Youth violence is not a trivial matter

Youth violence is not a trivial matter

A distressed mother called out to her neighbours for help on being beaten by her teenage son, who was enraged at being refused a high-end mobile phone. A 17-year-old attacking his mother with a broomstick made headlines a few days back. In yet another case, a group of teenagers viciously attacked another youth who had inadvertently come in the way while they were clicking a selfie. These incidents of violence make for gory reading, leaving one dumb struck, especially because the perpetrators are mere teenagers.

Alarming as it sounds, these are not isolated incidents to be dismissed as immature, childish outbursts. Youth violence, especially teenage violence, has not only increased manifold, the intensity of violence has changed for the worse, resulting in serious and lasting socio-economic and health consequences. It is one of the most visible, persistent and startlingly pervasive problem that often goes underreported. According to the WHO, youth violence, ranging from bullying, verbal abuse and physical fighting to more severe sexual and physical assault to homicide is a global public health concern. Worldwide, an estimated two lakh homicides each year involve those aged 10–29, making it the fourth leading cause of death in this age group.

Today’s youth violence is not limited to their external environment alone; it has surreptitiously entered their homes, victimising their own families. Boys are found to be violent more often but girls are catching up, as evidenced by several studies in the Western countries. Although Indian data is unavailable, as a psychologist, I have found many young girls unleashing their aggression on hapless parents or siblings. Ashamed families hardly ever bring it out in the open or seek help, professional or otherwise. They either respond with counter-violence or simply tolerate and ignore it, both approaches proving futile.

Feeling frustrated, disappointed or angry at being denied or prevented from something is natural, but escalating this to aggression or violence is certainly a learnt pattern of behaviour. Violent behaviour can usually be traced back to childhood. Firstly, when aggressive and violent behaviour helps in getting their demands met, children learn to use it as a tool in future dealings. The ignored or tolerated unreasonable tantrums soon sets the stage for an aggressive pattern of
behaviour. Equally, being victims of violence as a child or having witnessed it at home and surroundings or even having had vicarious experiences through media, movies or TV tend to make one more aggressive.

Skewed economic growth and shift in our socio-cultural milieu are undisputed contributors. The gaping divide in purchasing power and living standards
among people have augmented yearnings and low frustration tolerance and the irrevocable change in family structures and ethos has shrunk value systems. Most parents of these teenagers belong to a cusp generation caught between rigid Indian tradition and fast-paced modernism, between frugal living and materialistic desires, between being educated and yet technologically challenged.

The earlier strict discipline and obedience that were the mainstay in families have given way to lenience and over-indulgence, partly to compensate for their ignorance and ineffectiveness. This has led to inconsistent parenting style, being too strict at one time and over-permissive at other, sending confusing ethical signals to their children.

Further, the present-day gadget-rich world has obsessed children and youth, dragging them towards technology addiction or non-substance abuse, which is as fatal as substance abuse. Most parents find it unable to keep pace with ever evolving technology. This has caused slackening of parental vigil and control, which has emboldened many children to lie and conceal the highly impermissible and violent matter they view on social media.

It is time to view youth violence more seriously and take appropriate preventive and corrective steps. Violent behaviour does not emerge suddenly; certain tell-tale early warning signals are visible to a discerning adult. The presence of other problem behaviours, like moodiness, compulsive lying, truancy, stealing, aggressiveness towards younger siblings, poor academic performance, unhealthy
interpersonal relationships, substance and non-substance abuse and delinquency should alert the parents. The earlier it is recognised, better the chances of preventing it and helping the child to manage it without professional intervention.

Curbing youth violence necessitates administrative vigilance and punitive measures, but those alone are insufficient. The role of life-skills training, value education and social development from an early age cannot be over-emphasised. Presently, such programmes are few and given scarce importance. More importantly, parents and teachers need to set standards in non-violent behaviour and be role models, which sadly is not the case always.

Children learn by imitation and some amplify the learnt behaviour, displaying more violence than they’ve faced. In order that children grow up into healthy adults, responsible and judicious parenting, along with providing a caring and non-threatening school environment, is imperative. It is easier to teach children than to mend violent youth.

(The writer is Director, Eudai­monic Centre for Positive Change and Wellbeing, Bengaluru)

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