ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR IN CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE.
It is easy to recognize aggression and anti-social behaviour, when we witness it but defining it often proves much more difficult.
This essay is going to try to pull together some of the research that has been carried out by different people to enable us a better understanding of what and why aggression and anti-social behaviour has evolved into such a wide talking point within our society.
This essay will look into the definitions of both aggression and anti-social behaviour; disorders such as ADHD and conduct disorder. This essay will then try to give a good understanding of risk factors including gender related aggression.
According to most studies undertaken differing parenting styles have a major impact on children’s ability to respond appropriately, therefore this essay is going to look into what the differing styles of parenting are and what implications they may have on the child.
Bullying, stealing, persistent lying/cruelty and aggression, are among some of the problems that might cause you considerable concern. This kind of behaviour is known to occur much more often in cities and towns than in country areas. There are many causes and they are liable to vary in different cultures. In general, however, some of the more important causes of anti-social behaviour include the bad influence of some peer pressure, and the insufficient parental discipline, especially where it is either too harsh or too soft – and on occasion, non-existent. Some people think that excessive exposure to films portraying such behaviours may also contribute. You should take seriously any form of anti-social behaviour.
Aggression is defined as an activity intended to harm or subject others to negative consequences it is rarely seen in children before the age of two. Some children display quite high levels of aggression. The aggressive child is often unable to make friendships with others and this can set up the familiar vicious spiral: the less accepted a child is the more extreme his behaviour tends to become. The child who has never stolen, never told a lie, never slapped anyone else in anger, probably doesn’t exist. There is usually no reason to worry about the minor transgression. However, there are some children who constantly behave in anti-social ways and they do give cause for concern.
The anti-social person is one who disregards society’s rules. In its mild form this anti-social behaviours consists of acts like fighting, pilfering or truancy, misdemeanours which many children indulge in from time to time. In severe forms the behaviour becomes more extreme and persistent: instead of an occasional lapse there is a constant pattern of anti-social activity. In its most extreme forms it becomes delinquency. The standard definition of a delinquent is a young person who has been found guilty of an offence which, if committed by an adult, would constitute as a crime.
Many factors have been identified that, while they do not cause anti-social behaviour, they do increase the risk of it happening. Four main areas have been identified (Home Office, Research Development & statistics, ASB – A collection of Published evidence, 2004)
Family environment – Risk factors include poor parental discipline and supervision; family conflict between parents or between parents and children; family history of problem behaviour and/or parental attitudes condoning problem behaviour.
Schooling & educational attainment – Risk factors include; aggressive behaviour like bullying; lack of commitment to school; school disorganisation; school exclusion and truancy patterns and low achievement at school.
Community life / accommodation / employment – Risk factors include; community disorganisation and neglect the availability of drugs and alcohol; lack of neighbourhood attachment; growing up in a deprived area within low income families, high rates of unemployment and a high turnover of population and areas where there are high levels of vandalism.
Personal and individual factors – Risk factors include alienation and lack of social commitment; early involvement in problem behaviour; attitudes that condone problem behaviour; for young people a high proportion of unsupervised time spent with peers and friends or peers involved in problem behaviour; mental illness and/or early involvement in the use of illegal drugs and crime.
Sigmund Freud saw aggression as being biologically driven: humans, especially males, are programmed to fight over food, territory and the opposite sex. Cross-cultural studies, however, show that even if it will be accepted that aggression is biological in origin, environmental factors can modify it.
Differences between the sexes in levels of aggression are acknowledged by biological theorists and environmentalists, the one group saying that it’s all in the genes, the other that social conditioning explains the difference. What is clear is that gender differences do exist. Data gathered from over a hundred studies carried out all over the world, boys are more aggressive than girls, both physically and verbally. They engage in mock – fighting and aggressive fantasies, as well as in direct forms of aggression more often than girls.
The environmentalist’s viewpoint is to some extent supported by observations of the families of aggressive children. Young children are also more likely to show aggression if they have aggressive older brothers or sisters.
Certain chemicals have been shown to influence aggression. For example, the injection of testosterone, a male sex hormone, will increase aggression in animals.
Among human beings, there are similar findings: James Dabbs and his colleagues found that naturally occurring testosterone levels are significantly higher among prisoners convicted of violent crimes than among those convicted of non-violent crimes. Also, once incarcerated, prisoners with higher testosterone levels violated more prison rules. Dabbs and his colleagues also found that juvenile delinquents have higher testosterone levels. It is clear that testosterone affects aggressiveness.
In a wide ranging survey of research on children, Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin found that boys are consistently more aggressive than girls. In one study, the investigators closely observed children at play in a variety of different countries, including the United States, Switzerland, and Ethiopia. Among boys, there was far more non playful pushing, shoving and hitting than among girls. Similarly, among adults worldwide, the overwhelming majority of persons arrested for violent crimes are men.
Rejected children, are likely to be those who show high levels of aggression towards their peers. Such children seem to have different role models of relationships and of aggression than popular children do. Kenneth Dodge has shown that aggressive children are much more likely to see aggression as a useful way to solve problems; more importantly, they can see attack or antagonism in others, behaviours much more readily than is true for less aggressive children. Given an ambiguous event, such as being hit in the back with a ball, chronically aggressive boys are much more likely to assume that the ball was thrown on purpose, and retaliate. Of course such retaliation, in turn, is likely to elicit hostility from others, so their expectation that other people are hostile to them is further confirmed. (Dodge & Frame, 1982; Dodge et al., 1990).
Research can also be linked to Gerald Patterson’s work on aggressive boys. His research supports the conclusion that the child’s excess aggressiveness can be traced originally to ineffective parental control. When the child displays the same behaviour with peers, he is rejected by those peers and then driven more and more towards the only set of peers who will accept him, usually other aggressive or delinquent boys.
In fact, there is now a growing body of research showing that rejection by one’s peers in primary school is one of the very few aspects of childhood functioning that consistently predicts behaviour problems or emotional disturbances in adolescence and adulthood (Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990; Dishion et al, 1991).
Parents need to look carefully at their own ability to control their aggressive feelings. If they launch hostile attacks, physical or verbal, against their children or each other, the children will learn that it is acceptable to behave in this way.
An American study by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck dated from the early 1950’s, but still the conclusions still ring true today, comparing delinquent and non- delinquent children, the Gluecks found that delinquent children tended to come from less cohesive families, where there was a high level of hostility between parents and children and, perhaps most important of all. Where parental discipline swung confusingly between the ultra-strict and extremely permissive.
We now turn to the most frequently diagnosed disruptive disorder of childhood (ADHD) – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The frequency with which ADHD is diagnosed is the main reason it is so controversial. Some people think it is over diagnosed. They believe ADHD has become a convenient label that absolves adults of the responsibility for disciplining children. Even some experts think ADHD is over diagnosed in the United States.
It is certainly not uncommon for parents and teachers to complain that children are over active and restless, that they won’t sit still, and that they cannot concentrate for long. What they usually mean is that the youngsters won’t concentrate for as long as the adults would like them to, but, most of these children are well within the normal range for there age. In contrast, there are children that show extreme attention problems and over activity, both at home and at school, and they can truly be regarded as having ADHD.
Looking at a specific case, James had an especially severe form of ADHD, he was hyperactive and always on the go. He was impulsive, often with no regard to physical danger and he had problems focusing his attention on any task without a great deal of support from teachers. These are all characteristic of ADHD and even with good parenting can often be difficult to manage. (Abnormal Psychology)
In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must show developmentally inappropriate attention problems, impulsiveness, and motor hyperactivity. In the classroom, the attention difficulties are often manifested in an inability to stick with specific tasks. Children with ADHD have difficulty organizing and completing work. They often give the impression that they are not listening or that they have not heard what they have been told. Just sitting still seems to be a major challenge for them. These children do not appear to have specific problems with processing information, such as a learning disorder; instead their problems lie in self – regulation (Henker and Whalen, 1989).
When they interact with peers, children with ADHD are sometimes awkward and disorganized. It is not surprising that they are often rejected by others as annoying and intrusive (Hinshaw and Melnick 1995). Similarly, at home they are described as failing to follow through on parental requests and failing to sustain activities, including play, for periods of time that are appropriate for their age.
Of course, children with ADHD encounter the greatest problems in the classroom, so, teachers are often the first to recognized ADHD in a child. This is especially true of children from lower-income families. Many children grow out of the symptoms as they get older, studies of clinical samples indicate that 40 to 80% of children still meet the criteria for ADHD in adolescence, and some continue to show symptoms in adulthood (Fischer, Barkley, Fletcher and Smallish 1993; Zametkin and Ernst, 1999).
Children with ADHD are also prone to conduct disturbances. About 45 to 60% of children with ADHD develop conduct disorder, delinquency, or drug abuse, compared to about 16% of youngsters without ADHD (Barkley, Fischer, Edelbrock, and smallish, 1990; Hinshaw and Melnick; 1995; Moffitt and Silva, 1988). Not surprisingly, children with ADHD also tend to do poorly in school, and over 20% have a learning disorder. As adults, they are at greater risk for interpersonal problems, frequent job changes, traffic accidents, marital disruptions, and legal infractions (Fischer, Barkley, Fletcher and smallish, 1993; Henker and Whalen, 1989).
One obvious type of externalizing problems is, in layman’s terms, delinquency or anti-social behaviour. In the most recent revision of the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (called DSM-111-R), these patterns are referred to as conduct disorders. The category includes such antisocial and/or aggressive behaviours as argumentativeness, bullying, disobedience, high levels of irritability and threatening and loud behaviour. Children diagnosed as having conduct disorders may have temper tantrums or may physically or verbally attack others (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1982). Those labelled as delinquent show any or all of these patterns plus some deliberate violation of the law.
The origins of Conduct Disorders seem to be strongly environmental, Patterson’s research shows that failure in early parental discipline, and/or direct reinforcement for aggressive behaviour within the family are part of the causal chain for many boys (Patterson, Capaldi, & Bank, 1991). Patterson’s work, along with most other current work in this area, show that a more complex system model is needed to understand the pathways leading to persistent conduct disorders. To be able to predict which children will develop a conduct disorder, we must not only know something about the child’s overall environment, we also have to understand the child’s temperament, protective factors (like maternal loving affection), and the sustaining conditions, such as lack of social skills or poor peer acceptance (Bates et al; 1991). Children who are rejected by their peers in early primary school, for whatever reason, are at much higher risk of developing conduct disorder in adolescence or adulthood, and recall that part of the reason for poor peer acceptance seems to lie in a child’s social cognition.
There is significant gender difference in the rate of conduct disorder. It is at least three times more common in boys than in girls, with 6 to 16% of boys and 2 to 9% of girls qualifying for a diagnosis of conduct disorder (APA, 1994; Robins, 1991, smith 1998). Gender is one of the most powerful predictors of conduct disorder. Also, the behavioural patterns differ for males and females, girls are less likely to show physical aggression and more likely to lie and be truant.
Numerous studies have shown that children with conduct problems are more likely to come from disorganized social environment is often characterized by lack of affection, high levels of discard, harsh and inconsistent discipline (Farrington, 1978; Hetherington and Martin, 1979; Loeber and Dishion, 1983; Loeber, 1990; Toupin, Dery, Pauze, Fortin and Mercier, 1997). In many cases, the children’s activities are poorly supervised and monitored. As might be expected, parental divorce and separation are quite common. Some of the most interesting findings on this issue come from adopted studies (Cadoret and Stewart, 1991). Adopted children who show aggressive and antisocial behaviours as young adults are more likely to come from adoptive homes characterized by low socioeconomic status and poor parental adjustment. This relation cannot be attributed to genetic factors, because the parents and children have no genetic relation. Nonetheless, adoptees whose biological parents show aggressive or antisocial behaviour seem to be at greater risk for showing the same behaviour if they are reared in unstable environment. In families of children with conduct disorder, patterns of interaction between family members are often characterized by coercive behaviour and a lack of reinforcement for pro-social behaviours (Frick, 1994, Patterson, Reid, and Dishion, 1998).
The largest body of research on television effects has focused on the potential impact of television on children’s aggressiveness, not only because television programs in the United States are clearly high in aggression, but because any causal relationship between television violence and children’s aggression would be cause for grave concern.
There is no dispute about the high level of violence on television, or about the fact that this level has not declined in the past decades despite many public outcries. Nancy Signorielli (1986) estimates that in 1985, situation comedies averaged about 2 incidents of physical violence per hour, and action/adventure programs averaged 8 per hour. The rate is still higher in children’s cartoons and would be far higher for all types of programs if verbal aggression were also counted.
Several dozen short-term experiments have been done in which some children have been exposed to a few episodes of moderately aggressive television while others watch neutral programs. After this exposure the experimenters then observe the subjects interacting with one another in natural settings and counted the number of episodes of aggressive behaviour. These studies generally do show that those who watched the aggressive programs show slightly higher rates of actual aggression (Wood, Wong, and Chachere, 1991).
For parents, the clear moral from all the research on TV is that television is an educational medium. Children learn from what they watch – vocabulary words, helpful behaviours, eating habits, and aggressive behaviours and attitudes. The overall content of television – violence and all – may indeed reflect general cultural values. But an individual family can pick and choose among the various cultural messages by controlling what the child watches on television.
Every family has its own individual lifestyle, its own rules about the way things are organized and decisions are made. There are four basic parental styles.
The Authoritarian type – children growing up in Authoritarian families- with high levels of demand and control but relatively low levels of warmth or responsiveness – typically are less skilled with peers than are children from other types of families, and they have lower self-esteem. Some of these children appear subdued; others may show high aggressiveness or other indications of being out of control. Which of these two outcomes occurs may depend in part on how skilfully the parents use the various disciplinary techniques. Patterson finds that the ‘out of control’ child is most likely to come from a family in which the parents are authoritarian by inclination, but lack the skills to enforce the limits or rules they set. (Dornbusch et al 1987) have found that teenagers from authoritarian families have poorer grades in school than do teenagers from authoritative families.
The permissive type – children growing up with indulgent or permissive parents also show some negative outcomes. Dornbusch finds that they do slightly less well in school in adolescence, are likely to be more aggressive particularly if the parents are specifically permissive towards aggressiveness – and to be somewhat in their behaviour with peers and in school. They are less likely to take responsibility and are less independent.
The Authoritative type – the most consistently positive outcomes have been associated with the authoritative pattern, in which the parents are high in both control and warmth, setting clear limits but also responding to the child’s individual needs. Children reared in such families typically show higher self – esteem, are more independent but at the same time are more likely to comply with parental requests, and may show more altruistic behaviour as well. They are self – confident and achievement oriented in school and get better grades; they are less likely to show depression or delinquency (Dornbusch et al: 1987; Steinberg, Elmen & Mounts, 1989; Crockenberg & Litman, 1990).
The Neglecting type – in contrast, the most consistently negative outcomes are associated with the fourth pattern, the neglecting or uninvolved type. One of the common family characteristics of children rated as insecure/avoidant is the ‘psychological unavailability’ of the mother. The mother may be depressed or may be overwhelmed by other problems in her life and simply not have made any deep emotional connection with the child. Whatever the reason, such children continue to show disturbances in their relationships with peers and with adults for many years. In less extreme cases the effects are also detectable. Robert Hinde and Joan Stevenson – Hinde (1986), in a short-term longitudinal study, found that children whose mothers showed a somewhat odd combination of friendliness and high levels of hostility with peers eight months later and at adolescence, youngsters from neglecting families are more impulsive, antisocial, and much less achievement oriented in school (Block,1971; Pulkkinen, 1982).
Differing parenting styles are often formed by learnt behaviours and follow through from generation to generation.
In conclusion it would appear from the immense amount of research into aggression and anti-social behaviour that children who are brought up in deprived areas and/or subjected to poor parenting are much more likely to have problems with aggression and/or anti-social behaviours. It also suggests that children with behavioural disorders such as ADHD or conduct disorder stand a higher risk of becoming aggressive. Aggression is the onset of becoming anti-social. Children who present as anti-social, are often outcast from society and thus the cycle of rejection/aggression becomes much more of a problem.
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