How Parents Can Stop Violencebefore It Starts
What are the roots of violence? A troubled mind? The mean streets of the inner city? No, says a major report by the American Psychological Association, they are in the home. And there are things parents can do to stop violence before it starts. The greatest single predictor of violence is a personal history of violence, claims the APA’s Commission on Youth and Violence. A person’s level of aggression is remarkably consistent over the lifetime: those aggressive as children are much more likely to be violent as adults. Additionally, parents who themselves have a history of violence raise children with a greater than normal chance of becoming violent.
Violence is not a natural state; it’s learned by the young in observing parents and peers. Nor is it the inevitable result of anger or impulse. Violent actions by parents and siblings can exacerbate a child’s already violent nature, creating a “trajectory toward violence.” Physical punishment may produce obedience in the short term, but it teaches children that problems are best solved through aggressive or violent means. Societal influences help foment violent behavior. The images that populate mass media actually have the longest-lasting impact of all contributors to violence. Prolonged exposure to violent images increases the fear of becoming a victim, desensitizes violence, and heightens the viewer’s appetite for similarly engaging in violence.
But family is the mediating variable. Children with strong family bonds are at lower risk for becoming violent than children from less cohesive families, even when they have demonstrated a violent nature. So if violence begins at home, then so should prevention. Parents, advises the commission, should monitor and control their children’s use of violent entertainment–even if it means switching off the television. Violent parents need to learn better ways to interact with their children and to get help fast if children exhibit aggressive behavior. They too need to learn to deal with anger and frustration in less aggressive ways.