Although aggression and violence involving youth is hardly a new phenomenon in the United States, both the quantity and quality of aggression have undergone dramatic change in the past decade. Consider the following facts:
- Homicide is the most common cause of death for young African American males and females.
- The intensity of aggression involving children and youth has escalated dramatically.
- Children are becoming involved in aggression at ever-younger ages.
- The United States has the highest homicide rate of any Western industrialized country, with more than 25,000 Americans murdered each year.
- Many youth in urban communities in the United States are exposed to aggression as part of their everyday life experience. In a recent study completed by NYU Child Study Center investigators, 84% of elementary school-age inner-city boys had heard guns being shot, 87% had seen someone arrested, and 25% had seen someone get killed.
Real Life Stories
Jason's kindergarten teachers refer to him as "the terrorist of the playground." He punches children for no apparent reason, grabs their toys and pushes them off the swings. He is not allowed in the science room because he swings the pet rabbit by the tail. Jason's parents report that he has been difficult to manage since he was an infant and that he has to be carefully watched because he has pushed over his baby brother's stroller when his mother refused to buy him a specific toy.
Charles, l6-years-old, was recently found to be cutting classes daily after the third period and hanging out with other teenagers in a pizza place near the school. Several members of the group were taken into custody by the police and accused of selling marijuana. Charles' parents found several joints in his room and were distraught, stating that "we never thought anything in his growing up would lead to this. He was always easy and did whatever we asked him to."
Aggression: A closer look
Aggression is a normal part of growing up and is expected in certain forms at certain stages in a child's life. Preschoolers may communicate frustration and anger with tantrums and possibly hitting; teenagers may engage in antisocial behavior as they try out their new independence and take risks along the way. At any age, however, there may be deviations from what is normal. If aggressive behavior is manifested at an early age, as in Jason's case, it is likely to persist and signals a risk for delinquent behavior that continues through adulthood. If a teenager initiates some antisocial behavior, as Charles did, it usually stops in early adulthood. As a result, delinquency shows a sharp rise in the teenage years, and a gradual but steady decline between the ages of l8 and 25.
Two types of delinquency, depending on the age of onset, have been described by Terrie Moffitt, a research psychologist at the University of Wisconsin: childhood-onset antisocial behavior, which occurs before the age of l0, and late-onset antisocial behavior, which occurs during adolescence. The earlier the age of onset the more serious the prognosis. The childhood-onset form is more likely to include both violent and nonviolent behavior, while the late-onset form is usually confined to property and nuisance offenses, truancy, and substance abuse.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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