Preventing violence

Studies of violent events involving youth almost all reveal that there was a lead time, from days to months, during which some preemptive action could have been taken, writes William S. Pollack, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.

In a large number of cases the child assailants broke their silence and told either a peer or an adult about their plans. Most attackers engaged in behaviors, not just thoughts, that caused concern or indicated a need for intervention.

Most of these acts of violence were preventable, even at the last moment. Yet either no reasonable intervention by adults happened or the intervention was not completely or properly monitored, and so a tragedy occurred.

Connectedness to families and others key

Pollack believes that the pain that lurks beneath crime and violence can be reduced or eliminated by the emotional glue of family love. Creating and supporting healthy families lies at the heart of stopping violence. Pollack points out that although we continue
to debate family values and what constitutes the ideal family, we lose sight of the importance of the psychological connectedness available in a variety of family units. He asserts that we need to support families of all kinds as the central force against violence.

What teenagers need most to survive the tribulations of adolescence is knowing that they have meaningful connections not only with their peers, but also need their parents and their extended families — coaches, teachers, religious leaders — to form a living wall of love that they can lean on. For adolescents, knowing that they can tap into the strength derived from positive family relationships is the key to growing into healthy adults. In a national survey of 100,000 adolescents, social context, particularly the family, was the
key to adolescent behavior.

While factors such as whether parents were present during key periods of the day and whether they had high or low expectations
of their children’s academic performance were important, the most significant factors affecting students’ behavior were closeness to their mother or father and feeling loved and wanted by family members. Pollack concludes that it is the potency of family connection
that guards adolescents from emotional harm. By protecting them from disconnection, we protect our society from violence.

“The Importance of Family: Preventing Violence Through Family Connection” The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter Volume 17, Number 12, December 2001 Pp. 1-4.

Published in ERN February 2002 Volume 15 Number 2


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