Volume 94, Issue 63

Tuesday, January 16, 2001


Youth violence - Only a reflection of modern society

Youth violence - Only a reflection of modern society

By Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

Graphic by Brahm Wiseman

Highschools are increasingly making their way onto the front pages of newspapers. Unfortunately, most, if not all the press surrounding highschools has been bad.

Despite the headlines about kids killing kids at school, weapons in schools, gang beatings and multiple murders at schools across Canada, opinions clash as to whether or not there is actually more violence in today's society, as well as what the sources and solutions are to these violent outbreaks.

"I would argue that violence in schools hasn't accelerated, it is just more publicized," said Terry Hopkins, a teacher at Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School in London.

"All news is negative now. Unfortunately all we see in press and on TV is the little bit of violence, but not the background or surrounding circumstances," he said.

"For every one student that causes a problem, there are a hundred or more that do wonderful things. But that doesn't get the ratings. More good things go on every single day with the young people in this city than there are bad, but you only hear about the bad."

"I would agree that partly it is a matter of the media attending to a phenomena that has indeed always existed," said Barrie Zwicker, media critic for Vision TV in Toronto. "[Bad news] appeals to the public imagination somehow. There is maybe not much more violence than there used to be, but the media is paying more attention to it," he said.

Still, Stuart Auty, president of the Canada Safe School Network, a national advocacy group, said he thinks school violence has been increasing gradually over the past dozen years with the augmented presence of weapons in schools. "Violence in schools is present across the province and across Canada. The kind of incidents we hear about are bringing attention to the security in schools," he said.

Zwicker agreed crediting the availability of lethal weapons to teenagers as a tremendous factor in youth violence. "There's always been bullying and general violence, but there are in fact more weapons in schools – knives, guns, you name it," he said.

Alan Leschied, associate professor of education at Western, said while he agreed kids are taking weapons to school in higher numbers, he also thinks society overestimates youth violence.

"Everyone needs to take responsibility for violence. It is not just a youth problem, it is everywhere," Leschied said.

He added the best predictor of adult violence is youth violence, so to make meaningful inroads in societal violence, the focus should be on educating youth.

"People see a lot of violence on television now, especially on American television and movies. There's a huge amount of weaponry used, which probably leads to greater fascination with guns and weapons," Zwicker speculated.

As American television shows are accessible to virtually all Canadians, the violence seen on TV holds power over Canadian youth violence as well.

"It would be arrogant of Canadians to think we should not have a serious concern for violence. There just are not comparable Canadian statistics. We are not quite at the American rates of school violence, but the trend is there," Leschied said.

"The media needs to take a more active role and greater responsibility for what they are promoting. It is not a good idea to expose this great a number of people at such a young age to those violent images," he concluded.

But how has violent behavior become so extreme? Auty said it is the images kids see around them that influence their actions.

"It is complex, but we do know kids are soaked in violence, unlike they were in the past," Auty said. "Kids replicate the behavior they see. It is exciting; it creates a reaction, and therefore kids see violence as a solution.

"The values kids are learning are now questionable. The video games alone [played by kids] are 90 per cent violent. Kids can log on [to the Internet] and virtually experience anything at all," Auty said.

"There's not the family support there used to be. Kids are marginalized, they are victims of bullying, they are angry because they do not fit in or belong. These kids will gravitate to groups or gangs of like-minded people, and violence naturally occurs," he said.

Zwicker said an absence of domestically bred morals may also be a source of violence. "The home has probably diminished over the years as a model for [good] behaviour. This absence, as well as the receding influence of the church, flows into the vacuum of media and television that influence youth," he explained.

Hopkins further articulated how violence in schools is only a reflection of what is going on in society. "Violence has its roots in social problems, therefore we have to deal with those first," he said.

As for a solution to the problem of violent youth, direct punishment may not be the ideal solution, Leschied said.

"I do not equate punishment with being effective in reducing violence. People think you should send more kids to adult justice systems or boot camps to lock them up, but prisons and boot camps are the most violent places you could send a person to," he explained.

Hopkins said each violent offence should be treated independently of any other. "You have to look at each event as isolated in and of themselves. The problem escalates when publicized, as people then make generalizations," he said.

"I just hope our schools never become like the United States which are essentially virtual prisons," Hopkins added.

The future of youth violence appears undecided. Will it increase, decrease or even disappear?

"I would like to be able to say youth violence will no longer exist in the future. But there will be incidents that happen regardless of the precautions we take to stop it. There are certain extrinsic and intrinsic factors we know lead to violence," Hopkins predicted.

"The best approach is trying to incorporate tolerance, inclusiveness, and a celebration of cultural differences. We need to understand kids will make mistakes, and we must support them during these times rather than persecute them," Hopkins said.

Auty said establishing school safety as a priority will help decrease the problem. "You can help solve the problem through newsletters, through reaffirming codes of conduct, through school assemblies and by implementing this within the curriculum."

"The solution will take a shift of thinking. You have to understand the causes of violence. As long as most of the public believes punishment is the best way to reduce crime, then we are not going to get anywhere," Leschied said.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000