Communities can circumvent youth violence
In the last year, unexpected school and community violence has caused heartbreak for families and communities; the incidents have prompted increased concerns about students, society and communities themselves, said Elaine Johannes, K-State Research and Extension specialist in the Office of Community Health.
The violent behaviors may often be traced to a previously identified school bully. Almost every school has one; most have more than one, she said.
School bullies also are likely to grow into bigger bullies. A University of Illinois-Chicago study done 22 years ago found that young bullies had a 1 in 4 chance of having a criminal record by the time they reached age 30. A similar study conducted by Dr. Dan Olweus, who is an international leader in the study of bullying and victimization, found that 60 percent of Norwegian boys characterized as bullies in the sixth through ninth grades had been convicted of at least one crime by the time they reached age 24. As a comparison, 23 percent of boys the same age who had not been characterized as a bully had been convicted of a crime by the time they reached the age of 24, she said.
Does that mean that a bully and the community in which he or she lives are destined for escalating violence?
"Not so," said Johannes.
"It's not hard to spot a bully. They usually like to tease or threaten others; may be hot-tempered or impulsive; act aggressively or tough toward adults and others; and be easily tempted to consider or participate in criminal behaviors," she said.
Bullying is not limited to boys. Girls also can become bullies. They may, however, choose indirect forms of aggression, such a subtle but cruel remarks or manipulative behaviors, rather than physical violence.
A bully's victims usually are readily identifiable, too. They may come home from school with torn or dirty clothes; have unexplained cuts and bruises; be reluctant to go to school or participate in some school and youth activities; complain of a number of ailments; and have few friends, she said.
The effects of bullying are not limited to the bully and the victim, Johannes noted.
Incidents of bullying usually are witnessed by one or more bystanders, such as other children on the playground. Children who witness inappropriate behavior may be afraid to intervene; they may fear retaliation or not want to become labeled as a tattletale. Adults who witness cruel or unkind behaviors may not feel they have the authority to intervene; they also may not be aware of the fact that by not taking action, they are increasing the chances that violent behaviors will continue or escalate.
Here are some of Johannes' suggestions about what parents and communities can do:
Encourage communication with your children. Listen to what they are saying. Encourage them to talk about their day, but aim for a relaxed, matter-of-fact dialog rather than 20 questions. Children who are in the habit of sharing with their parents may feel a greater comfort level that will allow them to share concerns or relate problems as they occur, she said.
Be willing to work with others in the community, such as parent-teacher and other school and community groups, to create a positive youth environment. For example, kids who get into trouble are most likely to be involved in troublesome behaviors during after-school hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Providing after-school activities or recreation centers that can help children of all ages channel their energies into healthful behaviors can benefit youth themselves and their communities, she said.
Encourage good citizenship; thoughtful and kind behaviors towards others; and developing conflict-resolution and problem-solving skills that do not rely on or result in cruel or violent behaviors.
Be willing to address problems before they become unmanageable.
Be willing to get involved. Balancing work with family and community responsibilities can be difficult, but a willingness to reach out to others can make a difference. It can mean the difference between responsible citizenship and a troubled life that may spill over into other lives as well, Johannes said.
For more information on encouraging positive youth behaviors in your community, contact the local K-State Research and Extension office.