The process of human development first and foremost involves socialisation. By gaining experience of social interaction, establishing connections with others, expressing points of view, disagreeing with others, showing independence and challenging themselves, children develop into individual adults.
The process of transitioning from childhood to adolescence is usually highly sensitive and sometimes tumultuous. Within this process, opposing tendencies of social development are intertwined. On the one hand, this difficult period is characterised with negative manifestations such as personal disharmony, changing established interests, rebellious behaviour towards adults and so on. On the other hand, there are positive aspects such as increased independence, diverse relationships, changing or widening areas of interest, developing a sense of responsibility towards oneself and towards others, etc.
It is impossible for anyone’s existence to be calm, constantly harmonious, ‘frozen’ and always adjusted to the surroundings. A person is in a dynamic balance with the world around them, which creates a constant need to adapt. If this happens successfully, within a specific given time a person is considered healthy. Otherwise, different forms of disadaptation cause somatic and mental illnesses and social deviation. For example, deviant behaviour of seeking pleasure through any way possible (drugs, alcohol, etc.), getting what you want through any means possible (snatching, stealing, etc.), self-affirmation through bullying, belittling and abusing others. It is precisely this period in the adolescent’s life that will shape the rest of their lives. An adolescent’s character is shaped by certain microsocial conditions. The realisation of an adolescent’s potential is dependent on their environment and the relationships with the people who are important in their life.
What pushes an adolescent to commit violence and to turn to crime? There is no simple answer to this question as there are in fact multiple reasons. Amongst them are social factors – violence in the family, lack of nurture, social differentiation, poverty, unemployment, mass media with its fictional or real violence and cruelty, poor education, defective school upbringing, etc. Alongside these factors, the psychosocial difficulties of becoming an adolescent are also significant (increased anxiety during puberty, mood swings, mental instability, etc.).
‘Difficult’ adolescent behaviour is signified by a drive for self-affirmation at the expense of their weaker peers or even adults, whom they threaten, abuse and use. Adolescents usually threaten, oppress and terrorise to achieve specific and often deeply egotistical aims. These adolescents have needs (such as that to communicate, self-affirm, dominate as well as material and sexual ones) which they cannot satisfy through the means available to them.
Often parents forget that their child has grown up and that they need friendly advice and support more than critical or degrading remarks. It must be noted that psychotraumatic remarks come not only from the parents, but also teachers, doctor, coaches, dance teachers and other adults. When dealing with a child, it is easy for adults to take up this position: “I told you to do it, you didn’t, and now you are definitely going to be punished”. Often, a parent “doesn’t have enough time” to be interested in a child’s feelings and their personal lives. Teachers take away a part of the responsibility: “this is what they’re like at home”. No one is there to draw a line for these children. When children are left to do whatever they want, television, aggressive computer games, and the internet get all the power and become the children’s ‘secret teachers’.
This type of upbringing makes a child ‘close up’. They feel that in a world that is hostile to them, there is no trust, love or understanding. This process develops in stages. First off, a child feels hostility from their closest surroundings. Then, they take this feeling and project it onto all aspects of their life. This is a defence mechanism which is harmful and in fact pathological. The child starts to feel ‘empty’, they lose faith in themselves and in adults and their future prospects become jeopardised. This leaves the child wanting to escape to a life that is independent from school and family, and take on a functioning role in society. But what would this sort of a life look like for an adolescent? The adolescent would have to go against the rules and customs of a society which doesn’t accept or understand them.
Violent computer games, television and other images provoke anger, aggressive behaviour and thoughts. Adolescents may want take the violence from the virtual world into the real one. An adolescent whose mind has not yet fully matured is fragile and cannot accurately perceive the boundary between the virtual and the real world. As a result, they start being violent in the real world.
Children who grow up without attention or in an unstable family often resort to criminal behaviour in their adolescence. Children from asocial families often tend to be aggressive as a result of chronic abuse. The stored up anger and aggression gets released on their peers. For these children, violence is an everyday occurrence, using which any problem can be solved. When a child’s parents don’t care about them, they begin to think that no one in the world cares about each other. They don’t think about the consequences of their violence, because they don’t care. They know that others don’t care about what happens to them either.
Out of the children who commit crimes, there are those who grow up in ‘normal’ families. Here the influence comes from the environment in which they grow up, their friends and the people they spend their time with. Often, children who are free after school don’t know what to do. It all starts by being rude and rough to others, damaging other’s belongings, and ends with theft, physically harming others and murder. What is the solution for this situation? Some people think that by making the punishment stricter, violence and crime in adolescents will decrease. According to research, stricter punishment and a lower age of criminal responsibility only have a limited effect.
The most effective and humane solution is to prevent violence amongst adolescents. More contact, rather than tighter control, is needed. We must think about how the adolescent perceives a world where they resort to violence as the only means of solving a conflict with a peer.
There is a difference of opinion on exactly how conflict should be prevented and there are a number of different methods. The first stage involves working with teachers, school counsellors and social workers. When dealing with adolescents, they should be informed on the specific characteristics of their age and the underlying reasons for their aggressive behaviour. Carrying out social-psychological work in schools consist of holding interesting competitions and quizzes which should aim to raise the adolescents’ self-awareness, develop their creativity, structure their life goals, form healthy aspirations and interests. Students should also be involved in vocational programmes, and different sports clubs or teams.
The second state concerns the adolescent themselves and taking away their inner tension when they find themselves in a new environment. This feeling of uneasiness may be brought on by a lack of basic communication skills, the fear of acquiring them and so on. In response to this feeling, adolescents do not accept social norms. By having an open and honest conversation and ‘anti-aggression workshops’, adolescents should learn how to relax, solve conflicts peacefully, control their aggressive impulses, fear and anxiety, and to behave adequately in different social situations. Children who are aggressors or victims of abuse should be involved in the process, as well as any other children they’re usually in contact with.
The third stage needs to be directed towards the parents. They need to understand the reasons behind the problem they face. If needed, the parents’ attitude towards their children needs to be changed. Special teaching plans should be used in order to make parents more competent to bring up their children.
Conclusion: child and adolescent crime affects all children and adolescents. An adolescent’s inhuman and unforgiving behaviour that lacks ethics and morals is a reflection of their social maturity, for which adults are wholly responsible. This is not a problem for only the police and the social workers to solve, but rather it is one for the whole society. Violence between children and adults is on the whole a response to a lack of attention and approval. Adults need to learn to acknowledge and accept children. Building a strong relationship with adolescents should be more important than tightening our control on them.
Psychologist at Public Health Foundation of Georgia (PHF)