Keeping up with current events often means facing the grim reality of youth violence in our society. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2011, “32.8% of students had been in a physical fight one or more times during the 12 months before the survey” and “7.4% of students nationwide had been threatened or injured with a weapon.” These are alarming numbers to consider, ones that are difficult to ignore.
The American Psychological Association outlines several motives for youth violence. Expression, manipulation, and retaliation are just some of those reasons. Perhaps most importantly, violence is a learned behavior. Youth who have not learned effective means of expression and who have been exposed to negative role modeling that normalizes violence as a means to resolve conflict are more likely to act on violent impulses. Youth exposed to the use of violence or aggression to resolve problems in the home are more likely to adopt those norms to resolve their own problems. Furthermore, media and news events may perpetuate the normalization of violence as an acceptable means to resolve conflict.
The road to mitigating conflict peacefully begins with youth learning healthy ways to express themselves. Youth who are able to identify and manage their emotions are better equipped to calm themselves down before anger or sadness begin to drive aggressive behavior. Likewise, these youth are more able to and more likely to then communicate what they are feeling with more peaceful results.They are also more likely to ask for help and to trust adults. Taking that a step further, youth who are able to identify the emotions of others are better able to prevent conflict by recognizing the circumstances that could result in a violent conflict and manage their own behavior accordingly. This awareness of self and others is a twofold approach for youth to practice pro-social bonding and to learn to differentiate between unhealthy and healthy relationship qualities. Learning the difference between aggressive behavior and assertive behavior goes a long way in solidifying positive norms.
If youth are not exposed to healthy role modeling in their homes, they may not know what makes for acceptable behavior. School is a place where they can learn essential social emotional skills, as well as find positive role models in their teachers and their peers. Activities that simulate real-life scenarios let youth practice the skills to identify and manage emotions, communicate effectively, and problem solve peacefully so they can ultimately assimilate those skills into their own lives.
Violent acts happen, and we cannot shelter youth from exposure to them. But youth equipped with strong social emotional skills and the ability to navigate relationships in healthy ways are more likely to apply prosocial solutions in the face of potentially violent situations. With education, role modeling, and practice, youth can boldly embark on a path to a more peaceful future.