THE MAJOR ISSUES FACING TEENAGERS
Teen Violence, School Shootings, Cyberbullying, Internet Addiction,
Bullying, TV Violence & Teen Suicide:
Facts, Ideas, and Preventative Actions
By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
To cite this page: Zur, O. (2011). Teen Violence, School Shootings, Cyberbullying, Internet Addiction, T.V. and gaming Violence & Teen Suicide: Facts, Ideas, And Actions, Online Publication by Zur Institute. Retrieved month/day/year from http://zurinstitute.com/teenviolence.html.
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This page addresses some of the most important issues facing our teenagers at this time. These include cyberbullying, teen violence, school shootings, Internet use and abuse, online gaming, gaming addiction, bullying, violence on T.V., & teen suicide. Parents, teenagers and communities across the country are concerned with these issues, which are caused by a number of social, cultural, communal, economic, familial and individual factors. While it may be hard to change the nature of the Internet, T.V. or movies, there is always something that each one of us can do to reduce violence, prevent cyberbullying and school shootings, reduce the rate of teen suicide and help develop a balanced use of the Internet and online gaming. Following is information about the underlying forces behind these teen issues and actions that each of us can take.
Internet and Gaming Addiction
- Younger generations, unlike their parents' generations, often socialize, hang out, and communicate online, rather than in person. They prefer to text rather than talk on the phone, and often prefer to socialize on Twitter or Facebook rather than in the local bar, on the street or at the town square.
- The digital divide: The younger generation has been referred to as being one of "Digital Natives" while the older generation has been referred to as one of "Digital Immigrants."
- Unlike the older generation, young people are highly capable of effective multitasking, which is sometimes seen by the older generation as a lack of attention and focus.
- Some young people spend much too much time in front of a computer screen, spending up to 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Spending countless hours a day, every day, on gaming or perusing the Internet can interfere with young people's emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual development.
- Around the world there are alarming reports of Internet Addiction and sever online gaming addiction. Korea, Japan, Germany and the United States, all report increasing numbers of young people who spend over 40 hours a week online.
- While the older generation may primarily use the Internet to gather important information and follow up on important news, the younger generation uses the Internet for a wider range of activities. These include: homework, communication, fun, gaming, social connection and interaction, information gathering, to view videos, listen to music, post photos, blog, chat, etc.
- Many of older-parents generations, being digital immigrants, view almost all online activities and multitasking as waste of time and a lack of focus. They neither recognize, nor understand, the social value of online social networking, the learning that takes place in online games, the capacity of young people to multitask, and the enormous fun, pleasure and sense of community that young people derive from these activities.
- When concerned, worried, or frightened, parents yell, nag, criticize, threaten or take the computer, Often, a crisis ensues.
- Parents, digital immigrants, are concerned for the welfare of their children, they are frightened that the kids waste their lives with meaningless online activities and gaming. They are concerned that their kids will fail or drop out of school and are worried that the Internet or the games may ruin their children's lives as they have heard reported on the news.
- Children, digital natives, when confronted by concerned parents often feel misunderstood and alienated by their parents.
- The digital divide often results in continuous family conflict, breakdown of communication, power struggles, and disharmony.
- At times, when parents take away the computer or disconnect the Internet, some youngsters have responded with violence towards the computer, themselves or even their parents. Other have fallen into depression. Most of the time, children find other ways to connect to the Web and play games. They may simply do it at friends' house and in many countries, computers are available at Internet Café's.
It is possible - and even common - for young people to over-use technology, especially online gaming. At the same time, parents and teachers would do best to understand children's affinity for technology given their status as digital natives. Young people are not "addicted" simply because they were born in, and enjoy, the digital era.
What Parents Can Do:
- Learn about the meaning of the Internet for your children.
- Understand that most children do not just sit idly in front of the screen. Most often, they communicate, create, socialize, post photos, explore, listen to music, and learn.
- Don't nag, label ("You're sick!"), blame ("You're wasting your life!"), scold, prematurely threaten or demand that they must change.
- Observe your children with open eyes & open heart.
- Do not diminish the importance of the Internet & other advanced technology as this is the world they are growing up in.
- Be genuinely curious about draws them to the game.
- Discover what do they like and enjoy about the games, and what applications & technologies are being used?
- Figure out what actual games are played, how these games played, how much time they spend playing, when and where they play, and with whom they play.
- Learn how Internet and online games serve your child. What does s/he like about the games? What are the emotional and psychological allures of the games? What might s/he be trying to avoid by playing the game?
- Try to agree on time limits with your child rather than coming up with your own limits.
- Discuss balance between online and offline activities, weekend vs. weekdays, etc.
- Learn about rating of games for violence and offensive content.
- Install parental control when and if necessary.
- When and if necessary:
- Consult with an expert, psychotherapist, or family counselor regarding your concerns.
- Consider a structured online Gamers Support Group which might involve a Harm Reduction type intervention.
- In more extreme cases, consider residential treatment or outward bound programs (can be very expensive)
For more information, see our article on Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, Examples of online educational games and online Certificate Program on Internet Addiction.
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Violence In Media
- T.V. influences behavior. If it didn't, Nike, Budweiser, Pepsi, etc. would not invest billions of dollars in advertisements.
- Violence on T.V. occurs in most programs and even more so, in cartoons.
- By age 12, the average child has witnessed tens of thousands of acts of violence on T.V. and games. The gaming acts of violence are even more damaging, because the player is actively seeking to kill or wound fellow players. Multiplayer online games have real people taking the part of avatars, which means that fights are going on in real psychological space.
- Thousands of studies have shown that violence on T.V. can influences behavior and attitudes among children who watch it.
- While not all researchers agree, the Surgeon General reports that T.V. violence is linked to aggressive behavior in children who view violent shows. Similarly, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, UNESCO, and US Attorney General, have all reached the conclusion is that T.V. violence is linked to the proliferation of violence in our culture.
- In some violent video games, players act as killers as the sole purpose of the game. This can include a disturbingly realistic "target" over other figures in the game.
- The proliferation of violence and pornography on the Internet has become a significant factor in desensitizing children to violence and sexual crimes against women, children and vulnerable minorities.
- Cyberbullying is violence against victims over the Internet and cell phone technologies. This is an unfortunate natural offshoot of participatory digital culture, and must be addressed with the same seriousness of violence in T.V. shows and games.
Violence in the media, whether it is reflected in music, games, cartoons, T.V. shows or movies, desensitizes children to the effects of violence, legitimizes and glorifies violence and can increase aggressive behavior or, at the least, increases tolerance and acceptance of violent and abusive behavior. After seeing violence on T.V., cartoons, and playing violent games, violence offline seems "normal."
What You Can Do:
- A child's bedroom should be free of T.V. and video game consoles, so you have control over the amount of time they spend on games and passive activity.
- Monitor the amount of exposure children have to violent movies, T.V. and video games.
- Don't expose children under the age of 10 to ANY violent content in entertainment (this includes games).
- Watch age-appropriate shows together, as a family.
- Don't turn on the T.V. before school and turn it off well before bedtime.
- Check www.movierports.org for information on violence and sexual content in movies.
- Do not provide free and unmonitored access to the Internet for your child. Children need supervision and training to use the Internet safely. As they grow up, you can supervise them less.
- Keep the conversation active in your family about Internet safety, including cyberbullying, sexting, gaming and violence online.
- Discuss how the content of media your family encounters does or does not reflect the values of your family.
- Teach your children age-appropriate critical thinking skills.
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Violent Video Games & School Shootings
- The U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army and law enforcement agencies use video games like "Doom" or Nintendo to train their people in the use of firearms.
- Lt. Col. David Grossman, a U.S. Army expert on the psychology of combat and author of the book, "On Killing", has illustrated how violent video games, in the hands of children, serve as "murder simulators".
- The 14 years old killer in the Paducah, Kentucky school shooting had never fired a real pistol in his life. Nevertheless he fired eight shots, five of them head shots, the other three upper torso shots, killing 8 children. Where did he get the skill and will to kill? Most likely from violent video games and media violence, pared with a lack of adult guidance.
Violent video games can train our children to kill, glorify violence, desensitize them to suffering and legitimize and trivialize violence. One must remember that there are more significant factors, such as child abuse, domestic violence, gangs in the neighborhood, or growing up in a war zone, that are likely desensitize people to violence or increase violent behavior.
What You Can Do:
- Discuss with your children why they like playing certain violent video games.
- Prevent young children from playing violent video games.
- Replace violent video games with non-violent, stimulating, exciting, educational and interactive video games, which are fun and challenging, enhance knowledge, creativity, curiosity and imagination.
- Work on and support legislation to outlaw the sale/display of violent video games in your community.
- Talk to your children about this issue and discuss your values and concerns with other parents.
- Teach your children how to define their values and how to make responsible choices that reflect them.
- Creating Balance between online and offline and between different kind of games is extremely important.
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Bullying Online and At School
- Bullying is an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse. It can be done directly by physical or verbal attacks or indirectly by exclusion, spreading rumors, etc.
- Cyberbullying is a growing problem among Middle and High School aged students. While it also occurs among College-aged students, for the most part young people have matured past cyberbullying at that point
- Bullies seek power through aggression and direct their attacks at vulnerable victims. In-person bullies often lose their popularity in high school and have a high likelihood of having a criminal record as adults.
- Girls are more likely than boys to be cyberbullies, due to the verbal (non physical) nature of online communication.
- Girls' bullying is focused on social exclusion.
- 1 in 5 kids report being bullied or bullying. Every 7 minutes, a child is bullied in the school setting.
- While most teachers believe they always intervene in face-to-face bullying, only 25% of students report they have received teachers' help when they needed it.
- Cyberbullying is, in many ways, a larger problem than face-to face bullying, for several reasons: Adults and peers are often not in a position to intervene, and victims' hurt is not visible as useful feedback for the bullies to experience as a "reality check." It is far too easy for cyberbullies to convince themselves they are merely "joking." Some are surprised at the harm they cause, because the abuse did not feel "real."
- Those who are bullied sometimes learn to perpetuate the problem and become bullies themselves, simultaneously or concurrently. This is the cycle of victim-perpetrator that catches so many children and adults.
- LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex) youth are particularly vulnerable to bulling online and offline, due to the largely homophobic culture of mainstream America.
Online bullying is a widespread and growing phenomenon, and offline bullying has always been and continues to be a problem. Bullying of all kinds peaks in Middle School and in most cases tapers off by College age, when students are more independent and more mature. Lack of coordination among school staff, parents and students make cyber- and offline bullying a continual threat to young people's confidence and safety.
What You Can Do:
If your child is bullied in person:
- Teach him/her how to walk away from the bully and how to use assertiveness training. Do not confront the bully yourself.
- Teach your child to speak up on behalf of those who are being bullied and against the bullies themselves.
- Talk with school staff about their policy on bullying and actions they are taking to make schools safe for everyone.
If your child is bullied online:
- Work with your child to block the offending users.
- Let your child know you support them.
- Meet with school staff and make a plan to combat cyberbullying (see this article for more information).
- If the situation is serious, talk with the police. Cyberbullying is illegal, and in many states schools have the jurisdiction to provide consequences to bullies even if the abuse did not originate online.
Actions to take if your child is bullied online OR offline:
- Demand that the school develop a comprehensive educational policy about bullying.
- Do not settle for the school simply sending the bully and/or the bullied to talk to the school counselor.
- Support - and implement, if needed - programs and activities that teach and reward acceptance of diversity.
- If your child is LGBTQI, help them find or start a support group, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance. There is safety in numbers and this can help combat feelings of isolation. Also, importantly, cohesion among students against bullying can change the culture of a school. This is particularly true of cyberbullying, which is easier to stop than in-person bullying.
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Violence At Home
- One of the main reasons that children become violent is because they are exposed to violence in their own homes, whether it is directed towards them or towards others.
- Violence at home can be of a physical nature, or it can be expressed verbally or through neglect and abandonment. Abusive homes and violent neighborhoods are stronger predictors of adult violent behavior than violence in the media. Most abusive parents were physically or sexually abused as children.
The home and the neighborhood have an immense influence on children. Violent children are most likely to come from abusive homes and/or neighborhoods.
What You Can Do:
- Do not ignore signs or evidence of child abuse or domestic violence. Report to Child Protective Services, local police or school counselors. Passivity perpetuates abuse.
- If there is violence in your own home seek help immediately. Stop the cycle of violence!
For more information, see our online courses on Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence or Female Batterers.
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- Numerous researches have established the undeniable relationships between militarism, sexism, racism and violence within the culture.
- Principally, there is no difference between the state of mind that seeks to resolve international conflicts by force and the state of mind that seeks to resolve interpersonal or familial conflicts by force and the misuse of power.
- There is a direct link between the way in which we use power with our children, our significant others, our neighbors and our environment and what we teach our children about violence.
- Cultures in which young children regularly receive loving touch have lower incidents of violent crimes.
- Research done with psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents demonstrated a significant reduction of violent and sexual acting out when staff increased the use on non-sexual, affectionate touch with the teens.
- Fear and violent behavior have a direct correlation. Monitor media news presentations that capitalize on creating fear through undue sensationalism and manipulative means.
The misuse of power through violent action is taught through and supported by culture. The United States is one of the most violent cultures in the Western world with more crimes being committed with guns and through violent force.
What You Can Do:
- Get politically involved and find ways to promote more peace and harmony in the world of politics.
- Communicate with your elected officials, network executives, news editors and corporations regarding your opinion related to the perpetuation of violent values through the media.
- Educate yourself about gun control and use your vote to reflect you values.
- Expose your children to diversity and help them to develop empathy.
- Contact the Southern Poverty Law Center for materials and direction to teach tolerance to children in your community.
- Educate yourself with resources, such as of American Psychological Association (APA) at: www.apa.org/pi/pii/teen/contents.html.
- Discuss this issue with your friends, co-workers, school administrators, children's coaches, teachers, religious leaders, etc.
- Teach and demonstrate peaceful conflict resolution.
- Discipline your children through non-violent means.
- Provide stories, books, movies, etc., that place a high value on treating others with tolerance and respect.
- Create a culture of respect in your home and larger community.
- Speak out against violent injustice.
- Always report incidents of abuse.
- Get help for the abused and the abuser. Passivity perpetuates abuse.
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- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults.
- Young males are much more likely to commit suicide than their female peers.
- Female adolescents are more likely to attempt suicide than their male peers.
- Female Hispanic students are more likely to attempt suicide than all other students.
- American Indian/Alaskan Native male adolescents have the highest suicide rate.
Teen suicide is a significant problem in our culture. It is prevalent problem that will continue to grow unless we do something about it.
Myths And Faulty Beliefs About Suicidal Teens:
- Once a teenager decides to kill himself, nothing can stop him.
- Young people talk about suicide mostly to get attention, therefore the best thing to do is to ignore the person.
- If we ask a young person if they are thinking about suicide, we run the danger of putting the idea of suicide in their mind.
- When a person tries to commit suicide and fails, the pain and shame will deter another attempt.
- Since depression is often a common sign of suicidal behavior, once the depression has subsided, the suicidal teen is out of danger.
- Because suicide may "run" in families it cannot be prevented.
What To Do:
- Do find out if the individual has suicide ideation, a plan and means, and if so, what does it entail? Remember, the more specific the plan, the higher the degree of risk.
- Do acknowledge that suicide is one solution to the problem, but it is not the only, nor the best, solution to the problem.
- Do state that you will do whatever you can to prevent this suicide.
- Do accept that in some cases you may not be able to keep the individual from committing suicide.
- Do remember ambivalence. Most people do not want to die, and individuals who want to kill themselves are suicidal for a limited time only.
- Do make sure that someone removes any guns or potentially lethal medication from the person. The police department will accept any lethal means that people do not want to keep at home. (If other alternatives are available, do not keep it in your office.)
- Do tell the person that he/she does not have to solve this problem alone.
- Do recognize the warning signs. This is a key to preventing teen suicide. While there is no single warning sign indicating that a person will attempt suicide, there are warning signs that teenagers give that may alert us to their danger.
- Do remind them that death is final and emphasize that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
- Do respond to a student's suicide by following up and utilizing multiple approaches to prevent future suicides or cluster suicides.
- As a professional, weigh all your options, consider the clinical, ethical and legal aspects of the case, conduct a thorough suicide and level of risk assessment and risk-benefits analysis, and when appropriate, consult. Always document your ethical decision-making, what you did and why.
What NOT To Do:
- Don't debate the merits of living or dying with an actively suicidal person.
- Don't ask why the person would commit suicide. Suicidal people may not know why. Determine how serious the person is and ask if the individual has a plan and means.
- Don't belittle the person for having these thoughts.
- Don't offer platitudes. They don't help.
- Don't try to win arguments about suicide. Your client will always win.
- Don't keep silent, stay passive or ignore the threat and danger.
- Don't leave the person alone if you think there is immediate danger.
- Don't engage in a physical struggle with a person who is armed.
- Don't challenge the person by telling them to go ahead and do it.
- Don't give false reassurances that "everything will be fine."
- Don't be misled if a teen tells you that things are OK and that the emotional crisis has ended.
- Don't assume that the aggressive child is more likely to commit suicide than the "good," "quiet" or "obedient" child.
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- At-Risk: Teen Violence Prevention. Resources and blog on stopping teen violence.
- Cyberbullying: Definition, Prevalence, Consequences, and Prevention (2011). A guide by the Zur Institute for parents, teens, health professionals, and educators
- Meetup.com. This worldwide resource allows people to form groups around any area of interest - including safety online, cyberbullying prevention or any other community or group issue. If your child is the victim of bullying, encourage him or her to start a group centralized around a positive activity, such as playing pool or running. Students who come together against bullying make their communities safer.
- On Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives: How the Digital Divide Affects Families, Educational Institutions, and the Workplace (2011). A comprehensive article by the Zur Institute about how different generations interact - and clash - in the workplace, home and academic situations.
- Warning Signs of Teen Violence
- Stopviolence.com. Useful resource on combating violence among teens through safer schools and relationships.
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Related Online Courses
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