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Currently, violence is commonly thought of as serious physical harm done unto another individual. Recently that definition has been rethought to now include milder forms of aggression. This is redefinition is key as instructors begin taking a fresh look at the problem of school violence, especially when it involves very young children. Aggressive children were once thought of as just going through a phase and eventually out-growing the aggressive behavior. But recent research has discovered that aggression in early childhood leads to much more severe behavior in later life. Because of these new findings, the purpose of this research paper is to discover the impact of early childhood violence prevention programs and if they would be successful in combating the issue of school violence.

School violence is a rising epidemic occurring every day, in varying degrees, at schools across the country. School shootings that are being broadcasted in the media are the most extreme and rare forms that seems to attract the most public attention to the problem, while bullying and other "smaller" forms of violent acts that are happening more frequently don't gain the same type of media attention as the occasional shootings do. Parents across the nation are thinking, “not my child, not my neighborhood.” They do not believe that it could happen in their own backyard or in an expensive private school, but it does. Middle and high school students are finally beginning to receive information from school and community prevention programs that are designed to help them to identify and deal with violence in their schools. But there is an alarming new trend of school violence that is occurring with even younger children in elementary schools which is having a tremendous impact on their behavior as adolescents and adults. Young children are becoming more and more aggressive towards their peers, which is directly escalating the problem of school violence and aggression in middle and high schools. Because of this, school violence prevention programs need to be implemented in early childhood educational settings in order to bring an end to the rising rates of bullying and school violence among kindergarten and elementary school-aged children and to prevent school violence later in life.

Today, the term “violence” in American society is generally reserved for only acts of severe physical harm towards another person. Because of this commonly thought, narrow definition, many educators and parents only see the school violence problem as intentional interpersonal violence between middle or high school students or from a student towards a teacher.

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Violence in children and adolescents is commonly perceived by society as a social skills deficit problem, a disciplinary issue, or even as a case of second-rate parenting (Astor, 1995). But now, educators are beginning to adopt a more current, broader, definition that thinks of violence as an act that is carried out with the intention, or perceived intention, of inflicting physical pain or injury towards another person. The physical pain can range anywhere from a slight pain, such as a push, hit, slap, and shove, to murder. The ‘intent to hurt’ may range from concern for the child’s safety (such as spanking a child for running into the street) to hostility so intense that the perpetrator is wishing for the death of the other person. (Astor, 1995). This newer definition includes more mild forms of aggression, such as bullying and pushing, which are now being commonly witnessed occurring in pre-school programs and in elementary school classrooms. This newer definition has led educators to take a fresher look at “new” school violence, and redefining the issue to include such acts such as vandalism, arson, and theft, which do not directly include interpersonal physical harm (Astor, 1995) Because of this new redefinition, the increasing levels of violence in primary-school children, and the lack of research on this topic in the past, more emphasis has recently been placed on the researching of violence in elementary school-aged children (Baldauf, 1999). Researchers are beginning to look at elementary school-aged children who are violently and aggressively acting out towards their fellow students and are relating this to violent behavior exhibited as an adult.

Some research that has recently been documented is that young children are increasingly becoming more violent because they are being led to believe, mainly by the media, that violence is the only way or the best way to resolve their conflicts. Violence in the media has been a hot topic for researchers and parents for decades now because of the problem continuing to persist and even increasing. Violent television shows that are being directed at young children contain acts of violence that are leading to children becoming desensitized to violent acts (Freedman, 2005). If two cartoon characters are having a dispute, they hit each other over their heads with large mallets or hand over a toy imbedded with “TNT” and “blow up” the other character. These cartoons are making violence seem fun, common, and okay for use in everyday life. Characters come out unharmed and okay, while any pain or suffering is not depicted. Also, these characters are never punished or penalized for using violence to solve their problems, and are usually the “good” guys are getting rid of the “bad” guys. Because of these media influences, young children are finding it increasingly difficult to understand why hitting and pushing are not okay when it is in response to name-calling or other provocations, which they believe are just as bad or worse (Astor, 1995). The feel as if the other child deserves the violent action being carried out towards them. They see this retribution as fair. This aggressive mentality learned throughout early childhood and into late childhood, and eventually adolescence, is impacting their behavior in adulthood and is leading to worse behavior later in life.

Studies are proving that violence in early childhood does not stop or even decrease as the child grows and matures. Many parents believe aggressive behavior in early to mid-childhood is just a phase or it will decrease as the child matures, but this is not the case. Longitudinal studies show that there is a high correlation between aggression and violence in early and middle childhood with violence in adolescence and into adulthood (Astor, 1995). Aggression is stable throughout a child’s development, much like the stability of IQ measures throughout a person’s development (Astor, 1995). Aggression in elementary school students is measured basically by the number of aggressive acts that the child has performed and the frequency of the acts, peer ratings (by asking students who they think is the most aggressive student out of their class, second-most aggressive, etc.), and by asking teachers to rate the child’s behavior against other children the same age (Astor, 1995). Aggression has also been shown to be manifested differently in children of different ages. For example, in elementary school-age children, violence is mainly manifested in pushing, hitting, and mild to extreme bullying. As the child ages, their violence typically becomes more physical and more extreme (Astor, 1995). Examples of more extreme violent behavior include aggravated assault, arson, and even sexual assault. Aggressive children feel the need to “graduate” to the next level in order to prove their strength or bravery. Aggressive children (especially teens) also increase their violence because they typically end up associating with a group of other children that are aggressive and behave similarly to his/herself. Violent students often speak of getting picked on, being disliked by their classmates and teachers, and of feeling like outsiders with their peers/classmates. Because of this feeling of exclusion, they find others like them self and feel like they have strength in numbers (Astor, 1995). They will tend to “egg” each other on and to do more intense and dangerous acts. Most children, especially teenagers, will do things with groups that they would never think of doing by themselves. These cliques just seem to add fuel to the existing fire.

Studies have also shown that a high frequency of violent acts in early childhood is significantly related to the severity of violence and criminal behavior in adolescence and adulthood (Astor, 1995). An elementary school student who gets involved in the occasional fight will not exhibit as many criminal behaviors in adulthood as a student who bullies and exhibits violent behavior on a more consistent daily basis would exhibit. A twenty-two year long longitudinal study of 638 children found that eight-year-old children who exhibit early aggressive tendencies towards their peers and teachers were significantly more likely to be involved with the juvenile justice system by the age of nineteen than their non-aggressive peers were. By the time the aggressive study group had reached the age of thirty, they were four times more likely to have been convicted of a serious crime and had higher rates of spousal abuse, drunk driving incidents, and poorer educational success than the members of the non-aggressive group (Astor, 1995). Other studies have also shown that more than half of all serious crime in the United States, which include, but are not limited to, rape, murder, assault, and robbery, were committed by youths between the ages of ten to seventeen. This statistic is also not limited to the sex of the offender, so while aggression and violence are typically thought of a problem dealing mainly with boys, girls are not excluded from showing violent and aggressive behaviors (Boulter, 2004). But this problem is beginning to be addressed directly in the school systems where educators have the most direct access to students who are most at-risk to develop aggressive tendencies.

In response to recent, highly publicized, school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado where fourteen (including the two gunmen) were dead, Michigan where a six-year-old girl was shot and killed by a six-year-old boy with a .32 caliber handgun, and most recently the Minnesota school shooting where sixteen-year-old student Jeff Wiesse killed nine people and then himself, there has been a greater awareness of the school violence problem. Teachers and parents are realizing that in order to combat the issue, many new strategies and approaches need to be implemented. Some of the new views are that students that are already exhibiting signs of violence need to receive counseling, practices need to be setup in order to ensure student safety, and prevention programs need to be implemented. Middle and high schools across the nation have begun implementing such practices as to install video surveillance, start up hotlines for students to anonymously report suspicious activity or to receive help, requiring sign-in of all visitors to the school, controlled access to school buildings, especially before and after school and during lunch, and performing random drug sweeps (Baldauf, 1999). Prevention programs have also become a popular means of combating violence in schools by bringing awareness of school violence and techniques for how to deal with aggression to students, teachers, and parents.

In order for these types of programs to be successful, they should be directed to an entire grade level instead of pulling out “trouble” students. Pulling out students that are at risk will only make them feel even more isolated. When increasing awareness and knowledge about violence, active involvement by parents and teachers is critical in order to keep positive influences within the children’s environments and to support the children. With involvement from the students, teachers, and community, clear policies have to be developed against issues such as bullying and aggressive acts and to provide support for victims (Astor, 1995). It is ideal and necessary to begin these programs at early ages. Starting as young as six-years-old, individual, group, and family counseling needs to be implemented at the first signs of aggressive behaviors in order to stop the progression and escalation of the violent actions. One program implemented in an elementary school encouraged the young students to openly discuss their feelings and to keep journals (when they were old enough to write) of their feelings. Teachers noticed, after just one on the program, that the number of fights between students dropped 94% from fifty-five to only three fights during the school year (Baldauf, 1999). Children need to learn early in their lives that expressing their emotions can be more powerful than hurting another student. Students need to also learn early that there are people who care about them and who will support them. This is why parent and community involvement is so crucial to the process. Research has shown that periods of low aggression can occur in even the most aggressive child’s development due to some form of intervention. This is most likely going to be a teacher that makes them feel special or like a part of the class. But that advancement can be overturned if the child has a negative interaction with another teacher or student, or feels rejected or isolated once again (Astor, 1995). Because of this fact, school programs need to begin early and remain constant as a part of the school atmosphere in order to keep progress long-term. Parents can also reinforce the ideals at home and especially during long school breaks, such as summer vacation.

Even though a small number of schools have begun to apply violence prevention programs to early childhood students, most school systems are ignoring the tremendous amount of data that proves that early childhood is the essential point in a child’s development that needs to be violence free. Lecturing middle and high school students that aggression and violence are not the keys to solving their problems is usually ineffective when the media has been telling them all along that that is how disputes should and are handled in society. School violence is not just a phase that will be grown out of; it is a major predictor of severe violent acts in adulthood. Attacking the preexisting problem is part of the solution to decline school violence, but preventing it all together is the key to stopping the epidemic.

References

Astor, R. (1995). School violence: A blueprint for elementary schools [Electronic version]. Social Work in Education, 17 (2), 101

Baldauf, S. (1999). Programs to prevent violence before it starts [Electronic version]. Christian Science Monitor, 91 (105), 3.

Boulter, l. (2004). Family-school connection and school violence prevention [Electronic version]. Negro Educational Review, 55 (1), 27.

Freedman, J. (n.d). Research on the effects of media violence. Retrieved April 23, 2005 from

http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/violence/effects_media_violence.cfm

Newcomb, A. (2001). Schools derailing violence [Electronic version]. Christian Science Monitor, 93 (62), 1.
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