The Emerging Trend in Youth Violence
We need only look at recent school shootings and the increase of youth homicides to see the emerging trend of youth violence. These incidents raise the question as to how violence in the media plays a part in this trend. With advances in technology, youth today are exposed to ever increasing sources of media violence. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), studies have shown that children spend more hours a week watching television than they spend in school. By the age of eighteen the average American child will see in excess of 200,000 acts of violence in the media (AACAP). And The New York Times reports a study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence that shows youth who play violent video games and watch violent television shows are more likely to show signs of aggression and to argue with their peers and teachers.
Media Violence and Youth
There are a number of factors contributing to this correlation between violence in the media and youth violence. The AACAP points out young children especially may not be able to differentiate between fiction and reality, so they may view violence in the media as a norm. Television and movies may even depict heroes that employ violent techniques to conquer their enemies, perpetuating the idea that violence is an acceptable means to resolving conflict. Interactive media, such as the Internet and video games, further give youth the opportunity to engage in violent scenarios, albeit virtually. Youth who are exposed to negative norms, and who may not receive the positive guidance from their caregivers at home, would greatly benefit from exposure to positive role-modeling and instruction. Fortunately, school gives us the opportunity to offer such a solution. School is the ideal environment to implement an evidence-based program that will help youth learn and practice social emotional skills.
How Can Social Emotional Skills Prevent Youth Violence?
We must first aid children with the ability to differentiate between fiction and reality, so they can decide for themselves what truly represents a healthy norm. Furthermore, youth who develop self awareness and social awareness are more likely to take a responsible approach to resolving conflict. Effective communication skills allow youth to understand and to be understood by others, and emotion management skills help youth calm themselves down before they act on anger or sadness. Youth who practice empathy and a respect for self and others, as well as learn positive ways to bond with peers and adults, will resolve conflict peacefully. They will be equipped with the skills they need to successfully meet life’s challenges and model their own positive norms.