Violent Media and the Violent Child

Most parents think that violence in the media is fairly harmless. 


Recent research has shown that:

1. There is a 12% increase in aggressive behavior after watching violent television.

2. Heavy television viewers (4 or more hours a day) put in less effort at school, have poorer reading skills, play less friendly with friends, have fewer hobbies and activities, and are more likely to be overweight.

3. There is a connection between playing violent video games and aggressive behavior.

The American Psychological Association states there are 3 major effects of watching violence in the media (i.e., video games, movies, television):
  • kids tend to be more fearful of the world around them
  • kids tend to be more likely to behave in aggressive or hurtful ways toward others
  • kids tend to become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others

Everything that kids see or hear in the media early on in their lives affects them in some way. Parents are told that -- in the best interest of their kids -- they should limit their exposure to violent acts. Unfortunately, violence is one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Over 60% of television shows being shown in prime time contain some form of violence.

Current research tends to argue that violent media is associated with aggressive behavior, for example:
  • decreased emotional response to the portrayal of violence and injury that lead to violent behavior through imitation
  • increased feelings of hostility
  • lack of remorse for consequences
  • violence against others

The Academy of Pediatrics states that more than 1,000 scientific studies and reviews conclude that significant exposure to media violence:
  • desensitizes kids to violence
  • increases the risk of aggressive behavior in certain kids
  • makes kids believe that the world is a “meaner and scarier” place than it is

If kids begin to think that this type of violence is normal behavior these thoughts are often said to be difficult to change later on in life. This is similar to the studies of domestic violence where kids who are exposed to violence either become offenders or victims because they believe that what they are exposed to is the norm.

Another view from researchers suggests that performing violent acts in video games may be more influential to kid's aggression than passively watching violent acts on television. According to this view, the more kids “practice” violent acts, the more likely they are to perform violent acts.

The National Coalition on Television Violence reported there has been a consistent increase in the number of violent themed video games. The agreement among researchers on television violence is that there is a significant increase (from 3% to 15%) in kids' aggressive behavior after watching violent television.

It should be noted that violent media are not the only cause of kids committing violent acts. The involvement of moms and dads in what their kids watch, how the family interacts with each other, and what the kids are exposed to in their environment are additional indicators of how they will behave and what value system they will follow.

Violent behavior in kids and teens can include a wide range of behaviors:
  • cruelty toward animals
  • explosive temper tantrums
  • fighting
  • fire setting
  • homicidal thoughts
  • intentional destruction of property
  • physical aggression
  • threats or attempts to hurt others
  • use of weapons
  • vandalism

Parents and teachers should be careful not to minimize these behaviors in kids. Whenever a parent or other adult is concerned, they should immediately arrange for a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. Early treatment by a professional can often help.

The goals of treatment typically focus on helping the youngster to:
  • accept consequences
  • address family conflicts and school problems
  • be responsible for his/her actions
  • express anger and frustrations in appropriate ways
  • learn how to control his/her anger

In addition, the following strategies can lessen or prevent violent behavior:
  • Early intervention programs for violent youngsters
  • Family support programs
  • Monitoring youngster's viewing of violence on TV/videos/movies
  • Parent training
  • Prevention of youngster abuse
  • Sex education and parenting programs for adolescents

==> Help for Parents with Violent Children and Teens

How to Prevent Behavior Problems at School

While kids can display a wide range of behavior problems in school (e.g., disruptive talking in the classroom, fighting, name-calling on the playground, etc.), the reasons for these problems are usually quite simple. If a youngster is acting-out a lot in school, two things are usually going on: (1) he's having strong feelings and needs a hand with getting those feelings out, or (2) something in school is really not working for him. As a mother/father, you can do a number of things at home to help your youngster deal with his feelings. You can also change the situation in school so your youngster has a better time there.

Here are some ways to help your youngster if he or she is having behavioral problems at school:

1. Spend time in your youngster's classroom to see what's going on. You could even ask a friend or relative to go to his school for a day. Look at the educator's teaching style and your youngster's learning style. Is a mismatch in the educator-child relationship causing your youngster to feel misunderstood or angry? Go out to the playground at recess. Is your youngster being teased or frightened and then acting out in an attempt to get someone to notice he's in trouble? You may learn a lot by spending a day in your youngster's environment and paying attention to his interactions with the people around her.

2. Pushing and motivating and holding high expectations can drive some kids to be all they can be, but it can drive others straight into anxiety and depression. Would you want to work at a job, day in and day out, where you always had to be at the top of your abilities, handling things you weren't quite on top of and hoping things turn out alright? Children can't quit school, and they have very little recourse in terms of demanding better working conditions, but they can find all sorts of ways to act out their anger and despair. Be honest and compassionate when considering what sort of classroom your youngster will learn best in and what sorts of supports he will require.

3. We all know how important it is to fight for our kids and be strong, effective advocates. That struggle may lead us to conclude that some educators are not worthy of our respect, and their judgment is subject to doubt. But be very careful how you communicate that to your youngster. You may think the message you're sending is “even educators are human and make mistakes”. The message your youngster receives, though, may be “it's okay to be disrespectful to educators …the rules don't apply to me”. If you teach a kid to question authority, sooner or later he's going to question yours.

4. Check out your youngster's relationship with his educator. This basic dynamic can make or break a youngster's experience in the classroom. Often when a youngster is having behavior problems in school, it comes down to a feeling that the educator doesn't like him. To be able to learn and to act well, it's really important to kids to feel liked. Often it's enough just to bring the problem to the educator's attention, but if your youngster somehow pushes the educator's buttons in a way that makes it difficult for the educator to like him, as a last resort you can look into moving your youngster to a different classroom.

5. If you think it's necessary, get recommendations for a good therapist for your youngster. Interview possible candidates on the phone, and tell them you're looking for someone who can help your youngster work through the emotional issues that are making him act-out at school. Tell them you're not interested in a medication approach, but are looking for someone who can work with your youngster's educator and the school system and give the educator ideas on how to handle your child’s behavior.

6. Sometimes the daily grind of going to a place where he is not succeeding can push a youngster into behavior problems. If you can, try taking a day off from school and work every once in a while to do something with your youngster that he really enjoys (e.g., going fishing). Take advantage of the times when he is home sick to get close and pay special attention to him.

7. Knowing that he is loved can pull a youngster out of a downward spiral. It can sometimes work to give your youngster a special reminder of you, something he can put in his pocket, like a little note that says 'I love you and you're great’. Or put a picture in his lunchbox of the two of you hugging.

8. Children don't answer the question "How was school?" because they know moms and dads only want to hear good news. Moms and dads should reconnect with what it really feels like to be in school (e.g., uncomfortable desks, stuffy classrooms, disengaged educators, work that is either too easy or too hard). Think about what it really feels like to be your youngster at school. Ask questions about feelings, and really listen to what he says. Don't be quick with a pep talk and a pat on the back. Having someone to listen, without judging, can help defuse some of the frustration that might later erupt in dangerous behavior.

9. Set up conferences that include you, your youngster, and his educator. Brainstorm together about how to make school go better for your youngster. You may want to devise a signal your youngster can give his educator (e.g., raising two fingers) when he's feeling frustrated and restless and is about to start acting out. At these times, the educator could give him something special to do (e.g., taking papers to the dean's office). Also, the educator could think of a signal (e.g., a tap on your youngster's shoulder) to remind him to behave without embarrassing him in front of the class.

10. Volunteer at your youngster's school. Being a presence at your youngster's school pays numerous dividends. You could volunteer at the library, help in the lunchroom, serve as class mother/father, or staff special events. It gets you known by the administration in a non-adversarial context. It lets your youngster know that school is important to you and a place you want to be. It gives you an opportunity to observe what goes on in that building, from the conduct of the students to the morale of the educators.

11. Work with your child’s educators. Just having to sit still during class is a big challenge for some kids. The educator may be open to letting your youngster move around or do other activities if you talk to him about it.

12. If the school is sending home complaints about your youngster's behavior -- and expecting you to do something about it -- put the ball back in their court by requesting a Functional Behavior Assessment. This will force the school to really think about your youngster's behavior, not just react to it. A Functional Behavior Assessment examines:
  • what comes before bad behavior
  • what the consequences are for it
  • what possible function the behavior could serve for the youngster
  • what sorts of things could be setting him off

For example, a child may act up frequently and be sent to stand in the hallway. However, a Functional Behavior Assessment may find that the child acts up only during times when a lot of writing is required in class, and that he has documented difficulty with fine motor skills. The misbehavior serves the function of getting him out of written work. Supports to reduce the amount of writing needed and tools to make writing easier may eliminate the behavior in a way that discipline never will.

If a youngster finds class work too hard or a classroom too oppressive, getting sent to the hallway or the principal or home could become a reward, not a punishment. Conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment - and writing a behavior plan based on it -- is probably the best way to head off discipline problems.

=> Parenting Strategies for Out-of-Control Children and Teens

Aggressive Behavior in Children

"My 8-year-old son is very aggressive sometimes - both verbally and physically. This aggression is most often directed toward his older sister, but I have been on the receiving end of it as well. What is the best method to prevent this behavior from happening?"

The best way to prevent aggressive behavior is to give your son a stable, secure home life with firm, loving discipline and full-time supervision. Everyone who cares for your youngster should be a good role model and agree on the rules he’s expected to observe as well as the response to use if he disobeys. Whenever your son breaks an important rule, he should be reprimanded immediately with a consequence that "ties-in" to the infraction so that he understands exactly what he’s done wrong. Kids don’t know the rules of the house until they’re taught them, so that is one of your important parenting responsibilities.

For discipline to be most effective, it should take place on an ongoing basis, not just when your son misbehaves. In fact, it begins with moms and dads smiling at their children, and it continues with praise and genuine affection for all positive and appropriate behaviors. If your son feels encouraged and respected, rather than demeaned and embarrassed, he is more likely to listen, learn, and change when necessary. It is always more effective to positively reinforce desired behaviors and to teach kids alternative behaviors rather than just say, “Stop it or else!”

While teaching him other ways to respond, there’s also nothing wrong with distracting him at times, or trying another approach. As long as you’re not “bribing” him to behave differently by offering him sweet snacks, for example, there’s nothing wrong with intentionally changing his focus.

Remember, your son has little natural self-control. He needs you to teach him not to yell, kick, or hit when he is angry, but instead to express his feelings through words. It’s important for him to learn the difference between real and imagined insults and between appropriately standing up for his rights and attacking out of anger. The best way to teach these lessons is to supervise him carefully when he’s involved in disputes with his siblings or playmates. As long as a disagreement is minor, you can keep your distance and let the kids solve it on their own.

However, you must intervene when kids get into a physical fight that continues even after they’re told to stop, or when one youngster seems to be in an uncontrollable rage and is assaulting or biting the other. Pull the kids apart and keep them separate until they have calmed down. If the fight is extremely violent, you may have to end the play session. Make it clear that it doesn’t matter who “started it.” There is no excuse for trying to hurt each other.

To avoid or minimize “high-risk” situations, teach your son ways to deal with his anger without resorting to aggressive behavior. Teach him to say “no” in a firm tone of voice, to turn his back, or to find compromises instead of fighting with his body. Through example, teach him that settling differences with words is more effective—and more civilized—than with physical violence. Praise him on his appropriate behavior and help explain to him how “grown-up” he is acting whenever he uses these tactics instead of screaming, hitting, or kicking. And always reinforce and praise his behavior when he is demonstrating kindness and gentleness.

There’s also nothing wrong with using a time-out when his behavior is inappropriate. These time-outs should be a last resort, however. Have him sit in a chair or go to a “boring” place where there are no distractions; in essence, you’re separating him from his misbehavior, and giving him time to cool off. Briefly explain to your son what you’re doing and why—but no long lectures. Initially, when kids are young, time-out is over as soon as they have calmed down and are “quiet and still.” Ending time-out once they are quiet reinforces this behavior, so your son learns that time out means "quiet and still."  A good rule of thumb is one minute of a timeout for each year in your youngster’s age. Thus, an 8-year-old should have an 8-minute time-out. When the time-out is over, there needs to be a "time-in" while giving him plenty of positive attention when doing the right thing.

Always watch your own behavior around your son. One of the best ways to teach him appropriate behavior is to control your own temper. If you express your anger in quiet, peaceful ways, your son probably will follow your example. If you must discipline him, do not feel guilty about it and certainly don’t apologize. If your son senses your mixed feelings, he may convince himself that he was in the right all along and you are the “bad” one. Although disciplining your youngster is never pleasant, it is a necessary part of parenthood, and there is no reason to feel guilty about it. Your youngster needs to understand when he is in the wrong so that he will take responsibility for his actions and be willing to accept the consequences.

Here are some additional points to keep in mind when dealing with aggression in children:

1. Aggression in a young child is usually a temporary behavior that can easily be corrected. Aggressive behavior in kids between the ages of five and eight is usually more stable and leads to lower prosocial behaviors in early adolescence. Aggressive behavior up to age 8 correlates with alienation from peers and conflict with teachers in adolescence.

2. Aggression in kids negatively correlates with prosocial behavior. Kids who have more social skills and are able to successfully relate in social situations are less likely to be aggressive.

3. Aggressive behavior in kids falls into two categories. Proactive aggression is when a youngster deliberately acts aggressively in order to obtain a goal, such as a youngster who hurts other kids in his efforts to win a game. Reactive aggression is when a youngster acts aggressively without planning, in reaction to a situation, such as a youngster who hits another youngster because she took his toy.

4. Involve law enforcement if needed. Unchecked aggression puts the violent youngster, the family, peers and the community at risk. Some communities have programs to assist youths at risk of aggressive and violent behavior. If a parent or other member of the family is under duress from an aggressive youngster, call 911 for immediate help.

5. Involve professionals if needed. If a youngster has had more than one or two incidents of aggression, or the aggression is not age-appropriate, parents should seek the advice of their pediatrician or a mental health provider. Causes of aggression are numerous and may involve biological, emotional or mental health issues. A professional will determine the cause or causes and create a treatment plan.

6. Moms and dads faced with aggressive kids sometimes find themselves responding in a similar way, perhaps believing that if the youngster experiences how it feels to have aggression directed against him, he will be more likely to stop the behavior. But modeling aggression doesn't stop it; it encourages it. Modeling prosocial, positive behaviors will teach a youngster to stop his aggressive behavior.

7. Prosocial behaviors may cause decreased aggression in kids. Teaching and modeling positive prosocial behaviors and ways of interacting with peers is one way to decrease aggressive behavior. Moms and dads can stop aggressive behavior by paying attention to triggers, such as tiredness, hunger or reaction to specific behaviors by other kids, and try to avoid situations with those triggers. Parents can also respond by teaching kids skills for handling frustration and anger such as walking away and using deep breathing. Mother/fathers can encourage empathy by talking about how a youngster's behaviors make other kids feel. They can encourage sharing and taking turns by mediating these actions and making sure that each youngster gets a fair turn.

8. Provide a consequence after the aggressive incident. In the midst of a meltdown, a youngster is unable or unwilling to follow directions. After he is calm, later in the day, or even the next day, remind him that his behavior was unacceptable and that he has earned himself a consequence. Provide a consequence that rebuilds trust with the family or that reinforces the negative nature of his behavior. Trust-building consequences might be preparing dinner for the family or doing chores for family members. Negative reinforcement consequences could include a writing assignment about appropriate ways to show anger and frustration or doing extra chores around the house.

9. Remove the youngster to a separate area. If a verbal prompt does not work, put him in his bedroom, the den, the basement, the garage or in the yard. Let him vent his anger in a space away from the rest of the family. This protects the rest of the family from being hurt or attacked. Tell him he is welcome to join the family when he is calm and after he has cleaned up anything he may have thrown or broken.

10. Take of yourself. Stressed-out, burned-out parents are not usually very patient or understanding.

11. Use verbal prompts. With some kids, potential aggression comes with noticeable signs: agitation, clenching of hands, tears, yelling or pushing into another individual's personal space. A verbal prompt, provided early enough in an aggression cycle, might thwart the aggression. Use a statement acknowledging increased anger or frustration, followed with a suggestion to take deep breaths or sit quietly and count. Ask a question as to which of two solutions might help the youngster calm down.

12. Walk away. If an aggressive youngster continues to escalate, in spite of verbal prompts or removal to another room, disengage and walk outside or to another room in the house. Aggression is fueled by the interaction of argument, continued engagement and an audience. Remove yourself from the scene of the aggression and the aggressive activity often stops. Stay away long enough for the youngster to calm herself.

If your son seems to be unusually aggressive for longer than a few weeks, and you cannot cope with his behavior on your own, consult your doctor. Other warning signs include:
  • Attacks on you or other adults
  • Being sent home or barred from play by neighbors or school
  • Physical injury to himself or others (teeth marks, bruises, head injuries)
  • Your own fear for the safety of those around him

The most important warning sign is the frequency of outbursts. Sometimes kids with conduct disorders will go for several days or a week or two without incident, and may even act quite charming during this time, but few can go an entire month without getting into trouble at least once.

Your doctor can suggest ways to discipline your youngster and will help you determine if he has a true conduct disorder. If this is the problem, you probably will not be able to resolve it on your own, and your doctor will advise appropriate mental health intervention.

The doctor or other mental health specialist will interview both you and your son and may observe your youngster in different situations (home, preschool, with adults and other kids). A behavior-management program will be outlined. Not all methods work on all kids, so there will be a certain amount of trial and reassessment.

Once several effective ways are found to reward good behavior and discourage bad, they can be used in establishing an approach that works both at home and away. The progress may be slow, but such programs usually are successful if started when the disorder is just beginning to develop.

==> Parenting Strategies for Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

The Chronically Disobedient Child

At one time or another, most kids defy the wishes of their moms and dads. This is a part of growing up and testing adult guidelines and expectations. It is one way for kids to learn about and discover their own selves, express their individuality, and achieve a sense of autonomy.

As they stretch their independent wings and engage in minor conflicts with their moms and dads, they discover the boundaries of their parents’ rules and of their own self-control. Sometimes, however, these conflicts are more than occasional disturbances and become a pattern for how moms and dads and kids interact.

Disobedience can have a variety of causes. At times, it is due to unreasonable parental expectations, or it might be related to the youngster's temperament, school problems, family stress, or conflicts between the child’s mother and father.

What can parents do?

When you have a chronically disobedient youngster, examine the possible sources of his/her inner turmoil and rebelliousness. If this has been a persistent pattern that has continued into middle childhood, closely evaluate your own family situation:
  • Are disagreements resolved through rational discussion, or do family members regularly argue or resort to violence?
  • Do they respect one another's privacy, ideas, and personal values?
  • Do you and your youngster have very different personalities and ways of getting along in the world that cause friction between you?
  • How does the family work out its conflicts?
  • How much respect do your family members show for one another?
  • How much spanking and yelling is there?
  • Is the family undergoing some especially stressful times?
  • Is your youngster having trouble succeeding at school or developing friendships?
  • What is your usual style of relating to your youngster, and what forms does discipline usually take?

If your youngster has only recently started to demonstrate disrespect and disobedience, tell her that you have noticed a difference in her behavior and that you sense she is unhappy or struggling. With her help, try to determine the specific cause of her frustration or upset. This is the first step toward helping her change unwanted behavior.

Reactions Matter—

If you react to your youngster's “back-talk” by exploding or losing your temper, she will respond with disobedience and disrespect. By contrast, she will become more obedient when you remain calm, cooperative, and consistent. She will learn to be respectful if you are respectful toward her and others in the family. If she becomes disobedient and out of control, impose a timeout until she calms down and regains self-control.

When your youngster is obedient and respectful, compliment her for that behavior. Reward the behavior you are seeking, including cooperation and resolution of disagreements. These positive efforts will always be much more successful than punishment.

When should I seek additional help?

For some disobedient kids, you may need to obtain professional mental health treatment. Here are some situations where outside counseling may be necessary:
  • If a youngster shows signs of generalized unhappiness -- perhaps talking of feeling blue, unliked, friendless, or even suicidal
  • If a youngster's disobedience and/or disrespect is accompanied by aggressiveness and destructiveness
  • If the patterns of disobedience continue in spite of your best efforts to encourage your youngster to communicate his negative feelings
  • If there is a persistent, long-standing pattern of disrespect of authority both at school and at home
  • If you or your spouse or youngster use alcohol or other drugs to feel better or cope with stress
  • If your family has developed a pattern of responding to disagreements with physical or emotional abuse

If relationships within your family show signs of difficulty and lack of cooperation, then family therapy may be indicated. By dealing with and resolving these problems at a young age, you can minimize and even prevent more serious struggles that may emerge as your kids reach adolescence. The key is early identification and treatment.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Parenting Children and Teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

List of Online and Virtual Schools K - 12 (and beyond)

My child was diagnosed with ODD three years ago; it is getting worse. She is now facing expulsion from school as she cannot control her behavior. We are looking at online high schools. Do you have any suggestions?

Following is a comprehensive list of virtual schools — coursework from an accredited private school or accredited not-for-profit or publicly-funded institution, taught primarily through online methods:

·         ^ 21st Century Cyber CS Web site
·         ^ ACHIEVEk12 Web site
·         ^ Achievement House CS Web site
·         ^ Akron Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ Alaska Virtual School website
·         ^ Appleton eSchool Web site
·         ^ Beacon Academy Nevada website
·         ^ CIS eLearning Consortium
·         ^ CVCS website
·         ^ Delta Cyber School
·         ^ Denali Career School
·         ^ Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ ECOT website
·         ^ eDCSD Web site
·         ^ Edison Academy Web site
·         ^ Franklin University Web site
·         ^ Georgia Cyber Academy website
·         ^ Goal Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ Hawaii Virtual School website
·         ^ IDEAL-NM website
·         ^ Insight School website
·         ^ Internet Academy website
·         ^ iQ Academy Arizona website
·         ^ iQ Academy Kansas website
·         ^ iQ Academy Nevada website
·         ^ iQ Academy Texas website
·         ^ iQ Academy Washington website
·         ^ iQ Academy Wisconsin website
·         ^ Kenosha eSchool Web site
·         ^ Kiel eSchool Web site
·         ^ LearnNowBC website
·         ^ MoVIP website
·         ^ MP3 website
·         ^ MU High School website
·         ^ NCSSM DLT Website
·         ^ NJVS website
·         ^ NVVA website
·         ^ OHDELA Web site
·         ^ Olympus High School Web site
·         ^ Open High School of Utah
·         ^ OVHS website
·         ^ OVS website
·         ^ PA Distance Learning Web site
·         ^ Rural Virtual Academy Web site
·         ^ School Texas Virtual website
·         ^ SVS website
·         ^ TCDSB eClass Online Learning
·         ^ TDSB Virtual School Home Page
·         ^ The Delta Academy Web site
·         ^ TRECA Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ TRECA Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ TRECA Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ TRECA Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ TRECA Digital Academy Web site
·         ^ United Virtual Schools website
·         ^ Unlimited Classroom Web site
·         ^ Utah Electronic school website
·         ^ UVA website
·         ^ Vilas Online Web site
·         ^ Virtual Academy Web site
·         ^ Virtual Middle School Web site
·         ^ VLA website
·         ^ WAAT's Achieve Online site
·         ^ WIVA website
·         ^ WOLF website
·         ^ YRDSB Virtual Schooling

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