse of drugs and alcohol is a major factor in perpetuating abuse in schools. 13% of the learners said they have smoked dagga and 19% belonged to gangs.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WARNING SIGNS TO OBSERVE FOR VIOLENT BEHAVIOR IN CHILDREN.

  • Intense, unexplainable anger.
  • Frequent loss of temper or blow-ups.
  • Extreme irritability
  • Extreme impulsiveness.
  • Becoming easily frustrated and destructed.

Parents and teachers should be careful not to minimize these behaviours in children.

WHAT CAN BE DONE IF A CHILD SHOWS VIOLENT BEHAVIOUR?

A parent or any other concerned person should immediately arrange for an assessment with a qualified mental health professional. This could be a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Early treatment by a professional can help. The goal of treatment is to focus on helping the child to learn how to control his/ her anger; To learn to express his/ her anger and frustrations in acceptable ways, and to be responsible for his/ her actions and accept the consequences thereof. Likewise the parents, family teachers and community members need to be counselled on how to cope with the child’s behaviour and deal with the stressful situation.

WHAT CAN PREVENT VIOLENT BEHAVIOUR IN CHILDREN?

According to information obtained from the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, studies have shown that violent behaviour can be decreased and prevented if the above risk factors mentioned are reduced or eliminated. Efforts should be made not to expose children to violence and the media. Clearly, violence leads to violence.

In addition the following strategies can lessen violent behaviour

  • Prevention of child abuse and neglect.
  • The use of programs such as parental training and family support programs.
  • Education on anger management and sexually abusive behaviour.

WHAT CAN I AS A PARENT DO TO HELP MY CHILD?

  • Talk to your child about the consequences of his/ her violent behaviour and how it is affecting you, the family and the community.
  • Encourage your child to partake in sports and other physical exercise in order to release some of his/her anger. Provide a punching bag if possible.

Parents should communicate with their children. Talk about school bullying and its consequences. If your child is or was a victim of bullying, communicate with them and build up their bruised self image. The Provincial Education Department has a school safety policy that provides psycho-social support in the event of bullying and violence amongst learners.

Some school counsellors hold violence prevention classes or workshops on preventing violence and gang activity for high-risk learners.

Remember violent behaviour can be curbed so if you observe any violent behaviour in your child, act now and get help.

 

 

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