The Quandary of Aggression Among Children: Prevalence, Predictors and Consequences
Childhood is a part of life where one learns all the moral aspects of life, which is why research has shown that the values learned in early childhood, i.e. the period from infancy to childhood, plays an important role in building up a child’s morality and behavior; the child carries all these values and behaviors throughout their life. In view of this, aggression is a process through which a person expresses his or her anger when unable to attain what they need or when something is going against their wishes or morals. “Children are completely aggressive and egocentric when they feel that their needs forcefully and brutally strive to gratify them (Sigmund Freud).”
Aggression in children is a growing issue, not only in developing countries but also in the developed world. I believe that if this issue is not addressed promptly, this destructive behavior can severely affect the future life of our upcoming generations. “Aggressive behavior begins early in life and, in most children, reaches a peak at about four years of age, and decreases after that (Campbell, Shaw & Gilliom, 2000).”
The aggression prevalence rate in children was reported to be as high as 35% in South Asian countries in 2010. The prevalence of aggression in children is 49.6% in Pakistan. (Kanne & Mazurek, 2011). Current statistics demand a significant amount of hard work for the behavior modification of children, as this aggressive behavior may be problematic both for those who behave aggressively, as well as for those who become victims of aggressive behavior.
Factors Affecting Aggressive Behavior:
Children behave aggressively due to learning from their environment; this may include an unhealthy family environment, unsupported peer group, acting like fictional characters on television, strict schooling systems, and rigid religious rules and practices. These are only some of the factors which increase the risk of development of aggressive behavior in children. The larger the number of risk factors to which a child is exposed, the greater the probability that the child will engage in violent and aggressive behavior.
Family Factor & Parenting Style:
According to McLeod (2011) A. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, every child notices the people around them and tries to behave in different ways accordingly. Parents and elders therefore play an important role as models, because children pay a great deal of attention to their behavior. In fact, children are surrounded by so many influential models — not only their parents and elder siblings, but also cartoon characters, friends and teachers.
Children who belong to strict and uncooperative families show increased aggression (Hudley & Novac, 2007); children observe these models and then imitate various behaviors. Unhealthy relationships and less talking and sharing of feelings between parents and children also affects children’s behavior and manners. Strict, harsh and unyielding parenting styles also increase the risk of these behaviors (Fikkers, Piotrowski, Weeda, Vossen & Valkenburg, 2013).
Biological Factor (Physiological Factors):
There are some physiological factors that increase the risk of development of anger in children. Biological factors may include genetic features, neural abnormalities and hormonal imbalances (Per Siever, 2008). Some abnormalities in the amygdala, hypothalamus and limbic system trigger aggression, whereas decreased serotonin levels and overactivity of dopamine and norepinephrine are linked with aggressive behaviors.
Usually, elders do not pay attention to what their children are watching on television, owing to which children learn different ways of showing aggression and violent behavior from movies, fighting games and even from cartoon characters. The violent behavior shown by fictional characters on television greatly affects children’s activities in their lives. Aggressive behavior can result from media violence and observed experiences which can stimulate fight responses in the nervous system (Kliem & Rehbein, 2014).
From my point of view, children who feel discouraged and rejected by their friends or are bullied in their peer groups mostly express their feelings by showing aggression. According to Waas (1988), children experience high levels of disturbed self-esteem due to rejection from peers, while negative relationships with peers may increase the chances of high anger levels in children. According to research, peer groups are more significant in causing aggressive behavior among children as compared to other factors (Castro et al, 2002).
Rigid Social and Religious Environment:
One of the major causes of aggressive behavior stems from unfavorable social situations, such as a strict and punishing environment in schools, high expectations of teachers, feelings of low self-esteem and low self-confidence, unsatisfactory performance in academics, and firm behaviors and expectations regarding religious practices. Sometimes, a child behaves aggressively due to the fear of their own incapability to deal with social stresses and frustrations, and this especially manifests when they are unable to verbalize their feelings to others (Kanne & Mazurek, 2011). These rigid thoughts in society often increase stress levels in children which gradually develop and often lead to children displaying their feelings in the form of aggression.
Some mental illnesses and psychological disorders are also associated with aggressive actions in children. Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, paranoia, mood disorders like depression, mania, bipolar disorder, and other psychological conditions contribute to high levels of anger (Stuart, 2009). Children with psychological illnesses are more prone to develop frustration and aggression later in life and to involve themselves in conflicts. Some studies have suggested that children with mental retardation, such as autistic children, are majorly vulnerable to anger, hostility, aggression and violent behavior.
To eradicate and to prevent this problem in children, it is very important for active interventions to be arranged. I believe that parents should be taught about the factors which can lead to the development of aggressive behavior in children, and training programs should be arranged for elders so that they can prevent the development of anger in their children. Parents may teach their children some self-control techniques, e.g. deep breathing when they feel out of control, or to just remove themselves from the situation for a while. Talking therapy can also be helpful in understanding a child’s feelings and the cause of their anger (Kliem & Rehbein, 2014).
Furthermore, it is important to reward or appreciate children when they follow your instructions, and engaging children in diverse activities such as sports, meditation and art is also likely to help. According to Stuart (2009), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can reduce the severity of anger in children. Moreover, happy peer groups, tolerance exercises, positive reinforcement including rewarding, and love and praise from teachers and elders can motivate children to withdraw their aggressive behavior. Collaboration between healthcare providers and parents/teachers can also assist in the behavior modification of children by enhancing their self-esteem, reducing conflicts in the family environment, providing healthy peer groups, and teaching them techniques.
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