Violence is on the rise among the teenagers in the USA. Teenage violence is the highest crime rate action in the communities and on the streets. Considering the threatening rates of violent crimes against youngsters it is crucial to analyze the causes of this phenomenon in order to have data for developing an effective problem-solving strategy. Substance abuse, dysfunctional families and poor financial conditions are the most influential factors that provoke youngsters to join gangs, rob, rape and murder.
Most youngsters are always ready to try something new. They enjoy new music, clothes, books and friends, and, of course, novel sensations. That is why lots of teenagers try alcohol and drugs for the first time. New, unexplored feelings and emotions attract them, and they agree to give a try. And, even if their curiosity is overcome by rational sense, the pressure of friends, who offer a glass, a stamp, or a pill often overcomes all the parental and school influence.
This is especially true for teenagers who are involved in gangs. Gangs usually have their strict rules, and sets of member criteria, and not giving a try to something other members of the gang consume may become a reason for serious conflict. Moreover it is often that substance abuse helps newcomers to get used to gang lifestyle, as it is much easier to break the law without being in clear mind. Alcohol and drugs often give an illusion of being powerful and courageous, diminish social barriers, and make one believe that his/her actions will go unpunished. Between 1980 and 1997 substance abuse rates have risen dramatically, the same as overall crime rates did.
Researchers claim there are other factors except for drug and alcohol abuse that cause such a growth of violence among contemporary youngsters. Psychologists and sociologists say, that young people tend to act as their idols do, so that when they see popular artists, actors and singers consuming alcohol, smoking, using illicit drugs, shooting and committing other violent acts on TV screen, teenagers little by little get used to the thought that those actions are normal, and moreover, needed to look “cool”. Grossman and DeGaetano in their book “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV Movie and Video Game Violence” (1999) pursue this idea even further, as they prove that media not only conditions children and young adults to violent behavior, but also teaches them the “mechanics of killing”.
Contemporary movies and videogames teach kids that killing enemies is a normal way out of the problematic situations, and it is often that kids can not tell difference between the world of films and games, and reality. Ballard (1999) claims in his study that there are many videogames that provoke hostility and aggressive behaviour in children and teenagers because of their “blood-gushing, bone-crunching special effects”.
Another phenomenon which is also being considered as one of the causes of violence rate rise among youngsters is rap and hip-hop music. Some scientists consider it to be one of the greatest threats for the souls and minds of young Americans. Thomas (2001) proves that rock and rap music, especially popular among contemporary youngsters can promote negative or destructive messages on the minds of teenagers, which are more vulnerable to them than the adults. He, along with the other social activists, tries to persuade the society that gun violence promulgated in the lyrics and videos of some rap singers is one of the main reasons for children to bring guns to school and shoot their teachers and classmates.
In the same time another hypothesis exists about the origins of contemporary youth crime growth rate. All the people dwelling on our planet want to be loved and respected. This desire is especially vivid in the kids and teenagers. There is often not enough love for them in their surroundings, as today the social expectations are very high. Their parents require decent marks and behavior in return for affection, while friends want them to be “cool”. As those demands often contradict each other, the conflict appears. The young person either has to choose between the parental love and friends’ affection, or he or she is constrained to lead double life, being “good” both for the parents and buddies. But, unfortunately, not all parents are able of providing their offspring with all the props needed to look “cool”.
Such attitude often leads to the child thinking parents don’t love them, as they don’t want to buy them the desired thing. As for the teenagers and young adults it’s very important to be popular among their friends, and their parents’ refusal to purchase the desired item almost always leads to the young person being sure father or mother deny that need, it often becomes the basis for the severe family conflicts resulting in psychological problems for both the child and his or her parents.
The poor often cannot afford to buy a proper food and clothing for themselves and their children, or they have to choose between having a supper and paying the water and electricity bills. Most of them don’t have any medical insurance, and those who have it wish they didn’t, because it takes the considerable share of their earnings. Low-wage workers often experience problems finding the accommodation and paying for it, as the rent is too high for them. They are often constrained to live in tiny flats, attics and shacks. Of course this state of things influences the kids’ physical and psychological condition badly. Living in a small flat, often even without the proper living conditions, when food and paying the bills is the main concern for the family differs a lot from the life of the stars, depicted in movies, news reports and music videos.
Most parents, even those, whose economical situation is better than the one depicted earlier, cannot provide their child with designer clothes, accessories and expensive jewelry pop, rock and rap artists often wear. Moreover, the adults often don’t see the reason in spending huge amounts of money to allow their child to look exactly like some weird boy or girl shown on the MTV.
Nowadays the huge marketing corporations to advertise and sell their products often use movies and videos. The movie stars or singers wear branded clothes, use specific mobile phones, computers, fridge and even toothpaste. The effect is that the product soon becomes associated with the specific person, and people, especially young ones, subconsciously hope that using it will make them equally popular and successful. Advertising companies provide considerable compensation to the popular people who agree to promote their product. Big sums of money are also given to the media that spread the advertising information. So, as you see, it’s all about money. Only the small part of parents is able and willing to provide their children the accessories advertised by the popular actors and singers in the movies and music videos. Of course, some kids will agree with their parents’ decision, but most youngsters will try to find the way to get the cherished toys. To achieve their goal they need to find money. This resource can be got by two ways, one of which is to earn them, and another is to steal.
Unfortunately, lots of kids choose to follow the second path. There are multiple reasons for that, and personal moral norms and values are only the small part of the motivation sphere. It’s obvious that today our country is able to offer only unqualified and extremely low-waged labor to the teenagers who desire to perform some part time job. The reason for that is that most highly paid jobs require deep specialization for performing them. What is also important is that the employers often refuse to provide job for the youngsters, as they are considered to be unreliable and light-minded. In addition employing a teenager requires the fulfillment of numerous norms provided by the American labor law. Thus the employers prefer to save the position for someone older. Even in case the teenager gets some job, his wages will be much lower than those got by the older people holding the same position. As the employers know about the complicated situation on the teenage labor market, they often tend to us the youngsters as a cheap and undemanding workforce..
Desperately longing for love, respect and affection some of the teenagers begin to steal to achieve the level of life depicted in their favorite movies and music videos. They steal either the money needed to purchase the desired items, or shoplift for them. The result of those actions is predictable – if they take their parents’ funds they are severely punished by the family members, and in case their target is not the family member, almost all of them soon encounter with the local police representatives. Moreover, the desire to look like the idol can lead even to the more serious crimes than theft. To get money for their needs those youngsters may rob and kill other people, as they have the vivid example of those behaviors depicted in rock and especially rap lyrics.
Of course, it’s easy to put all the responsibility for the youth violence on the media and music. But before agreeing with this viewpoint, put yourself a couple of questions: “Will the happy, self-confident and loved teenager use drugs, rape or shoot anybody?” The answer is no. Or: “Whether the rap songs, or movies where violence is shown, make their viewers feel themselves unhappy?” The answer is no altogether, as nobody would watch or buy them if they did.
So, maybe gun violence in the rap music videos is not the main reason for the high delinquency rates among American youth? Contemporary Americans live in a violent world, and violence is around them, and media is always there to confirm this statement in case they forget about it. Apart from the violence portrayed in the rap videos some teens and tweens face it every day, whether from their parents or neighborhood kids. The other reasons for provoking violence and hostility in young Americans are various adverse social conditions that make young people feel themselves neglected and not capable of changing anything in their life.
Numerous scientists, psychologists and sociologists nowadays prove that violent music makes violent kids. Unfortunately, he forgets about the other factors that influence the behavior of young people. For example, it’s a statistically proven fact that most of the young criminals are either from the families that live on the unemployment benefits or from the families of the working poor.
Before blaming rap music and videos for encouraging children and teenagers to commit violent acts, we should try to find out why is this music so popular among them. Why American teens and young adults, at list part of them, want to listen and watch songs, clips, and movies where people abuse, rape and kill each other? Maybe something is wrong with our educational system, as it’s unable to persuade the youth in the futility and danger of violence, to teach them that their goals can be achieved using other methods? Or the problem lies within the society that cannot offer some of its young inexperienced members other sphere for actualizing their potential than that of crime and violence?
Nowadays a class of poor people exists in the USA, those who can not provide themselves with the things needed for the decent living in spite of the amount of time and effort they spend. Those are home health care aides, call-center operators, child care workers, security guards, receptionists, food processors, gardeners, data-entry clerks, waiters and cleaners. It’s obvious that their kids aren’t able of changing their economical status altogether, as their parents are not able to provide them neither with proper nurture nor with good education, thus foredooming them for the same life in future. In the same time, children of the poor see that the level of life of many other people from their surrounding is much higher. It provokes discontent and hostility towards the richer ones, which, in its turn leads to violence.
The problems within the child’s own family also affect him/her much stronger than any piece of lyrics or video can. If his/her parents are abusing each other verbally, or, moreover, physically, the child is much likely to follow their example in future. And, vice versa, the teen living in favorable social and family conditions isn’t likely to use violence for solving his or her problems just because their favorite rap singer does it in some video. It’s obvious that the person won’t commit violent acts just because it’s shown on a TV screen.
And, of course youngsters do not start to rob and murder at once. Most teenagers who are arrested for violent crimes have long been demonstrating violent behaviors, starting from bullying at school. This is one of the more dangerous behaviors that a child can exhibit, because it has extremely serious social repercussions – both short-term and long-term. In the short-term, this behavior can lead to physical violence. Long-term bullying results in such things as mental and emotional trauma, serious enough to force a child into committing suicide or becoming violent themselves. The infamous school shootings are a very good example of what precisely such behavior can lead to on the part of the bullied when the pressure on them is applied far enough.
Nonetheless, this behavior is dangerous not only for the victim, but for the perpetrator, as well. While a victimized child can get psychological trauma from the bullying experience, a young bully will usually demonstrate a lack of such things as empathy, kindness, et cetera. Bullying is also commonly associated with children who have a lack of social skills. This may or may not be true, as this is not a prerequisite for bullying. However, what is true is that statistics demonstrate that bullies generally fall behind in their respectful academic programs when compared to other children and even their own younger, non-bullying years. Future criminals et their first experience of getting the desired things by force at a very early age, starting from nursery school.
This effect becomes possible because bullying is a problem that is not always seen as a problem. In a society where competitiveness is the absolute norm and violence surrounds at every turn, a certain degree of “healthy opposition” is considered not only not harmful, but actually desirable. This gives bullies a covered field of operation, coveted from the interference of adults, which can not only usually not distinguish when bullying occurs, but in some of those cases actually ignore the problem, leaving it to resolve itself, which is certainly a foolish thing because of the dangers bullying brings.
Little bullies intimidate other kids as they are usually bigger, stronger, or just angrier, but when they grow up their methods change, as muscles are not enough anymore for forcing their victims surrender. Looking at the weapon possessing crime rates it becomes obvious that purchasing gun is not a problem in the U.S. Weapon is easily accessible in many states, so it is not a problem for a youngster to find a toy that makes him feel confident and powerful. Wenner (2007) wrote that availability of guns is one of the crucial factors contributing to teens’ violence, and this taking control over it is one of the most important objectives for our government. Guns make kids feel powerful and protected, and thus able for much more than without these dangerous toys.
Today America faces a dangerous situation, when more and more of its youngsters, intellectual, spiritual and workforce potential, become criminals. This situation is caused by the combination of factors, such as substance abuse, negative media influence, poor education and living condition, lack of good jobs for uneducated youth, availability of weapon and some other things. Punishing juvenile delinquents is not a suitable method for making crime rates lower. The most substantial thing for today is finding out more about each factor, and dealing with them. American society has to know about the problems its young members have, and do something to help solving them in order to preserve its most valuable resource.
- Ballard, E. (1999, Oct) Video Game Violence ad Confederate Gender: Effects on Reward and Punishment Given. A Journal of Research, 541, Retrieved February 12, 2007, from Thompson Gale database.
- Grossman, D.; DeGaetano, G. (1999) Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV Movie and Video Game Violence. Crown Publishers, New York,
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2007). Juvenile Arrest Rates by Offense, Sex, and Race ,1980-2006. Retrieved February 12, 2007 from <ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/crime/excel/jar_2006.xls>
- Thomas, J. (2001) Popular Music Contribute to Teenage Violence. Greenhaven Press, Retrieved February 12, 2007 from Thompson Gale database.
- Wenner, J. (1999, June 10). The Availability of Guns and School Violence. Rolling Stone, Retrieved February 12, 2007 from Thompson Gale database.