beltAccording to a report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine Board on Children, Youth and Families Committee, titled “Child Maltreatment Research, Policy, and Practice for the Next Decade”, there are three risk factors that increased the likelihood of a child being exposed to violence: parental depression, parental substance abuse and whether the parents had been abused or neglected as children.

Every year, there are millions of acts of violence. Some are fatal, some result in permanent injury or mental scars. Others end up orphaning their children and widowing their spouses. There are public and private agencies attempting to deal with the plague of violence in our country, but their focus seems to be on the overt act, such as firing handguns or battering spouses. If they can prevent these acts, they feel that they will have prevented violence. But the underlying issues that motivate the individual to seek violent solutions has not been identified or addressed.

It is a mistake to treat violence as if it were a natural force, an animal instinct which we have no power to control. Criminals have been using this excuse for years. It exempts them from the consequences of their self-indulgent behavior. We need to stop taking these self-serving alibis at face value if we hope to break the cycle of violence.

The cycle is not transmitted by our genetic inheritance from our less evolved ancestors. It was modeled for us by the significant others we encountered in our young lives. We learn to accept brutality as an efficient problem solving technique. It requires no cerebral exertion at all.

We all have buttons that can be pushed, such as:

“I want my way and you are not giving it to me.”

“It’s not fair.”

“You are wrong.”

“You betrayed me.”

“You don’t appreciate me”

These comments were heard first in childhood and again in the present. we have temper tantrums now, just as we did then. But when an adult lashes out, it’s scarier.

Kids who were exposed to violence often raise their kids using violence. They feel justified in doing so, “If it was good enough for me, its good enough for them. That’s fair.” We cannot argue with this childish logic. It is not logic at all. There is no rational thinking involved. This is an emotional legacy passed on from one generation to the next.

It should be noted, that the notion of learning by example is not absolute. Some children of non-violent parents become violent on their own. Conversely, many children of violent parents reject this brutal example. Some go to the extreme of crusading against violence. Others find a middle ground, where they can solve interpersonal problems cooperatively as equal members of the human race.

There is no instinct for beating up first-graders. If there were, everyone would be doing it, not just bullies. Civilized human beings take time to learn how to manage their emotions. The problem is that hardly anyone has the time to teach it these days.

We should be teaching young people how to express their anger appropriately, finding a middle ground between too much and too little. We should teach them how to identify the underlying problems that lead them to take others’ behavior personally and lash out violently.

Child abuse image available from Shutterstock.