When we consider the violence that surrounds young people of varying ages; on our streets, on our television screen, on game consoles, on our phones, in our neighbourhoods and for too many, even in our homes, should we really be surprised that it is also a stark reality in many of our schools?
It could be argued that there has been violence in school for as long as we can all remember. Most of us have been witness to a scuffle or two in our day, if not been directly involved ourselves once or twice, but the chilling reality for our children is the days an altercation resulted in a bloody lip, a black eye and sore knuckles are fading fast. Now we have to wonder what the weapon of choice is going to be and if the participants are going to make it out alive.
Outside of the physical threat, effects of school violence include vandalism and loss of school facilities, moral decadence, increased crime rates, erosion of cultural values and poor reputations for schools as well as societies.
Many factors contribute to the increased risk of violence from children at school. Those unfortunate children with a history of violent victimisation often understand that to be the only type of behaviour and they form antisocial beliefs and attitudes. Authoritarian childrearing attitudes which still prevail in Guyana can be harsh, and can lead to low emotional attachment to parents or caregivers, poor family functioning and low self-esteem in young people. If a child does not receive love, care and nurturing in the home, they will find it difficult to display the same in their outside of it.
In homes where parents or guardians display violent behaviour, and children are exposed to violent conflict in the family, they usually adopt violence as a way of asserting authority themselves at school. The psychological deficiencies created by dysfunctional homes such as anxiety, stress, worry, hatred, inferiority complex, anger and other negative emotions fuel violent behaviour.
During the mostly inevitable difficult, confusing or vulnerable times in a young person’s life, they are in need of proper guidance or care, and if they do not have access to support or guidance, this is a high risk time for possible violent outbursts. Learning, behaviour and social cognitive deficits such as hyperactivity or learning disorders can also lead to high emotional distress that can manifest in violence or poor behaviour control when misunderstood or mishandled at school.
As a result of feeling lonely and misunderstood, more teenagers are using drugs and alcohol; heightening tendencies for aggressive and antisocial behaviour which can lead to violence. If the misuse of these drugs becomes addictions, there is also an increased risk of depression; yet another precursor to violent behaviour.
The school system can sometimes have a way of dismissing violent acts as misdemeanours but this is a dangerous oversight in light of the serious incidents that can occur. In addition to this, the legal system in many areas, especially developing countries, is yet to develop specific laws that will help curb school violence and make it an offence appropriately punishable by the law.
When we send our children off to school we should not have to worry what they will encounter each day, whether they will come to physical harm, whether they are safe. We are sending them to learn and flourish, to develop and grow. How can we expect them to do so in a hostile environment with the threat of violence along the corridor or in the playground?As with most social ills affecting our society, the responsibility cannot be laid solely at one door, but must be undertaken by all facets of society. Parents and guardians have a key role to play and should ensure that the atmosphere at home, where the child is nurtured, is violent-free and that they foster effective communication between themselves and their children to help reduce some of the perceived pressures which cause them to act violently. Schools need to make their environments more conducive to learning and tailor teaching to engage all students. There should be more understanding and time given to address the social needs of students and strict but fair consequences for violent behaviour. Policymakers must devise and uphold non-violence in schools for both teachers and students. We cannot expect a child to be beaten in class and then be punished for employing the same behaviour. Community organisations, supported by governments, should make concerted efforts to reach out to students in a counselling and mentoring capacity and work with them to explore ways to express themselves without the use of violence.