Violence begets violence. A society where violence reigns supreme through international military action, justified escalation of force response from police and a gratuitous buffet of violent content in entertainment media will likely experience violence as a fact of life. Children are exposed to violence in action and speech from a very young age, whether it is parental aggression or animated cartoon violence. Sigmund Freud theorized about the “death drive,” sometimes referred to as Thanatos, in all people. To Freud this was an innate drive towards aggression, often resulting in violence. It was a natural impulse in his perspective. Whether or not there is an instinct to behave aggressively or violently is definitively unknown, but in a general sense there is a lot of evidence that points to humans as violent beings.
Schools have the unique characteristic of housing a wide array of personalities and demographic categories of young people for a span of very tumultuous years. Children enter public schools at a time when fantasy thinking is still reality to them. Some of them leave a life of very little structure to enter into a cold, hard institution of rules and order. For the first time many children are exposed to foul language and physical aggression. Regardless of any factor of maturity or capability, children are grouped by calendar age and forced to learn on one prescribed schedule of instruction. As the years progress it doesn’t matter if a child learns a concept or not, they are passed along to the next level of instruction, all along the way receiving ample labels of social identification.
Even with the introduction of physical and mental changes through puberty children are still identified and grouped in grades by calendar age, with no regard to maturity or capability. Students are not taught to learn and act, they are taught only to respond and react. All the while, in and out of school, they are exposed to violent and aggressive media, both news and entertainment. Even the best efforts of parents to explain to and prepare their children for dealing with aggressive feelings sometimes fail against the competition of peer groups and social modeling. How do parents, teachers and society defend against such overwhelming influence of opposition?
Socialization begins at home with parents modeling appropriate behavior and explicitly teaching their children what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. This process is aided by other institutions of socialization, such as church and eventually school, but it is the primary responsibility of the parents and the family. Parents can prevent later bullying and aggressive tendencies in their children by providing a safe learning environment at home. When parents establish a trusting relationship with their children they will later enjoy moments of teaching when their children ask questions and seek guidance and help for problems with confidence in their parents. Children will be exposed to violence in one of its various forms and if they feel uncomfortable or confused or guilty about it they need to have a safe outlet for dealing with their feelings. The parents can establish a pattern for this type of discussion early on and make it easy for children to seek help and guidance with simple matters, and then later on when the stakes are higher the children will know where they can go for help.
Unfortunately, many children don’t have the opportunity to grow up in this ideal situation. When this is the case it is even more important for extended family, clergy and teachers to provide the necessary adult role modeling and instruction for the children. Regardless of whom the teachers are, though preferably the parents, the message needs to be the same: respect and value for all people, with empathy. Teaching children to recognize the effect of their actions on other people helps develop their sense of empathy, the ability to perceive the feelings of another person. To reduce acts of bullying and aggression in schools the students all need to have a heightened awareness of how their actions affect others. By teaching individual students how to behave appropriately, the collective group of students will behave appropriately.
Attention is often focused on the loud and catastrophic violent events in schools; these are the exception and not the rule. Proper socialization will likely reduce the larger events of violence as well, but they shouldn’t take all of the focus. Countless children fear going to school every day and not because they worry that combatants will storm the school in a hail of gunfire, they fear the other kid who constantly berates them and teases them. Preventing violence in schools and protecting children needs to start in the home and at the basic levels of society. The beneficial results will filter up.