What causes our kids to lash out, and what can we do to prevent youth violence in our communities?
As the father of two young children, this is an issue I’ve been thinking about for some time. So I decided to reach out and see what other parents, mentors, and thought leaders think about the problem, and what we can do to help solve it.
Lucy Ruth, Youth Mentor
The modern day youth is exposed to violence at an early age, thanks to the world of gaming. Our youths are used to watching or playing violent games, whilst gaming is fun, constantly watching violent gaming desensitizes our youth. In order to prevent violent behaviors as a society we must encourage our youths to play games that are non violent. Parents must also get involved in their youths emotional needs by talking to them and listening. We now live in a world where it is easy, to be closer to our virtual friends than those closest to us. Parents must constantly have positive conversations with their youths.
Our youths become what we feed them. Feed them positivity and talk about the dangers and consequences of violent behavior. Every now and again I remind my kids that video games are not real. I have watched videos of youths in boot-camps on YouTube and I remind my kids that bad behavior goes to boot-camps. Just having that thought of if i do bad I can go to boot-camp does help as most youths would rather be home than boot-camp. Parents and society must have youths involved in community and civic engagements projects especially during holidays when they have a lot of spare time on their hands. Getting involved and having open channels of communication with our youths help, not only with violent behavior but with their mental as well. Together We Can!
Jason – Security Advisor
Could the judicious use of force be part of the answer? With worldwide divorce rates and epidemics like HIV touching all parts of the globe, children are being raised in fatherless or even sometimes parent-less homes. Millions of children grow up without positive masculine role modelling, sometimes only briefly interacting with a struggling working mother at the head and tail end of the day. The opportunity to learn how and when to apply assertiveness, firmness or even protective aggressiveness is lost. Instead, our youth turn to equally misguided peers and fictitious celluloid parents who are only too happy to demonstrate that violence is an easily accessible conflict resolution model. Physical abuse rates only add to this volatile cocktail.
This is where environments that strive to teach the application of violence, can become an excellent surrogate parent within the conflict resolution gap in a child’s life. Researchers Bar-Ilan University and UCLA have used a meta-analysis study to show that the exposure to martial arts training uses fists to defuse the explosive timebomb that these less than ideal conditions create. This study and others, show martial arts training enhances self-control, builds self-confidence, improves self-regulation and reduces aggression.
Apart from obvious health benefits, this form of training provides an outlet of energy and aggression. Arts like Jiu-Jitsu and Judo provide an opportunity for young people to experience the effects of positive intimate human touch. Martial arts gyms also have the potential to become surrogate families. For example, Matt Thornton’s SGB preaches the “One tribe one vibe” ethic. Within this “tribe” a person can find comradery, friendship and exist in a different kind of family for a few hours a week. Gyms and school embedded classes have the potential to create a new place to “belong”, an antidote to the seduction of street gangs.
Lastly, there is the prospect of introducing a Mr. Miyagi black belt social worker influence into the life of a child. A man or woman who has explored the depth of physical human conflict. Within these spaces, children can safely explore conflict, aggression, and physical contact. It becomes the job of the Miyagi role-model to guide young people through these experiences even if there is an occasional bloody nose. When each youth passes out the door, he should leave with the sensation of sweat on his body, a smile on his face and a little more prepared to face a tough world.
Damon Nailer – Living, Loving, Leading
- Make them aware that they have options- Many of today’s youth believe that they are limited in their actions and reactions. It’s often considered soft or lame, especially for young people, to not possess an attitude or act as though they have a chip on their shoulder. As a result, they become one dimensional and constantly respond with anger and aggression. We have to help them understand that it’s actually wise to react with self-control, and we must teach them nonviolent ways of resolving conflict.
- Encourage them to get involved in activities, groups, sports, etc- All of us need a healthy outlet to release stress, anxiety, and anger. Some youth respond with violence due to bottled up anger and frustration. We have to encourage them to get involved in some form of constructive activity that they can enjoy and have fun doing.
- Reshape their perspective of emotional control- Unfortunately, we live in a time where anger, violence, and wild behavior are smiled upon and even considered acceptable. We have to teach our youth that this is not normal, regardless of how society views it and how mainstream media portrays it.
As adults, our responsibility is to point out to them the consequences connected to violence- physical/verbal abuse, broken relationships, possible incarceration, job termination, emotional scars, etc. Teach them stress releasing strategies- There are many positive ways that an individual can release and relieve stress. Teaching adolescents several relaxation techniques are critical in reducing violent behavior and angry outbursts. Here are some examples- deep breathing, listening to soothing, calming music, taking a hot bath, spending some quiet time alone, reading, journaling, talking to a trusted adult or friend, exercising (walking, jogging, lifting weights, or doing yoga), or watching comedy.
Sonya Schwartz, Founder – Her Norm
Youth Violence ranges from less severe acts like bullying or fighting to more severe acts like assault or homicide. Youth Violence can seriously impact a child or a teen’s physical, psychological, and social functioning. Throughout the years, there has been a growing number of youth violence cases, both against a child or a teen and committed by a child or a teen. As a parent, this growing number of youth violence cases is alarming and concerning for me. We, parents, should contribute to the prevention of youth violence to assure that our children do not experience violence or do not initiate violence. Some of the ways on how parents can contribute to the prevention of youth violence are:
- Assure that there is a high level of attachment and communication between you and your child/children.
- Always be there to give support, care, and love to your child/children.
- Always talk to your child/children. Make your child/children feel comfortable in sharing his/her concerns and problems with you.
- Show your child/children support by involving yourself in your child’s/children’s activities, whether their school activities or their social activities.
- Create a safe and happy household that is free from any form of violence.
- Attend parent support group programs that will help you learn positive parenting skills.
As parents, these are some of the ways on how we can help prevent youth violence. Through our collective effort, our own small and simple ways can create a world where there is less violence or there is no violence for our children.
Crystal Olivarria – Better Decisions Matter
The best way to prevent youth violence is for parents to become better parents. Youth act out of anger and rage when they lack the ability to communicate in healthy ways. While you may be a good parent who sets good examples for your kids, there are a lot of parents who are not good examples for their kids. These kids need role models outside of their own parents. It is the kids from “broken homes” that are in emotional pain. When they don’t communicate how they feel, the emotions build up until they explode with anger and rage.
It is likely your kid is friends with kids from “broken homes”. “Broken homes” isn’t limited to people of low income. Many kids from high income families experience pain too. Maybe their father is always gone working. Maybe their parents don’t get along very well. Maybe they feel lonely because their parents show love by buying them stuff instead of spending quality time with them. There are many reasons kids are in pain.
Your kid is likely friends with kids in pain. Teach your child how to be a better friend. Teach them to care, to be compassionate and to be a good active listener. It is important for kids to be able to connect to their peers. To talk about what is bothering them. Teaching your kid to be a better friend also improves your kid’s life because they develop more meaningful relationships. When youth feel like they have friends they can talk to when they are troubled, they are less likely to act out in rage and violence.
Spend time with your kid asking them about their day. Care. Show them what it means to be compassionate and be a good active listener. Help your child experience good communication. This way they are familiar with what good communication skills are and they can practice them with their friends. Become a better parent by learning to communicate better. Then pass these valuable skills on to your kid. Positively impact another’s life one conversation at a time. That is why the best way to prevent youth violence is for parents to become better parents.
Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen – Dr. BLT Music
I have worked a lot with teens, as the coordinator of a runaway shelter for homeless youth; as a drug abuse counselor; as a music therapist, and, in various capacities as a licensed clinical psychologist. I am also the father of a teenage daughter.
This is my response to your query on responding to defiant teenagers.
Preventing Teenagers from becoming TeenRAGERS
a teen in between
mom and dad and their screams
a teen in between hopes and faded dreams
a teen in between innocent and guilty
Lord, I’d be anything but a teen, in between…
Teen in Between
Original song: words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen aka Dr BLT © 2020
You’re not a child anymore, but you’re not an adult. You are in between. You are an “in-between-ager.” Your opinions are often not taken seriously by adults, but you’re in serious trouble, if you break the rules.
What does in mean to be in between? How do the feelings associated with these in between years, translate into defiance, and violence.
TeenRAGERS: Origins of Defiance and violence in Teenagers
Defiant teenagers are angry teenagers. Sometimes, if not addressed early enough, and/or effectively enough, the anger can turn into rage. An angry teen is challenging to deal with. A teenRAGER, on the other hand, is a nightmare to deal with.
Anger and rage can have their origins in child abuse and/or exposure to trauma, but this is not necessarily the case.
Unmodulated anger, and rage also stems from behaviors that be modeled by a teen observing significant adults, and the ways in which they manage challenges, problems and conflicts.
Parents can model a consistent response to challenges with reason and a sense of calm, or, with panic, and/or anger (in some cases, with rage). Through your behavior, as a parent, you are handing your teen a script, or a set of instructions, on how to respond when presented with a challenge, a problem, or a conflict.
Rules and Relationships
Rules and consequences for breaking the rules, are necessary for maintaining order, and avoiding chaos. They are also necessary for establishing and maintaining healthy parent-teen bound. Rules and consequences for breaking the rules must be clearly communicated to a teen.
Consistently enforcing the rules is also necessary for the same reasons. But how all of this is delivered will make of the difference in the world. Delivery is everything.
Are you barking out orders, like a military commander? Are you ruthless, overbearing and inflexible in enforcing the rules? If so, expect either passive aggression, or open defiance—possibly both.
On the other hand, sugar-coating your comments, or bending over backwards to accommodate your teenager, can also produce defiance. This sort of defiance is born of disrespect.
Authoritarian approaches are bound to fail
Just as rules and consequences for breaking the rules, are necessary for maintaining order; avoiding chaos; and for establishing and maintaining healthy parent-teen bound, so is a continuous effort to preserve and protect rapport between parent and teen.
An authoritarian approach, based solely on rules, or commands, and disciplinary consequences for breaking the rules, may be sufficient in terms of compliance, but what price is too great?
Don’t you want a teen to feel like you would be the first person they would turn to with a problem, or a struggle? Fearing you will make you the very last person they would approach.
Don’t sacrifice the rules, for the sake of preserving the relationship. Without mutual respect, there is no relationship.
On the other hand, don’t sacrifice the relationship for the rules. Striking the right balance will prevent, or at least minimize, defiance in your teen. It will also prevent power struggles.
Attitudes are not the same as emotions. Dismissing anger in your teen as a “bad attitude,” may feed any sort of violent tendencies in your teen.
Long before I became a licensed clinical psychologist, I worked as a substance abuse counselor, for Fresno Community Hospital. More specifically, I heard anger in the disheartened voices of drug-addicted teens in therapy groups I was leading at the time.
One day I asked the group I was leading to write a song that expressed their innermost feelings, and their most deep-seated internal conflicts. They proposed an idea for a group-composed rock song called F*%*
Authority. I could have dismissed the song altogether, or blasted the idea for being born of rebellion and impulsivity.
Instead I said this: “Okay, first of all, this is very authentic. These are raw, but very real emotions. But I also need to be real with all of you. If you want specific authority figures in your life to change, this song, in its present form, will not accomplish this. They will not listen beyond the title, which will be received as a slap in the face.
Now, how can we refine the lyrics, in a way that increases the likelihood that your intended audience will really take the time to hear, and seriously consider, your emotions and your concerns?”
The song actually ended up being pretty good. But that was years ago, and I don’t even have a recording or lyric sheets or anything at all for that matter. I only know that I left for home that day, knowing I had become part of the solution, not just part of the problem.
Violence-proneness in teens has many faces, and takes on many forms. It can be manifested by deep sadness, listlessness, restlessness; isolation, irritability, anger—-even bitter, often unbridled, rage. The same thing can be said for the relationship between defiance and feelings of rejection, feelings of abandonment and betrayal; and the like. All of these may be presented in disguised form, as defiance.
Know that when you see “violent tendencies” in your teen, it may just be a wall of defense to prevent vulnerability, to ward off the prospect of a parent discovering what is in the heart of a teen.
A teen in between sex and fitful urges
a teen in between joy and suicide
a teen in between
school and idle pleasure
Lord, I’d be anything
but a teen, in between
A Teen in Between, Dr Bruce L. Thiessen
aka Dr BLT © 2020
I’ve had many inmate patients, in prisons or on parolee, whose trouble with the law began in their early teens, with the growing, agonizing sense that they were all alone in this world, and nobody cared. Their response to this realization? Defiance and violence!
Some had parents whose lack of care expressed itself in the form of physical and emotional abuse. Others had parents that did care enough to set rules and boundaries, with clearly-defined consequences for breaking the rules. Both forms of not caring led the teen to assume a defiant posture.
In some cases, the defiance and corresponding violence was projected onto many in authority, and to society, on the whole. Some turned to self-medication, in the form of drug and alcohol abuse. This also led to a desperate struggle to belong, in some cases, leading them to get involved in sexual promiscuity, and toxic relationships. Others joined violent street gangs.
Expressions of violence can also hide suicidal tendencies in teens.
I know you wish you could end it all
but you must hold on to your dreams
one day you’ll come to realize that
it ain’t quite as bad as it seems
to be sixteen…
Dr Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT © 2020
• Parenting classes could play a key role in mitigating defiance in teens. Most such classes available these days are quite general in scope. What about offering parenting classes for parents of teens that are angry, violence-prone, and defiant?
• Also, mental health providers could
adopt the role of reparenting agent, approaching teens on their caseload as individuals requiring a reparenting of sorts.
Such therapists could offer themselves as social skills-reinforcing role models. Moreover, through the therapy relationship, they could introduce teens to a transformative corrective emotional experience.
Where there was rejection, there could be unconditional positive regard. Where there were confusing, conflict-inducing messages, delivered to teens by dysfunctional parents, there could be clarity.
In cases in which teens were invalidated, there could be support and validation.
• Constant Catharsis
This is where my secret to preventing defiance in teens lies: Catharsis is a term that refers to the gaining of emotional release by letting out all that has been bottled up and repressed.
Catharsis can be experienced by way of self-closure——sharing ones deepest secrets, dashed hopes, demolished dreams, unresolved conflicts, distressing emotions and the like.
Catharsis can also be accomplished through creative expression, such as playing music, or participation in art projects. Catharsis can also consist of any functional activities, such as athletic events, that allow for pent up tension to be released.
A teen that has let it all out in a song, a poem, or a conversation with a trusted friend, will be less likely to be violent.
You, as a parent, as a teacher, as a coach, or as a family friend, can either be a part of the problem, or part of the solution. You can either fan the flames of violence, or do your part to put out fires before they burn out of control.