Protecting Teens from Teenage Fights, Gang Violence, Exposure to Sexual Predators and Graphic Internet Violence
Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.
Teenage Fights and Gang Violence
Unfortunately, some youth attend schools or live in neighborhoods where violence is all too familiar and physical fighting is frequently relied upon to settle disputes. However, any youth can find themselves in conflicts or disagreements that escalate to a level that they feel they need to fight physically to resolve the issue or to maintain their dignity and respect among their peers. Many youth simply lack the social skills and problem-solving skills that are needed to settle disputes amicably.
Parents should be concerned about teens repeatedly fighting for several reasons. First, teens that do not learn non-violent means of settling disputes may find it difficult to maintain a job or to maintain stable social relationships, even after they become adults. Second, school fighting can lead to suspensions and even expulsions, which obviously interfere with youths' education. Fighting within the community can lead to police involvement which might result in assault charges, juvenile detention, and a criminal record. Third, when disputes are allowed to escalate to a physical level, they can escalate even further to include weapons and fatalities.
Some youth feel so unsafe and unable to protect themselves that gang membership begins to appeal to them. Gangs offer youth a sense of safety and security as well as friendship and even a sense of family. Not only do gang members protect each other, but the gang itself serves to deter violence against its members, via intimidation. Gangs quickly spring into action with a show of force if they sense a member will be injured, threatened, or disrespected in any way. When a threat is perceived, whether real or imagined, this show of force is intended to intimidate other people, groups, or gangs who are perceived as threatening.
Gang members demonstrate their solidarity by wearing certain colors, insignia, or clothing styles that signify gang membership, and they may use certain language, symbols, and gestures unique to their local gang or local affiliate of a nationwide gang. Gang solidarity is a crucial component of gang membership because without absolute gang loyalty, the intimidation factor is lost. Gangs often identify their geographic boundaries by tagging in which local buildings and neighborhood landmarks are marked with gang symbols and graffiti. Gang members tend to use violence, particularly gun violence, to intimidate others, to resolve disputes, and to defend themselves and/or their turf. Gangs are often funded by illegal activities such as robbery and drug sales and these activities further serve to intimidate others. Therefore, teens who feel unsafe and unable to protect themselves are quite vulnerable to the appeal of gang membership but the risks of gang membership are great: arrest, imprisonment, injury, and even death.
If parents are concerned about their teens' involvement with fighting or gang activity, they can do several things. As discussed above, it's most important for parents to model positive conflict-resolution techniques. Teens should see their parents and other role models handle conflicts in positive, non-violent ways. Second, parents should educate their youth about ways to handle their anger in a healthy way. Specifically parents should teach their youth to communicate problems with peers or trustworthy adults in a constructive manner, and to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner while maintaining the respect of their peers. Teens must learn that it is possible to have powerful emotions such as anger, without acting out those emotions. Third, parents can also protect youth by encouraging involvement in healthy social and recreational activities and while stressing the importance of academic success for achieving their future goals. These positive actions will limit the appeal of gangs and discourage youth from involvement with gangs.
Exposure to Sexual Predators and Graphic Internet Violence
In addition to fighting and gang violence, youth can also be exposed to graphic violence on the Internet. Teens can encounter all types of violence online, including violent videos, hate messages on blogs and in chat rooms, and violent computer games. Youth who are curious about sex can find plenty of pornography on the Internet, some of which depicts sexual acts coupled with violence. Furthermore, online child pornographers and other sexual predators specifically target young teens. Their goal is to befriend and to gain the trust of young people in order to convince them to meet in person. These meetings with strangers can put teens at risk for assault, rape, kidnapping, physical and emotional sadistic torture, and even human trafficking. Sexual predators also tempt teens into performing in child pornography by offering them money, expensive clothing, or drugs. Parents should become concerned if their children suddenly seem to have additional money or clothing that cannot be explained.
The Internet can be a wonderful resource for education, creative expression, and communication with friends and family. Parents need to balance these wonderful Internet opportunities with the possible risks of unrestricted, unsupervised Internet access. There are many precautions parents can take to help protect their youth from the possible Online dangers. For more information, see our article on Media Safety for Children.