Thursday, December 2, 2010

How can I tell if my child will become violent?

Youth Violence Hits Home

Whether it’s 15 year old Samuel Hengel of Marinette, Wisconsin holding 24 hostages at gunpoint in his classroom before turning the gun on himself, or 20 year old Donte Banks of Pottstown shooting a 14 year old boy over a dispute, the news is full of stories of violence among youth. And more recently, it hits closer and closer to home.

In fact, 12 – 24 year olds face the highest risk of being a victim of a violent act, according to the American Psychological Association. 1 in 12 children in high school stated they have been threatened or harmed with a weapon each year. These are sobering statistics, the reality is that there are no clear explanations for the rise in youth violence. What is known is that there are risk factors that can contribute to one’s likelihood of engaging in a violent act. Here are some of the reasons that people become violent:

  • To express their feelings: some people become violent in order to vent their feelings of anger or frustration.
  • This is a clear problem with developing the right skills to handle uncomfortable feelings.
  •  It’s important to remember that the simple act of learning how to calm down can be critical to avoiding violent behavior.
  •         Many people believe hitting a punching bag or a pillow is a good way to vent angry feelings. NOT SO. If you hit a pillow or anything else when angry, you simply learn that when you are angry, it is ok to hit.
  • To make others do what you want
  • Violence is sometime used as a tool to manipulate and intimidate others
  • To exact revenge against others around you for a perceived slight or wrong.
As a psychologist, I am sometimes asked to predict if a child or adolescent will become aggressive or violent. There is no clear way to be 100% certain (unless you have a crystal ball!) that someone will or will not become violent. One of the best ways to predict future behavior is based on their past actions. If someone has been aggressive in the past, they may be more likely to use violence again in the future.

Here are some warning signs that someone might have the possibility of engaging in violence:
  • Frequently losing their temper
  • Getting into fights
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Threatening to hurt others
  • Carrying a weapon
  • Hurting animals
  • Vandalism or property destruction
  • Gang membership
  • Having been the victim of bullying
  • Poor school performance
  • Not respecting the rights or feelings of others
  • Feeling rejected or alone
  • Withdrawal from friends or enjoyed activities

 Any one of these warning signs in isolation do not necessarily mean that the person will become violent, but the more warning signs, the higher the risk. Many of the warning signs can be signs of other mental health disorders (depression, learning disabilities, ADHD, etc) so consulting a psychologist is an important way to get help.  If you or someone you know needs help, ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!



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