In the book Toting a Gun for Tomorrow by Jonie Michel, a fictional world is created where it is an accepted fact that youth violence occurs, and where teens kill teens in large numbers. The main idea in this book is that changes need to be made in order to deter teen violence, and when these changes do not occur chaos erupts. Michel’s story does not just apply to the fictional world that she created; it also directly correlates with many problems occurring in American society. Youth violence has become an important issue in today’s society, and many people looking for a way to downsize this teen violence surge. However, “as youth violence becomes more and more common many people are accepting the idea that ‘kids will be kids,’ and that they will occasionally blow each others’ brains out,” (Bromdon 2). In order to be assured that our society does not gain a lackadaisical look at teen violence, such as the fictional society in Michel’s book, one must first look at youth violence in America today, secondly explore possible causes for youth violence, and finally find solutions that will help stop youth violence.
First off, in order to curb the rise in youth violence it is necessary to realize how serious this problem truly is. According to the Chicago Tribune, “There are three million crimes committed on school campuses every year. That's sixteen thousand crimes per day - one crime every six seconds.” Even more frightening is the fact that thirty-five percent of high school students in high crime areas report carrying a firearm regularly. Juvenile arrests accounted for thirteen percent of all violent crimes in 1996, and thirty percent of all juvenile homicide arrests occurred in just four cities: New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. “The number of juveniles arrested for non-traffic related offenses, in the past five years, has risen fifty-eight percent,” according to the afore-mentioned Chicago Tribune article. These statistics show a drastic increase in youth violence, and they show, quite clearly, how serious this problem truly is.
Due to this dramatic increase in youth violence many questions have arisen. Namely, who is accountable? And, mostly, no one is really sure. Many different groups have been blamed. Schools, the home, and the media are all accused perpetrators of youth violence. Still, it seems as if a complete picture is found only when examining all three of these pictures and placing blame on them individually. Concern about school violence, crime, and victimization has permeated the education system since the 1950s (Ausmussen 31). The problem of violence at schools persisted and increased to the point that in 1974 Congress mandated a national survey on school violence. This mandate resulted in the Safe Schools Study, which revealed some disturbing trends in the nation's schools. The results of this early survey were somewhat unexpected, and they spurred continued interest in the nature and extent of school crime and violence, as well as their impact on students and school staff and their economic and social costs. One major concern was how students are affected by violence at school. According to the Safe Schools Study, “many students reported high levels of fear and concern about their safety and security,” (Ausmussen 31). These concerns prompted several efforts stop school violence, and convinced the National Crime Victimization Survey to include questions about school violence in its annual survey.A National League of Cities study (1994), found that nearly one out of every twenty high school students (4.4 percent) said they had missed at least one school day because they did not feel safe at or on the way to school. Younger, rather than older, students were more likely to miss a day because of fear for their safety. Nearly twelve percent of students (18 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls) reported carrying a weapon to school at least once during the thirty days preceding the survey, and seven percent said they had been threatened or injured with a weapon at school in the past year. Sixteen percent said they had been in a physical fight in the past year, and nearly one-third said they had property (books, clothing, or a vehicle) deliberately damaged or stolen at school in the past year. An interesting find in this study is that school violence is not an entirely urban problem. Thirty-eight percent of the seven hundred responding cities reported noticeable increases in violence in their schools over the previous five years, and only eleven percent reported that school violence was not a problem in their communities. Nearly two-thirds of the cities that responded had fewer than 50,000 residents and nearly half were suburbs. What these percentages show is that violence is pervasive in the education system and this violence might lead to more violence.
Another area that has received a lot of blame is the media. In the June 10, 1992, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Brandon Centerwall states, “every violent act is the result of an array of forces coming together--poverty, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, stress--of which childhood exposure to television is just one,” (18). Nevertheless, the evidence indicates that if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would be ten thousand fewer homicides each year in the United States, seventy thousand fewer rapes, and seven-hundred thousand fewer injurious assaults. Dr. Centerwall also notes in his article that as many as 1/3 of the young male prisoners convicted of violent crime say they were consciously imitating techniques they learned from television (18). Another statistic that has been linked to the introduction of television is the fact that fifteen years after the introduction of TV, homicides, rapes and assaults doubled in the United States.
In 1982 the National Institute of Medical Health released a study that stated, "Violence on television does lead to aggressive behavior by children and teenagers who watch the programs." The NIMH cited overwhelming evidence that children tend to imitate the behavior they see on television. Dr. Leonard Eron, who chaired the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth for several decades, has spent thirty-six years researching TV violence. His unique studies (beginning in 1960) traced the same group of eight hundred and seventy-five boys and girls from age eight to thirty, examining crime rates and personal characteristics. He found that those who watched more violent TV were convicted of more serious crimes, were more aggressive under the influence of alcohol, and more often used violence to punish their own children. Eron states, "What one learns about life from the television screen seems to be transmitted to the next generation," (276). This direct link from the T.V. screen into a person’s live clearly shows the link between T.V. violence and actual violence. By the time a child leaves elementary school he or she will have seen over 8,000 murders, and more than 100,000 other acts of violence on broadcast TV alone. By age 16, the average American child has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 33,000 murders. As the video Hollywood’s Captive Audience notes, in 1993, the APA released a landmark study outlying four major effects of media violence on real-life violence and aggression. In addition to copycat behavior, the study demonstrated that teens could also be negatively influenced through increased exaggerated fears, the removal of inhibitions, and desensitization.
Not only does T.V. effect the way youth interact with each other, data published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that graphic depictions of suicide on television are often followed by a dramatic rise in teen suicides. Thirty-five boys and young men between the ages of 8 and 31 killed themselves playing Russian roulette while imitating a scene from Director Martin Scorsese's The Deer Hunter, shortly after the movie aired on national TV.
Another issue that has recently been brought up when researching media and teen violence is the idea that video games teach kids how to kill. The FBI says that the average law enforcement person hits 1 in 5 moving targets. An eyewitness to the Paducah shootings said that Michael Carneal never moved his feet, put two hands on his gun, and hit 8 out of 8 kids—most of them moving and diving targets. He fired 8 shots: 5 were headshots and 3 were upper torso. (He had arcade quality games in his house and was an avid player of point and shoot video games.) He had never shot a gun before that week. Police officers and officials say that type of accuracy is unprecedented. A May 1, 1999, CNN/Time Poll found that 81% of teens play video games. 40% have played ultra-violent games like Doom and Duke Nukem. 33% of these kids believe their parents know only "a little" about their games. 57% said their parents have not imposed any rules concerning their games. These video games not only encourage violence, some of them also teach a kid how to aim and pull the trigger. Therefore, it can be seen by looking at many different aspects of media, that media does influence youth violence
The final aspect that must be researched is the families’ influence on youth violence. Data has shown that children growing up in violent families are more likely to engage in youth violence. Child abuse and domestic violence often occur in the same family and are linked in a number of important. “Research shows that the impact on children of witnessing parental domestic violence is strikingly similar to the consequences of being directly abused by a parent, and both experiences are significant contributors to youth violence,” according to Shiela Smeltzer (1). A study conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that seventy percent of adolescents who lived in families with parental conflict self-reported violent delinquency, compared to forty-nine percent of adolescents from households without this conflict. This study also revealed that exposure to multiple forms of violence, including domestic violence, child abuse, and general family climate of hostility, doubles the risk of self-reported youth violence. Researchers have also found that men who as children witnessed their parents' domestic violence were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents. A significant proportion of abusive husbands grew up in families where they witnessed their mothers being beaten. Clearly, domestic violence and child abuse are spawning grounds for the next generation of abusers, as well as for violent juveniles. Also, a significant portion of violent juvenile offenders grew up being abused themselves and/or witnessing their parents' domestic violence. However, exposure to child abuse or domestic violence as a child is not the only risk factor for juvenile violence. Living in an impoverished community that is rife with drugs, guns, and crime, having parents that use harsh or erratic discipline, and being isolated from the community, family, or school - all of these also put children at higher risk. Therefore it is obvious that a child’s environment severely influences whether or not they will be violent.
Now that the influences of youth violence have all been explained it is necessary to look at how one can stop youth violence. Since some of the problems can be attributed to the home, school, and media we must also look there for solutions.
The biggest thing that parents need to do is support their children. “They need to be aware of what their kids are doing, who their friends are, and if their kid is making bombs,” (28) according to a Newsweek article. Moreover, parents need to teach their children morals that will, in turn, influence a child’s decision between right and wrong. “Parents are the major factor considered when looking at a child’s morals,” Newsweek stated. “Children learn what is right and wrong from their parents at a very young age,” the article concluded.
Media also must take responsibility for its’ actions. The first step in doing this is that media must admit that their programming influences youth. “The tobacco has denied that tobacco is addicting for years, just as the media industry has denied the harmful effects of violent TV,” (Garner 196). After making this admission, the media industry needs to avoid broadcasting violent television during times when the parents might not be home to turn the TV off. While this does not seem like a viable solution, another thing that media should consider is promoting a widespread v-chip campaign. Not only would this help the media’s image concerning television’s influence on violence, it would also make it unnecessary for them to change daily programming. This campaign would promote using the v-chip, and it would put the responsibility of the harmful effects of violent television into the parent’s hands, not the media executive. While this campaign would result in a decrease in profits for some parts of the media industry, it will also help the media image overall.
Finally, the school system also must try to make schools safe for children. If this means placing metal detectors and guards at school doors, so be it . . . but the answer to this problem is probably a lot simpler. Students need to know that they can go to their teachers if they do not feel safe, or if they have been threatened. Students also need to know that their teachers will do something about the way they feel. Teachers have the responsibility of informing students that teachers care about them and want to positively influence their lives. By promoting a caring environment, kids will feel as if they have support, and someone to talk to about their concerns at school. School administrators also have the responsibility to make schools safe. Individual school dynamics are all different, and therefore different actions will have to be taken, but the results should be the some widespread. Students need to know that they can attend school without being hurt or killed, and with out having to witness pain and murder.
In conclusion, youth violence is a problem in today’s society, and it must not be allowed to continue. We have looked at youth violence in society today, and the statistics are astonishing. It is clear that school, media, and home environment influences youth violence. All three aspects influence a child’s growth and development, and play an important role in a child’s life. Therefore, schools, media, and parents all need to take action in order to fight youth violence. A school can do this by making it’s environment safe and supportive. Parents can stop youth violence by listening to their children, and by taking an active role in their children’s life. The media must admit that it does influence children, and it must take action against this influence. It is necessary for all citizens in the United States to take action in hopes of curbing youth violence. Youth violence must be stopped, and it can if schools, media, and parents would simply start caring.