Some people just seem to enjoy physical violence while others avoid it at all costs. When those two types interact in a school setting, bullying is often the result. You could walk outside any school in America and see examples of physical violence in the school yard. But the more we advance and move away from our ancestral roots of eat-or-be-eaten, the more a person has to wonder why there are still violent kids out there, and why they are getting away with bullying and harming other kids. Are some children really just cruel?
What is Physical Violence Exactly?
Before examining why some children fight and are cruel to other children, the term “physical violence” should be defined in this context. Physical violence is not wrestling on the ground with Dad, nor is it two boys pulling at each other and having fun in the backyard. Physical violence is the use of physical force intentionally to cause harm to another person. A simpler physical violence definition is interaction between two or more people where one intends to hurt another. For a more in-depth understanding of what violence is exactly, read our article Understanding Violence Definition.
The History of Violence in the United States
Violence has only recently become an issue of concern. It wasn’t until around 1980 that people even thought about trying to stop physical domestic violence, which was – and still is – a common problem. Kids fighting on the playground were obviously not at the same level as a husband physically beating up his wife, but the behaviors are the same. However, until 1980, physical violence was accepted in bars, in schools, and even in many workplaces. It was just a fact of life that people – especially men – had to fight every once in a while.
In 1983, the Center for Disease Control, in response to two independent reports by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, established the Violence Epidemiology Branch of the CDC, which later grew into a newly created division of the CDC where these problems could be examined and addressed.
In the 1990s, the war against violence began in earnest, with support and funding from Congress and groups forming to try to stop bullying and violence. This war has been going on ever since.
Are Children Cruel? Is Physical Violence in Our DNA?
Children are not naturally cruel. This was known as far back as a century ago. A newspaper article published in 1919 confirms that children are not cruel by nature, and their first experience with cruelty – such as causing pain to a kitten by holding it by one leg, or squashing a butterfly – are not necessarily acts of violence. These children are not being cruel. They simply don’t understand that they are causing pain.
Children must be taught the concepts of pain, kindness and violence early on, because if cruelty to animals is allowed to continue unchecked, they may learn to enjoy violence and eventually start hurting human beings instead. You can read more about how to do that in our article Educating Children About Cruelty.
In addition, children may learn to be violent because of an altogether different reason; spanking! There has been much research done on this subject and it is clear that spanking does indeed affect children negatively. When you spank a child, you are teaching him or her that, when someone does something they aren’t supposed to, it is okay to use physical violence against them. This is entirely the wrong message to send.
“The last thirty years of research give us very clear results. Kids who are spanked are less emotionally healthy than kids who aren’t. What’s more, kids who are spanked behave worse over time,” says Dr. Laura Markham in her article on the subject on AHAParenting.com.
Sociopathic or Psychopathic Children
Parents sometimes go to pediatricians with concerns that their children may be sociopathic or psychopathic after a violent outburst. However, before addressing this, the terms must be defined clearly. Dr. Scott Bonn, Ph.D. defined both terms in his article, published in Psychology Today. According to Dr. Bonn, both terms include behaviors like a propensity towards violence, disregard for laws or society and disregard for the feelings for others, as well as failure to feel guilt. However, while a sociopath has emotional outbursts as part of this, psychopaths do not.
It actually isn’t that farfetched for parents to believe their child may be a psychopath. A recent study in Britain, cited by the Daily Telegraph, showed that one out of every 100 children in Britain are psychopathic. This diagnosis can mean that parents won’t be able to correct behavioral problems like lying, stealing and examples of physical violence or outbursts.
How The Cycle of Violence in Children and Adolescents Can Be Stopped
There have been a number of initiatives taken in the last couple of decades to support this cause, and education has become the main tool for prevention. It all starts at home and in schools. Recently, bullying has become a very hot topic in schools and the internet is teeming with information on stopping it.
The most important thing that parents can do, as per this article on FreatSchools.org, is learn how to recognize the signs of both bullies and victims of bullying so that they can take action. This is also helpful in cases where the child has a learning disability or chemical imbalance.
Here are some warning signs that your child is bullying other children:
- Needs to dominate others and feels superior to other children: friends, siblings and even kids he or she just met.
- Comes home with things that might have been taken from a victim and lies about how he or she got them.
- Gets angry easily, is impulsive and does not tolerate things well.
- Is defiant towards adults and other authority figures.
Here are some signs that you child might be a victim of bullying:
- Torn clothing at school, or damaged books or school supplies.
- Has bruises, scratches, black eyes or is bloody without an explanation.
- Does not enjoy going to school, is depressed and withdrawn.
- Does things that are not normal for him or her like stealing, having violent outbursts or lying.