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Craig A. Thompson: Youth violence — the elephant in the room

The recent shooting at a high school in Ohio has once again placed the important issue of combating youth violence in the public domain.

The Internet is flooded with stories of teenagers, youth and young adults being arrested, sentenced and convicted of heinous crimes that would appear to be beyond their years. The surgeon general, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies have studied the matter, and issued numerous reports concerning this.

Unfortunately, the trend seems to be increasing, not decreasing. The elephant in the room is now larger than ever.

Statistics from the CDC are startling:

-In 2007, 5,764 young people ages 10 to 24 were murdered — an average of 16 each day.

-Homicide was the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 during that same year.

-Among homicide victims ages 10 to 24, 84 percent were killed with a firearm.

-In 2008, more than 656,000 young people ages 10-24 were treated in emergency departments from injuries caused by violence.

-In 2009, 31.5 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported being in a physical fight in the 12 months preceding the survey, and 17.5 percent reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife or club) to school on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the survey.

-In 2009, 19.9 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey.

Technology does the talking

Researchers have determined that perpetrators of school-associated homicides were nine times as likely as victims to have exhibited some form of suicidal behavior. It is also important to note that many perpetrators of school violence — including school-associated homicides — reported being bullied.

With the Internet, social networking and virtual communication taking over the relationship-building foundations in our society, it has become even more critical to understand and dissect what young people see, listen to and read.

Some youth today can go through an entire day without truly connecting with another individual in person, thanks to the availability of technology to “do the talking.”

The Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence at Drexel University has determined that youth violence is caused by several factors, many of which are societal in nature.

Home environment: Children learn what they live. If home is a frightening, violent, abusive, neglectful environment, that’s what the child learns to expect.

Depression, stress and anxiety, feeling powerless: All these factors can cause a student to act out in frustration.

Weapons: The easy availability to weapons of all kinds makes it simple for students to get their hands on them.

Media: Some believe that children exposed to violence through movies, television, video games, the Internet, etc., are desensitized to violence, and therefore commit it and accept it more easily.

Peers: Children are influenced by those around them — not just at home, but also in school and in the community. They can learn and accept violent behavior as the norm from their friends.

Learning difficulties/health problems: Learning problems, which can be the result of health issues, can lead to frustration and lashing out.

Lack of guidance: Without adult supervision and positive role models, students don’t learn to distinguish right from wrong or acceptable behavior from what is not. They can also struggle without the ability to resolve conflict peacefully.

Attention-seeking: Children can want others to pay attention — even negative attention — to them.

Cosby got it right

Indeed, the goal of any youth violence prevention agenda has to start with changes in societal practices. Bill Cosby had it right when he said, “The main goal of the future is to stop violence. The world is addicted to it.”

Unfortunately, violence and the acceptance of same have become commonplace, and laws seeking to punish or correct the perpetrators are insufficient to stem the increase in this negative behavior.

Particularly troublesome with regard to youth violence is the degree to which many of these teenage perpetrators indicate that they wanted to “try something [they] saw on television, in the movies or on the Internet.”

It makes sense to watch the situation in Ohio closely as it plays out and to listen carefully for signs, signals or suggestions from all involved about what needs to be done to stem the tide of youth violence.

The elephant is definitely in the room — not only in some neighborhoods, but throughout our nation.

Craig A. Thompson, who writes a monthly column for The Daily Record, is a partner at Venable LLP, and represents clients in the areas of commercial litigation, products liability, and personal injury. He is the chair of the firm’s diversity committee. He is also the host of a weekly two-way talk radio show, and the author of a series of children’s books on African-American history. His email address is CAThompson@Venable.com.