What Will a 21st Century Education Look Like?

Over the years I’ve looked back on my own education and wondered why does it always feel 20 years behind what’s going on in the real world? Why was I being taught how to use a typewriter instead of a word processor? Why was I learning shorthand when we have tape recorders? Why are there no classes I can take (beyond BASIC) to further develop my computer programming skills?

Occasionally I would be accused of leaning too heavily on technology. I disagree. More than anything else I believe education must hold itself accountable to being relevant to our future. Technology, as I see it, is simply an access point to relevance. Walk into a classroom today and look around. You’ll see things such as overhead projectors, cassette players, chalk boards, and standardized tests. They’re all obsolete yet we’re still using them.

Throughout my own education I saw a rapidly changing world that wasn’t matching up to the textbook-driven, passive learning of facts I was being exposed to in my classrooms. Fast forward to today and the rapid changes I witnessed back in the late 80s and early 90s are nothing compared to what I’ve seen in the last ten years. The fact we can look up anything at anytime on our smartphones is itself a game changer in education.

While it may be convenient for society to tuck kids away in buildings for 8 hours a day, learning no longer has to take place at a set time, in a set place. The digital age has allowed learning to happen anywhere at anytime. That’s a major cultural shift education must confront. Students no longer have to spend their days sitting in successive classrooms memorizing facts to regurgitate on a test because they can look up the same information on Google in a fraction of the time, anytime they need it.

Local, state, and federal policy makers rarely considered the possibility that students might one day have an option to learn outside a room with four walls. Without this forward thinking, it gave rise to the standardized testing mania we have today. The assumption that education will always be teacher-centered and passive learning and memorization of discrete facts will always be the norm. That’s great scientific management of our population should we want to deploy a factory model based upon the needs of employers in the Industrial Age. The only problem is we’re in the 21st century.

The biggest challenge that schools must overcome is the emergence of participatory, user-driven technologies. The fragmented curriculum that exists today must be replaced with an integrated and interdisciplinary curriculum that engages each individual student, helps them adapt, and inspires them to dream, innovate, and create. We’re talking about real-life, relevant, project-based 21st century education that is outcome-based. The future of education isn’t in finding the best way to get all students to pass the same test. The focus should be on what students know, are like, and can do after all the “facts” are forgotten. It’s a system where active, research-driven learning is encouraged and supported. It’s student-centered. The teacher’s role shifts from being provider of information to coach and facilitator of learning.

As school districts across the country ponder what their future will look like, it’s impossible to envision it without understanding the new means of pedagogy and how students and teachers will interact 10, 20, even 50 years from now. There is indeed an important connection between pedagogy and facilities that must be critically looked at before any decision about future learning spaces can be made.


May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to use this opportunity to bring attention to the fact that each year more than 36,000 Americans die by suicide. Many of these deaths could be prevented by treating the underlying depression, bipolar illness, alcohol and substance abuse and other mental disorders that contribute to suicide.

It is vital that we provide equitable health coverage for these illnesses, without which we increase the risk for suicide.

Unfortunately, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (2008), which would ensure large group health insurance plans and Medicaid plans provide coverage for mental or substance-use disorders on par with coverage offered for physical ailments, waits for the Obama Administration to implement final regulations that would make its benefits a reality.

As a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope you will join me in urging the President to issue the final rule for this law.

Categories: Sociology

Hypocrisy: When Women Abuse Men

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Should we do more to address emotional and physical abuse of men by women? One has to ask themselves is it psychological abuse for a woman to tell her male partner to “man up”, or refer to him as a coward, pussy, or failure? Is it emotional abuse for a woman to tell her male partner he is unmanly, or weak in areas that men have come to define their masculinity or worth as lovers? Is it abuse (sexual or otherwise) for a woman to intentionally withhold sex with an intimate male partner to control his behavior? Are shopping sprees by women which leave no money left for necessities spousal abuse? Is it fair to say that some female domestic violence victims are actually the instigators of violence against them? Has our culture put in place a double standard that has incorrectly defined domestic abuse as a issue where only women can be victims?

While men might pose more of a physical threat than women in general, abuse can and does go both ways. On ABC’s What Would You Do, a social experiment was set up in a park to observe how bystanders who witnessed verbal and physical abuse by a man on a woman would react. In the segment, there were two actors, a male and a female. The segment started off with the male physically and verbally abusing the female on a park bench. As expected, people who passed by frequently stopped what they were doing to come to the aid of the female. However, when the actors reversed their roles and the abuser was the woman and the victim was the man, interesting implications and insights into the mindsets of our culture emerged. The woman verbally and physically abused her boyfriend. He was slapped in the face, punched, pulled by the hair, and verbally assaulted. Not one of the 163 people who witnessed the aggressive female abusing her male partner did anything to intervene. In fact, some people who were interviewed after witnessing the incident commented “Good for her. You go girl!” or assumed the man “had it coming to him…because he cheated or something like that.” Others commented that “he looked guilty” or “probably deserved it.” Some even seen the female abuser as a “role model” for other women. One of the bystanders interviewed was a police officer. When asked why he did nothing to intervene and acknowledged there was a double standard in play. That if the abuser was a man he would have probably stepped in.

Now imagine if we change up the scenario a bit. Let’s go back to the initial setup where the man was abusing his female partner. What if the quotes afterwords were “Good for him!” or “She had it coming.”? Would you accept that as a reasonable defense for assaulting a female? Probably not, but ironically it is an acceptable defense if the victim is a male. So I pose a question: Should it matter when someone (anyone) needs help or should it only matter when the abuser is a man and the victim a woman?

Often we assume that a woman cannot do any physical harm to a man so we do not give them additional layers of protection. Research has consistently demonstrated that men create more damage during domestic violence disputes but it also shows that women actually hit more often than men do. Phillip Cook, author of Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, asserts that “male victims of domestic violence are numerous and represent a major social problem that has, in general, been ignored, disbelieved, or dismissed” (McNeely, Cook, & Torres, 2001.) In his first chapter, Cook presents data that shows men experience abuse at almost the same level (or higher) than women but largely such research has been ignored or suppressed. In cases were the data was reported scholars questioned its validity while at the same time accepted the validity on female victims from those same studies. Policy makers ignored the data on male victims out of fear that programs aimed to protect women from abuse would lose funding. The criminal justice system (police and courts) has taken the position that men should be able to take care of themselves and that “real men” would not be abused. Essentially we blame male victims for becoming victims.

Feminists typically argue that intimate partner violence (IPV) is committed only by men against women. That since men are socially, politically, and economically dominate over women that women must be provided with additional protections from abuse (Hines, Brown, & Dunning, 2007.) Feminists often claim that any violence by a woman against a man is done out of self-defense. Henning and Feder (2004) concluded that female abusers were less likely to warrant concern over their male counterparts because the risks of recidivism and criminogenic tendencies is much lower in females than in males. Henning and Feder’s research claims that female attacks on males are primary due to the necessity to engage in defensive tactics. Critics however argue that not all violence by women is done for reasons of self-defense and that violence in intimate partner relationships should be addressed as a human problem, not a gendered problem.

In October 2000, the first ever helpline in the United States for male victims of IPV opened. The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men (DAHM) was founded to specifically assist the needs of male victims of IPV that were not being met by other social service agencies. In data analyzed by 190 callers to the hotline, researchers discovered the following (Hines, Brown, & Dunning, 2007):

[Men] … were primarily calling because their wives were physically abusive towards them, and 52.4% of males who were currently in an abusive relationship indicated that they were fearful that their female partners would cause a serious injury if she found out that they had called the helpline. The most frequently cited physically aggressive behavior was being slapped or hit, which was reported by 43.7% of the men. In addition, a large minority of men were pushed (41.8%), kicked (39.2%), grabbed (31.0%), and punched (24.7%). According to qualitative accounts, several physical attacks were reported to have occurred to the groin area … [and] severe and life threatening physical attacks, such as being choked and being stabbed were also reported by these men. What follows is a sampling of various calls received by DAHM:

“G reports that his estranged wife frequently targeted his testicles in her attacks, which included head butting and choking. Police were called to his home six times; one call resulted in the wife’s arrest.”

I was writhing, crying in the corner . . . I couldn’t get up for two hours . . . she kicked me in the groin at least 12 times.”

She held a knife to my balls and threatened to cut them off.”

She drove her car through her dad’s car and the garage into the main living room . . . . She has also physically attacked me and made me black and blue.”

My wife has ripped the phone off the wall and she hits on me all the time . . . She is a prominent person in the community . . . . Who would believe me if I told?”

She has pulled knives on me and she lashes out and blames me for everything.”

I tried to call the cops but she wouldn’t let me . . .She beat me up, punched me . . . . She raped me with a dildo . . . I tried to fight her off, but she was too strong . . . . I was bleeding and she wouldn’t let me got to the doctor.”

She has been arrested two times before and I asked that she not be arrested this time [after she broke both of my eardrums], but she gave the cops a hard time so they took her anyway. My daughter told the police, ‘Daddy never hits; Mommy hits on Daddy.’”

She spit at me, pushed me, and when she couldn’t get a reaction, she hit me in the head with a cutting board.”

She scratched my face badly; it bled for two hours.”

She has jumped on my back, clawed and scraped me, and I have gotten the shit beat out of me several times. I can never please her.”

I don’t know our phone number here because she changed it and it’s unlisted. I have tried to get it but I haven’t been able to . . . . She checks the caller ID to see who has called when she comes home from work and she locks up my sneakers in the daytime.”

She convinces me that I am wrong all the time. She came at me flailing her arms hitting me and I went outside to get away from her and she locked me out. I was in my pajamas and slippers . . . but she wouldn’t let me back in.”

She doesn’t want me to have any friends.”

She has spent all our savings without telling me.”

Yelling, screaming at me that if I don’t shut up, I won’t live to see tomorrow.”

She calls my mother and father and threatens to take me out.”

I started the car and she stood behind the car with the baby . . . Then she put the baby on the ground behind the car where I couldn’t see her so I wouldn’t leave.”

I called eleven different numbers for battered women and got no help.”

She stabbed me with a knife, and I didn’t even defend myself, and after I got out of the hospital two weeks later, the court tells me to go to a group they say is for victims. It turns out to be for batterers and I am expected to admit to being an abuser and talk about what I did to deserve getting stabbed.”

E has not seen his child for three days. During an attack by his wife he called the police, who made a dual DV arrest . . . E’s wife was admitted to a battered womens’ shelter which is supporting her in preventing his contact with his child. E is concerned for the child’s welfare, given his wife’s instability (two involuntary hospitalizations) and propensity for using weapons in the course of violent rage.”

McNeely, Cook, & Torres (2001) argue that “Domestic violence, like all violence, is a human issue. It is not merely a gender issue. Classifying spousal and partner violence as a women’s issue, rather than a human issue, is erroneous.” Their research found that women are just as likely as men to engage in domestic violence. They argue that scholars and the media have “[imbedded] into the national consciousness a false and inaccurate view of the problem.” They present evidence that the popular view of only men being abusers has contributed to “men’s increasing legal and social defenselessness” and has lead to “social policies that obstruct efforts to address the problem of domestic violence successfully.” Even major incidents that have captured the media’s attention (such as the severing of John Wayne Bobbitt’s penis with a knife by his wife Lorena1) have failed to address violence by wives or against males as a social problem to be concerned with. Instead we justify it with remarks such as ‘he deserved it.’

1 In court Lorena Bobbitt claimed she was raped by her husband and “snapped” however during her arrest she was quoted as saying “He always have orgasm [sic], and he doesn’t wait for me to have orgasm. He’s selfish.” Court testimony revealed details of violence instigated by both parties.

The overwhelming evidence supports the conclusion that intimate partner violence is a complex and intricate social problem that affects both sexes. As a society we often discount, or dismiss completely, the idea of partner abuse against men. We can no longer sit back and accept the ideology that abused men don’t exist, or that if they are abused then they must have asked for it. In doing so, we are ignoring half the problem and we are neglecting the needs of male victims. We must admit to ourselves that females are abusers who need help too. That being abused by someone you love is degrading, harmful, and creates a cycle of violence that has no gender preference. Academics must accomplish what they have failed to do so for the last half century – present the case of abused men as a real social problem. As researchers we must bring to life our statistics so that we can cut through political rhetoric and shed insight into the systemic problem of family violence in all its forms. It is time to identify intimate partner violence as a human issue instead of a gendered issue so that both sexes have equal access to resources that can help them.

Additional reading: Can There be Abusive Women in Abusive Relationships?


Henning, K., & Feder, L. (2004). A Comparison of Men and Women Arrested for Domestic Violence: Who Presents the Greater Threat?. Journal of Family Violence, 19(2), 69-80. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Hines, D., Brown, J., & Dunning, E. (2007). Characteristics of Callers to the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men. Journal of Family Violence, 22(2), 63-72. doi:10.1007/s10896-006-9052-0

Horne, A. M. (1998). Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Book). Journal of Marriage & Family, 60(4), 1039. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

McNeely, R. L., Cook, P. W., & Torres, J. B. (2001). Is Domestic Violence a Gender Issue, or a Human Issue?. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 4(4), 227. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Juvenile Delinquency and Justice in the United States

Across all social strata, it is exceedingly rare to find adolescents who have not engaged in status or benign delinquent offending. The prevalence for behaviors such as drinking alcohol, using drugs, truancy, unruliness, smoking tobacco, engaging in sexual activity, fighting, and theft are nearly 100 percent. Conventional wisdom recognizes that there is a distinctive stage of life between childhood and adulthood that increases criminogenic tendencies in adolescents and that each child is a product of the society that cares for it. This paper examines the history of juvenile justice in the United States, addresses current social, institutional, environmental, and individual factors that protect against or exacerbates juvenile delinquency, and finally poses a question: Is the social problem the behaviors that crime-prone juveniles engage in, or is it our society’s failure to adequately respond to and support the needs of adolescents?


What is juvenile delinquency? In simplistic terms, any act committed by a minor that violates the penal code is consider juvenile delinquency. In most of the United States, and in the federal court system, persons under the age of 18 are considered juveniles and their unlawful actions are called delinquencies. A handful of states define delinquency as criminal misconduct occurring before age 16 and Wyoming considers persons juveniles until age 19. Children under a certain age (usually between 7 and 10) are generally excluded from delinquent status and legal responsibility because it is assumed that they are unable to form the criminal intent (known as mens rea or guilty mind) necessary to perpetrate acts of delinquency (Nofziger 2009).

In most cases, delinquent acts would be considered crimes if they were committed by adults. The exception to this rule are status offenses. Status offenses are considered inappropriate or unhealthy behaviors for children and adolescents and are proscribed precisely because of the offenders’ age. In many cases, these offenses tend to be moralistic ideas of what we think juveniles should not be doing and such behaviors, if committed by adults, are legal. Examples of status offenses include violating curfew, disobeying parents, using or possessing drugs or alcohol, engaging in sexual behavior, incorrigibility, running away from home, using tobacco products, and truancy.


Historically in the United States, what constitutes juvenile delinquency has been variously defined and interpreted. For most of human history, children were treated no differently than adults, subjected to corporal punishments such as public whippings and dunking in water, to removal from the community and capital punishment. In the 16th century, there was a change in thinking. Children were seen as gifts from God who, instead of being treated as adults, needed physical and moral protection and education (Nofziger 2010). The basic principals for raising children were supervision, discipline, modesty (around children), diligence, and obedience. The prevailing idea was that children need to be prepared for adulthood, not thrusted into it.

As we moved into the colonial period (early 17th century) to around 1825, focus was placed on the family as the primary source of control in children (Nofziger 2010). Most juvenile lawbreakers were sent home for punishment while serious infractions were punished under English common law. This doctrine, heavily embedded with moral and religious overtones, was rigid and harsh. In 1646, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed The Stubborn Child Law which gave children the death penalty for disobeying their parents. It read:

“If a man have a stubborn or rebellious son, of sufficient years and understanding (viz.) sixteen years of age, which will not obey the voice of his Father, or the voice of his Mother, and that when they have chastened him will not harken unto them: then shall his Father and Mother being his natural parents, lay hold on him and bring him to the Magistrates assembled in Court and testify unto them, that their son is stubborn and rebellious and will not obey their voice and chastisement, but lives in sundry notorious crimes, such a son shall be put to death.”

Statutes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1646

This draconian law was derived almost verbatim from an Old Testament injunction in the book of Deuteronomy:

“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (King James Version)

The Stubborn Child Law was on the statute books of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for over three hundred years, only being repealed finally in 1973. Some scholars note that this law was not intended to actually be carried out but instead placed on the books to serve as a warning to children about the consequences of disobeying their parents.

With major social changes such as the industrial revolution and the emergence of the leisure class there was a shift in thinking by the early 1800’s. Children began to be viewed as persons at a unique stage of human development instead of smaller versions of adults with equal cognitive and moral capacities. Positivistic factors such as immigration, poverty, urbanity, poor parenting, and other environmental factors replaced religiosity as the core causes of delinquency. By 1825, a progressive social movement, organized by people known as the child savers, emerged to challenge the definition, interpretation, and handling of juvenile delinquency. The child savers believed that the family did not have the necessary resources to be an ideal source of control for children, and consequently sought to remove juveniles from adverse environments and instead make them wards of the state. Based on the doctrine of parens patriae (the state as the ultimate guardian of children), a new system of discipline developed outside the family where juvenile delinquents were placed in Bastile-like houses of refuge.

Despite the reform-minded intentions of the child savers, problems developed. Under the belief that juveniles can be saved from a life of crime, children living in poverty were often unfairly targeted. These children would be sent west on trains where at each stop they would be lined up and selected by farm families to be forced into hard labor. Children who were not selected as farm hands stayed on the trains, in some cases for years, until they aged out of the system (Nofziger 2010).

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States experienced increased immigration and urbanization with accompanying social changes. During this era, adolescence also became recognized as a distinctive stage of life between childhood and adulthood that provided the opportunity for physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and moral maturation. Reform movements during this period attempted to decriminalize delinquency and remove youth from the criminal justice system and instead place them in treatment programs.

On July 1, 1899, the modern juvenile justice system was created with the Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1899 and the opening of the first Juvenile Court in Chicago. The purpose of this court was to regulate the treatment and control of dependent, neglected, and delinquent children. There objective was treatment, not punishment, with outcomes based on the circumstances and special needs of the child. These philosophically different juvenile courts rapidly spread across the nation and processed youth involved in both status and delinquent offenses. The function of these juvenile courts was not to degrade, crush, or make the delinquent an offender, but instead to uplift and develop the juvenile into a worthy citizen. While noble in their attempts, over time the juvenile justice system was criticized for its inability to effectively reduce delinquency as a social problem and, perhaps more importantly, for similarly processing and incarcerating generally benign status offenders with comparatively more serious delinquent offenders. Additionally, children’s rights were non-existence. They had no due process rights, no rights to legal counsel, and no rights to cross-examine witnesses. Judges held absolute power in determining what course of action would be taken with each juvenile. Such broad powers by judges and lack of rights by juveniles came to end in 1966 with Kent vs. The United States.

With the social upheaval of the 1960s, a variety of more liberal measures were introduced to guarantee the same legal rights for juvenile offenders as adult offenders. It started with establishing procedures before waiving or transferring a juvenile to criminal court in Kent vs. U.S., 1966. In this case, a judge unfairly waived a juvenile to adult court where he was tried as an adult and sentenced to 90 years instead of five years if he was tried as a juvenile. In 1967, In Re Gault gave juvenile offenders additional rights already given to adult offenders, such as due process, a right to counsel, notice of charges, cross-examination of witnesses, and protection against self-incrimination. In this case a 15-year old received five years in prison after making an obscene phone call. If the juvenile had been tried as an adult instead he would have only received 60 days in prison.

Throughout the 1970s juvenile courts increased in formality and due process rights, including state burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (In re Winship, 1970), jury trials (McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 1971), and protection from double jeopardy (Breed v. Jones, 1975). Moreover, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (amended in 1977, 1980, and 1984) called for the decriminalization of abused and neglected children, deinstitutionalization of status offenders, and established funding for delinquency research.

Over the last quarter of the 20th century, juvenile delinquency was defined in large part by contemporary social issues such as drug abuse, illegitimacy, gangs, and school shootings. Several horrific juvenile crimes in the late 1980s and early 1990s heightened the public’s concerns on how juveniles should be treated by the courts. Incidents such as school shootings catapulted juveniles to the top of the nation’s list of most serious social problems, thus giving rise to increasingly punitive treatment of juvenile offenders, particularly harsher punishments and increased reliance on incarceration. Hyperviligent public schools adopted zero-tolerance policies which allowed no margin for error. Even the most minor student infraction became subject to immediate school discipline, applying harsh penalties to innocuous conduct. Nationally, several prominent incidents highlighted extreme decisions by school officials: A 9-year-old boy was suspended for one day after giving a breath mint to a classmate. A kindergarten boy in Virginia was suspended for bringing a pager on a field trip. A junior high school student in West Virginia was suspended three days for giving a cough lozenge to a classmate. In Ohio, a 13-year-old boy was suspended 80 days for bringing ibuprofen to class (it was later reduced to three days.) An 11-year-old girl from South Carolina was arrested and suspended for having a steak knife in her lunchbox to cut chicken she had brought to school to eat. School boards were criticized for their one-size-fits-all approaches and for being “by the book”, without taking into account the particular circumstances of individual students or incidents. Countless students across the nation were unfairly punished for violating not the spirit or intent of such policies, but the letter.

As the 21st century began, a paradigm shift in the definition and interpretation of juvenile delinquency occurred. Delinquency was no longer viewed as a discrete, aberrant phase of deviant behavior to contrast with adult crime. Instead, multidisciplinary efforts framed juvenile delinquency specifically and childhood/adolescence generally in a life-course context in which delinquency was examined as one stage in the longitudinal, often developmental, criminal career. These stages included the timing of the initiation of delinquent offending (onset), the proportion of youth who are delinquent (prevalence), the number of delinquent events committed annually (incidence), the rate of delinquent offenses committed annually (lambda), the decline of involvement in delinquency (desistance), and the cessation of delinquency (termination.) This research paradigm has unearthed the most valid and reliable statistical data on the magnitude and stability of juvenile delinquency.


Historically, juveniles have always been crime-prone but what causes a juvenile to become delinquent? Why do some juveniles end up persistent delinquents while others do not? Some theorists will argue that the answer is simple. Delinquency is caused by violent television, violent video games, or violent music (such as rap, metal, punk, or rock.) Others have argued that low self-control or social, familial, economic, and political variables are responsible for delinquency and violence. Research on delinquency and juvenile offenders has led to a variety of conclusions about what causes, and what correlates with, juvenile crime and the definitions, causes, and policies used by the state to manage juvenile delinquency are highly contingent on trends in the academic disciplines that study it. Even within academic disciplines, there are differentiating theoretical debates. Archaic definitions equated delinquency with supernatural forces, sin, vice, and other bad habits. Economists have defined delinquency as the rational outcome of the purposive cost-benefit analysis of the delinquent. Sociology has a similar perspective called Rational Choice Theory (RCT) but has dismissed it because of its falsifiability and inability to explain crimes based on emotion/expressivity. Biologists have pointed to various stigmata, hormones, and other innate characteristics as the natural determinates of youthful misbehavior however sociologists contend that biological theories do not explain the bulk of crime nor do they explain why some juveniles engage in delinquency while others do not. Psychologists have variously defined delinquency as the maladaptive product of a defective personality, over- or underdeveloped Freudian superego, low IQ, anger management and opposition-defiant disorder, and an assortment of individual-level pathologies. Psychological theories are very dependent on the type of crime and similar to biological theories, do not explain all crimes, nor do they explain crime patterns.

In the contemporary United States, the dominant practitioners of delinquency are sociologists and criminologists who point to large-scale, structural, extra-individual phenomena as the determinants of human behavior. According to criminologists, delinquency is a collective and social, not an individual, pathology. Numerous theoretical camps within criminology define juvenile delinquency as the outcome of various social processes. These include interaction with delinquent peers (differential association and social learning); poverty, mobility, and neighborhood dissolution (social disorganization); unequal access to societal goals (strain/anomie); weak bonds to conventional social institutions (social control); abject parental socialization (self-control); stigmatizing involvement in the juvenile justice system (labeling); and the balkanizing effects of competing social statuses (conflict, critical, differential oppression, and feminist.)

Sociological research on the correlates of juvenile crime is extensive, and often contradictory, so it can only be stated that there are many variables constituting risk factors in juvenile offending. At the same time, there are also many protective factors that keep juveniles from committing delinquent acts. Thus, there is no one answer to the question of what causes juvenile delinquency, instead the answer is contingent on a number of different factors (Walsh 2008).

For the purposes of this paper, I will use the Integrated Social Control model which combines control theory, strain theory, and social learning theory to explain the origins of delinquent behavior. Families, communities, and society usually exert social control to compel individuals to act in socially acceptable ways. According to this theory, when these controls are absent, subcultures develop that promote attitudes and perceptions favorable to delinquency and other deviant behavior. Differences between a youth’s aspirations and his or her opportunities cause frustration and failure. Strain theory argues that youth then turn to delinquent behavior as a way of coping. Social learning theory assumes that childhood experiences, such as lax or harsh parental discipline, abuse, neglect, or violence, prevent bonding with others and diminish internal self-control.


Contributing factors for juvenile delinquency can be placed into four major sociological categories. They are community, schools, peers, and family.


The structure of communities (location of community, distance to places of employment, type of housing) contribute to juvenile delinquency. Communities in areas of extreme poverty create structural characteristics that create disorganized and unstable neighborhoods. These communities lack protective institutions such as quality schools, churches, libraries, even grocery stores. As a result, communities are unable to provide children with traditional means of success such as legitimate activities, good schools, and job opportunities.


Structurally, schools contributes to delinquency by throwing different cultures together (leading to conflicts/fighting), and by providing adolescents more access to deviant opportunities such as drug and alcohol use. Schools which lack resources exasperate the problem with overcrowding and being incapable of meeting the needs of struggling students. As children grow older they are given increasing freedom and independence in the family and other settings yet at school the same rules apply year after year. Students who do well at school, are popular with their peers, and participate in extracurricular activities probably consider school rules merely a minor annoyance. But students who fare poorly academically, are not popular, and participate little feel that the school does not have much joy to offer and consequently regard its rules as oppressive and intolerable. These students find school frustrating, develop hostility toward it, and often drift into trouble.


When institutions cannot meet the needs of juveniles, their peers will. Gangs, for instance, offer a sense of belonging and protection, as well as an opportunity for recreation and material resources.


Families contribute to juvenile delinquency when they teach behaviors that are not accepted by society or socialize children into cultures that accept or encourage deviance (such as the K.K.K.) Single parent homes also contribute to delinquency because parents are no longer working together as a unified front, fewer demands are placed on the child(ren), and less supervision as the child is often under the control of only one parent at a time. Perhaps most importantly, is that single parent homes are far more likely to live in poverty and suffer its effects compared to two-parent households.


The juvenile justice system itself is fundamentally flawed. Though it may currently sound unpopular, repression and detention in inadequate correctional institutions should be the last resort in addressing the issue of juvenile delinquency, and reserved only for the most serious offenders. Resources should be focused in prevention and social services where at-risk kids can be targeted before they get involved in crime. We must ask ourselves what trends in our current society will continue to influence juvenile delinquency rates? We must consider factors such as single moms, out of wedlock births, the economy, lack of community resources, failing public education, and American culture (pro gun, violent media, drugs) itself. We must understand how these influences effect delinquency rates before we decide if and how we are going to hold juveniles accountable for their deviant behavior. By some accounts, saving a single youth from a life a crime saves society an estimated 2.6 to 4.4 million dollars (Cohen & Piquerro 2009.) Policy makers must realize that solving the problem of juvenile delinquency starts with adequate funding directed at prevention programs instead of punitive actions.


Cohen, M., & Piquero, A. (2009). New Evidence on the Monetary Value of Saving a High Risk Youth. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 25(1), 25-49.

Nofziger, Stacy (2009, August 25). Introduction to Criminology lecture, University of Akron.

Nofziger, Stacy (2010, January 12). Introduction to Juvenile Delinquency lecture, University of Akron.

Nofziger, Stacy (2010, April 15). Juvenile Delinquency lecture on the history of juvenile justice system, University of Akron.

Nofziger, Stacy (2010, April 20). Juvenile Delinquency lecture on the history of juvenile justice system, University of Akron.

Walsh, A., & Hemmens, C. (2008). Introduction to Criminology. 345-350. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Juvenile Delinquency and Schools

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Schools are seen as an unsafe place. We have this perception for two main reasons: Exagerated stories of events that occur in school and hyper media reporting of school crime and violence which lead us to believe that schools are a hostile environment.

Schools have interesting characteristics that provide both risk and protective factors for students.

The risk factors are: Peer influence, More access to “bad” things (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes), Conflicts/Fighting, Different cultures being thrown together, Proximity/Density of peers (everyone is crowded together), Lack of resources (i.e. latest textbooks, sufficient staffing, security), Failure at school/frustration (little or no supports to help struggling students)

 The protective factors are: Structured environment, Monitored/Supervised setting, Mentors (teachers, coaches, principals, security offers), Extra curricular activities that connect to community, Influence of positive role models.
A student’s success in school is correlated with the less likelihood of future criminality so we want to see every child succeed.
So What Type of Crimes Happen in Schools?

From surveys of students between the ages of 12 and 18 we know that approximately 2 million students are victims of nonfatal crimes of violence or theft each year.

These crimes include: Theft, simple assault, sexual assault, aggravated assault, and rape.

We also know that younger kids (between the ages of 12-14) are at higher risk of being victims while older kids (between the ages of 15-18) are more likely to be offenders.

For every 1,000 kids aged 12-14, 67 will be victims of theft or violence at school.

For every 1,000 kids aged 15-18, 59 will be victims of theft or violence at school.

This changes when kids are off school property. Off school property, kids aged 15-18 are at higher risk of being victims, while kids 12-14 are at a lower risk.

So let’s add some perspective to this. Is your child safer at school at in his/her own neighborhood?

School rates of violence: Theft 32 Violence 29 Serious violence 6

Away from school rates of violence: Theft 25 Violence 24 Serious violence 11

This data suggest kids are at more risk for serious violence away from school, but at more risk for violence and theft while in school.

What are the most common problems in schools:

Vandalism – A serious problem because of its costs to clean up and the demoralizing factor it has on the students and their surroundings.

Theft – Theft is the most common crime against students (both as victims and offenders)

Bullying, or intentional and persistent “negative actions” taken against another student or students. Negative action is defined as a wide variety of behaviors intended to cause discomfort or harm to the victim.

What is the public attitude towards bullying? Is it a “normal” part of growing up or a serious problem?

The United States paid little attention to bullying until school shootings started happening in the 90s.

Types of bullying:

Verbal – name calling, jokes

Emotional – rumors, exclusionary practices

Physical – hitting, shoving

Sexual – harassment or actual physical contact.

15-30% of students say they are directly involved in bullying as victims or perpetrators. Girls and boys are equally represented.

Newest type of bullying: Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying presents several new challenges. It can be done anonymously, it can reach you outside of school, and the things posted online can remain online forever.

Research on Cyber bullying is still in its infancy but here is what we know so far:

From a UK study: Of 11,000 kids over a 4 year period, 15% received “nasty or aggressive messages”

From a New York study: 1/3 of students who have access to the Internet have been victims and this number is rapidly raising because of increasing popularity of social networking sites.

Bullying has consequences for the victim:

– Clinical depression

– Emotional disorders such as anxiety or fear

– Dislike of school

– Increased likelihood of dropping out

– In extreme cases, suicide or murder.

Bullying also has consequences for the offender:

– 25% of bullies drop out of school (vs. 5% of others)

– There is an escalation of deviance and increased likelihood of adult criminal behavior.

– Have difficulties finding and maintaining employment (because they do not have pro-social work skills)

– Have difficulties in relationships and higher rates of divorce.

School Shootings

The good news:

  • Approximately 50 million students are enrolled in grades 1-12 (public schools only)
  • Most students will never take a gun to school
  • Most students will never be involved in a gun incident while in school

Bad news: In 2007, 6% of students in 9 through 12 grades took a gun to school in a 30 day period. This equals over 1 million guns in public schools during that period.

Most of the guns are concentrated in high schools. 63% high school, 24% middle school, 12% elementary, and 1% preschool (Guns are often brought into preschools and elementary schools as a show-and-tell item)

Over 80% of guns in schools occur in urban/poor areas. This concentration occurs for a variety of reasons including easy access to guns, a need for protection, and social status.

Types of school shootings:

  • Intentional shootings: 65% (Typically one student shoots at another student over a dispute between the two. These incidents often end in death because the victim is targeted)
  • Accidental shootings: 13% (Guns accidentally go off while in school)
  • Suicide: 8% (Student kills himself on school grounds to make an impact/statement)
  • Hostage situation: 8% (Student takes hostages – quite a few of these types of incidents end in “suicide by cop” where the student intends to have themselves killed by police.)

Typical (not mass shooting) type of school shooting incident:

  • Usually involves two students
  • Usually occurs in urban/inner city school
  • Disproportionately occurs in poor and minority areas.
  • Typically shooter and victim is male and an older teen.
  • Usually only one handgun is involved.

Non-typical incident: Mass shootings

The most common characteristics of mass shooters between 1996 and 2001 are: 14 years of age, upper-middle class, white, from an unstable family dynamic, an outsider or bullied, and had easy access to guns.

What mass shooters have in common:

  • Males between the ages of 10 and 16.
  • From rural/suburban areas
  • In most cases used multiple weapons.
  • Recent school/family/personal problems.
  • Felt inferior/picked on/bullied. (Shooting was their way of regaining control and power)
  • About half were on medication.

School Safety

Question: If you were going to design a safe school, what would it look like?

  • Clear backpacks.
  • More counselors and psychologists to address individual student problems.
  • Anonymous tip line to report potential problems.
  • Workshops that teach conflict management skills to students.
  • Mandatory extra curricular activities and social clubs to increase cohesion of students.
  • More recognition for achievements within school (that do not pertain to athletic talents or academic achievements.)
  • More sociologists on school boards forming policies. (Yes, I added that in there.)

Today, schools focus on safety and control rather than helping individual students better manage difficult circumstances. Schools tend to address potential problems by forming policies on how to punish, such as initiating zero-tolerance policies for infractions. These types of approaches have been shown to be very ineffective.

So what security measures are most often used in schools?

  • Visitor sign ins sheets (97%)
  • Closed campus (90%)
  • Daily police (23%) [Security guards cost money which means less money available to the school to hire teachers (among other things)]
  • Video surveillance (15%)
  • Random metal detector inspections (8%)
  • Uniforms (3%) [Don’t deter gang clothing or hiding weapons but we put them in place as “feel good” measures.]
  • Daily metal detector inspections (2%)

School Failure

Low IQ is consistently linked to school failure and delinquency. Race and class is also a good predictor of delinquency.

Even though IQ scores are linked to school failure, the test themselves have serious problems because of bias built into the construction of the test questions. In a nutshell, some questions on IQ tests are difficult to know the answer to if your social status, environmental factors, or cultural differences are different from the middle-class white American norm.

A common criticism is that they test for knowledge that some individuals would likely not know the answer to because of their race or socioeconomic status. For instance, these test favor students who come from English-speaking homes and also favor students that can read and write in a formal register.

Ultimate form of school failure: Dropping out

11% of the U.S. population between the ages of 16 and 24 do not complete who school.

Females are more likely to drop out than males because of pregnancy.

By race

Blacks and Hispanics are over-represented in dropping out.

Drop out % within race

7.3% of whites

28.6% of Hispanics

12.6% of Blacks

4.3% of Asians

Family income also matters when it comes to dropping out. The poor are overrepresented and the rich are underrepresented while the middle class are equally represented.

Common problems that occur with individuals who suffer school failure:

  • Higher rate of poverty/unemployment.
  • Unstable marriages
  • Welfare dependence
  • Higher rates of incarceration

Research findings as the pertain to juvenile delinquency:

If someone drops out because of family issues such as having to work or getting pregnant, they are often no more delinquent than before they dropped out.

If someone is expelled for problem behaviors there are more delinquent after dropping out because of less structure in their life.

School Structure/Policies as a source of failure

Structured Failure

The structure of the educational system reinforces differences and can lead to big gaps in success.

  • Schools emphasize initial differences in children
  • Kids from different backgrounds (race, class, sex) are grouped together.
  • Tracking is used to group children into equal levels to close gaps in intellectual differences.

Conflicting Needs

  • Schools face difficulties in being able to address individual needs of students.
  • Schools have increasingly limited resources.
  • There is a greater pressure for schools to produce higher standardized test scores. (No Child Left Behind)


Students feel disconnected from their own learning experience. Class sizes are too large. The student/adult ratio is too big, there is little/no meaningful participation, and/or an irrelevant or uninteresting curriculum.

For example, schools do not offer a wide range of electives to appeal to all interests of children. For instance, a student might have an interest in business but there are no accounting or finance classes offered. Another student might be good at sports but there is no athletic program. Another student may have an interest in automotive repair but there are no shop classes offered. Another student may have an interest in computers but there are no computer courses.

*Even in cases where these special courses are offered they are also the first to be cut when school’s face financial difficulties.

No Child Left Behind

The goal of the No Child Left Behind Act is to provide a quality education for every child AND the close the achievement gap.

The achievement gap is the difference in educational measures between groups of students. Typically poor and minority students have performed at lower levels.

Even though segregation in the schools is no longer legal, schools are in actuality segregated because the pool of students comes from its surrounding neighborhood. In other words, schools can be just as segregated as their neighborhoods are. You might have the poor living in one area, the rich in another, white in another, black in another, with each group going to a different school. (Generally speaking)

No Child Left Behind attempts to provide a quality education to all by:

  • Requiring each state to meet minimum standards. Each state is required to set these minimum standards with minimal guidelines from the Federal government.
  • Each state must establish it’s own definition of “adequate yearly progress” (AYP)
  • No Child Left Behind requires that all students are proficient in reading and math no later than the 2013-2014 school year.

Is No Child Left Behind working? Not very well.

You can go to the Ohio Department of Education’s website (http://ilrc.ode.state.oh.us/) and pull report cards by district or school. If we look at random report cards in the state of Ohio you’ll notice that:

Race and class are correlated with how well the school is performing. Schools with high levels of poverty are performing poorly while schools with low levels of poverty are performing very well. Schools in which the students are predominately minorities are performing poorly while schools that are predominately white are performing very well. Generally speaking, rich white schools performed best while poor minority schools performed the worst.

The good:

Nationally there has been improvements.

Minority test scores are at an all time high.

The achievement gap is narrowing and in some cases at all time lows.

What happens if a school fails?

  • Every student in a failing district has the choice to transfer to a better school in the district. (It should be noted that getting to that school may present some challenges for many students)
  • Students in failing districts are entitled to extra help, tutoring, and before and after school programs.
  • Ultimately, the State takes over the school.

Other problems with No Child Left Behind:

  • There is increased pressure on young children to pass State mandated test.
  • Because these tests are also used to measure the performance of the teacher there has been potential problems with “teaching to the test” and with teachers cheating themselves. For instance, teachers may give out answers to test questions or correct wrong answers after the student has taken the test.

Class Notes 2-2-10 through 2-11-10. Stacy Nofziger, University of Akron, Juvenile Delinquency

Twitter Advice For Teachers: What If A Student Follows You?

February 25, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s a large number of teachers, administrators and school board members using social media these days. Students see educators as role models and parents want to be sure educators are using social media in a responsible manner. If you’re an educator, here’s my advice on what to do when a student or parent follows you on Twitter:

First, be aware that students and parents are reading your tweets, whether they’re formally following you on Twitter or not. For better or worse, students, parents, your boss, your children, and your biggest critics can read what you’re tweeting. What many educators have opted to do is manage multiple Twitter accounts. One account is used for personal tweets while the other one is used for professional discussions. This allows you to distinguish if something tweet-worthy is to be shared as a private individual or as a professional who is also representing the school district.

Your personal account is where you tweet your personal thoughts. You shouldn’t be too worried if students or parents see that you believe the Browns need a win or that the winter weather has been crazy this season. This is your “life away from school” and you’re human just like everyone else. If, however, you feel inclined to express your political or religious opinions, make moral judgements about others or vent about your spouse, then you’re better off “protecting” or blocking your tweets from the general public. In fact, I suggest you always protect your personal account for a variety of reasons.

Without protection turned on, anyone can see the accounts you follow and the accounts that follow you. This can reveal your religious or political views, feelings on family members or other personal details you may prefer to keep private. Second, anything you tweet can be used against you. Keep in mind even if your tweets are protected others can still “re-tweet” your comments into the public realm, so as a rule, never tweet anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of your local news source. When parents or students request to follow you, always politely decline and instead welcome them to follow you on your professional Twitter account or refer them to the school’s official Twitter account.

Your professional account is where you conduct conversations with fellow educators as part of your professional development. Twitter is a goldmine of information for educators with discussions on just about every topic you can think of. There are “hashtag discussions”, such as #EdChat, #EdTech, #BYOT, #MathChat, and many more that educators can follow, each focusing on specific content areas. Educators around the world are participating in these discussions to grow professionally and ultimately improve themselves as school leaders. You’ll want your professional Twitter account to be publicly viewable, otherwise you’ll be limited in your interactions with other educators. If a parent or student decides to follow your professional account, embrace it. You’re only demonstrating your desire to be the best educator possible.

With both your personal and professional account, you don’t follow the Twitter accounts of parents or students. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. No matter how good your intentions, following a parent or student’s Twitter account gives the appearance of favoritism. Maybe after a student graduates in order to keep in touch with alumni, but never with current students or their parents.

The third type of Twitter account I would encourage educators to consider is one specifically geared toward your students and/or parents. You can use this account to Tweet school announcements, assignment reminders, class updates or hold virtual discussions with students. Don’t be afraid to show your human side every now and again. Your students will appreciate it. Again, however, don’t follow back student’s personal Twitter accounts. Instead require them to create an account for school-use only and follow that account instead.

A final word of caution: be careful when you re-tweet others. Re-tweeting means to share someone else’s tweet with your Twitter followers. To re-tweet someone may imply that you hold the same opinion as that person. You don’t want any student to feel uncomfortable or marginalized in your classroom or raise concerns with parents about your professionalism or objectivity.

Categories: Education

Influence of the Media on Juveniles: Increased Aggression or Catharsis?

February 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Influence of the Media on Juveniles: Increased Aggression or Catharsis?

From television and movies to video games and the Internet, no other agent of socialization has had more influence and dealt with more criticism than the media when it comes to the effects it has on children. From teaching gender roles and reinforcing stereotypes to vivid displays of aggression and sexual content, the media has been charged as being one of the primary reasons America is so violent today. Are these charges against the media justified? On one side of the argument critics claim that excessive violence in the media has increased violent tendencies in children through desensitization, observational learning, and imitation. In contrast, others argue that we are attracted to violent media content because it defuses our aggression. Which of these two theories does the overwhelming evidence support?

In modern society books, magazines, and self-proclaimed experts routinely advise that it is healthy to “blow off steam” and that watching violent television or playing violent video games is a way of releasing anger and hostility in a health and safe manner. As Drew Markham, former CEO of Xatrix Entertainment stated, “The most violent games sell the best because people are violent by nature [and] need release valves.” It was Sigmund Freud who first theorized that behaving aggressively was a way of releasing pent-up emotion from one’s system and thus was adaptive. He called this release of emotional tension catharsis. Those who support the catharsis hypothesis claim that violence in American would be far worse without the “release values” provided to us by media.

Just as we know that most pack-a-day smokers do not die of lung cancer and most abused children do not become abusive adults, we must still be mindful that smoking and child abuse are risk factors. One has to ask: Does passively viewing violence elevate aggressive responses and lower sensitivity? Do children who view violence in video games or on television become desensitized to it and more prone to engage in real world violence themselves? To find out, we will put the catharsis theory to the test by examining the latest research on violence in the media and its effects on children.

Violence on Television

Critical Thinking: What influences, both positive and negative, does television have on our culture?

Without question, one of the greatest impacts on our culture in the second half of the twentieth century has been television. Although it is only one of many types of mass media that has an effect on children’s behavior, it is one of the most influential because of its staggering persuasive capabilities (Comstock & Schareer, 2006). In fact, many children spend more time in front of the television than they do with their parents (Roberts & Foehr, 2008). Just how much television do young children watch? Surveys vary, with figures ranging from an average of two to four hours a day. When compared with their counterparts in other developed countries, children in the United States watch far more television and for considerably longer periods of time. The content children watch on television is not necessarily always a bad thing. Although a passive learning tool for the most part, television does have positive influences on a child’s development when it presents models for pro-social behaviors and motivating educational programs that increase their knowledge about the world beyond their immediate environment. Unfortunately television also has some drawbacks. The vast majority of television programs reinforce stereotypes, present children with unrealistic views of the world, and provide violent models of aggression (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005; Kronenberger, et al., 2005). However, the lingering question remains: Does violence shown on television increase aggressive behaviors in children or help them channel it in less destructive ways?

One of the most commonly watched television programs by young children are cartoons. Unfortunately, these presumably safe cartoons often contain excessive amounts of violence. In a sampling of Saturday morning cartoon shows, an average of 25 violent acts occurred every hour (Wilson 2008). This violence is often accompanied with unrealistic outcomes such as characters being seriously or fatally wounded but showing no signs of lasting harm or characters who are unrealistically killed by being sent to other dimensions or turning into pixie dust. The question remains though, do the violent acts portrayed in cartoons have any effect on children’s behavior? In one experiment, preschool children were randomly assigned to one of two groups: One group watched television shows taken directly from Saturday morning cartoons for 11 days; the second group watched the same television cartoon shows except with all of the violence removed (Steur, Applefield, & Smith, 1971). The children were then observed during playtime at their preschool. The preschool children who had seen the cartoon shows with violence kicked, choked, and pushed their playmates more often than the preschool children who watched the nonviolent cartoon shows. Because these children were randomly assigned to the two conditions we can conclude that in this particular case the exposure to television violence caused the increased aggression in the children who viewed the violent cartoons.

Are there any long term effects to exposure to violence on television? Longitudinal studies have found that watching television violence as a child has been linked to acting out aggressively in later years (Olson, et al., 2009; Browne & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005) In one study, exposure to media violence by children 6 to 10 years of age was linked with aggressive behavior in their young adulthood. In another study, long-term exposure to television violence was significantly related to increased levels of aggression in a sampling of 1,565 12 to 17 year old boys. Studies have also concluded that boys who watched the most aggression on television were the most likely to commit violent crimes and engage in other antisocial behaviors later on in life (Mitrofan, Paul, and Spencer, 2009). It is important to note that these studies are correlational, so we can conclude from them that television violence is associated with aggressive behavior, and not necessarily causing aggressive behaviors.

Violence in Video Games

Critical Thinking: In what ways do video games teach violence? How can video games be used to temper violence?

Because of their interactive nature and increasing realism, violent video games raise even more concerns about aggression in children than television (Bluemke, Friedrich, & Zumbach, 2010). Violent video games became an issue for public debate in 1999 after teen assassins in Paducah, Kentucky, and Littleton, Colorado, seemed to mimic the carnage in the video games they had so often played. In 2002, two Grand Rapids, Michigan, teens and a man in his early twenties spent part of a night drinking alcohol and playing the video game Grand Theft Auto III (Olson, et. al, 2009). Among other things, this particular game allows players to steal cars, run down pedestrians, and beat them to death with fists and other weapons. These three young men decided to go out driving themselves, spotted a 38-year old man on a bicycle, ran him down with their car, got out, stomped and punched him, and then returned home to play the game some more. The victim, a father of three, died six days later.

Are youths learning social scripts when they play video games? Interactive games transport the player into their own vivid reality, so deeply immersed that they experience an altered state of consciousness in which rational thought is suspended and arousing aggressive scripts are learned (Barlett, Anderson, & Swing, 2009; Barlett & Rodeheffer, 2009). The direct rewards that a player receives (“winning points or advancing to the next level”) for their actions may also enhance the influence of video games on the individual (Barlett, Anderson, & Swing, 2009; Barlett & Rodeheffer, 2009). For instance, when someone assumes the video game identity of Claire Redfield in Resident Evil 2, who sprays bullets into zombie cops, whose bodies then slump over, twitching and hemorrhaging, is anything being learned? Very likely since a system of rewards and punishments is the single most powerful mediator of learning and acting out what one has learned (Barlett and Rodeheffer, 2009; Barlett, Anderson, & Swing; 2009).

Critical Thinking: Is it fair to blame real life violent acts on video games when other risk factors such as alcohol, drug use, or lack of parental supervision is involved?

Correlational studies indicate that children who extensively play violent video games are more aggressive than their counterparts who spend less time playing games or do not play them at all (Anderson & Dill, 2000). Researchers have observed a rising level of arousal and feelings of hostility in college men as they played games such as Mortal Kombat while other studies have found that video games can prime aggressive thoughts and increase aggression (Ballard and Wiest, 1998). Another report found that University men who have spent the most hours playing violent video games tend to be the most physically aggressive (Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Anderson & Dill, 2000), for example, to acknowledge having hit or attacked someone else. In another experiment, those randomly assigned to play a game involving bloody murders with groaning victims (rather than to play nonviolent Myst) also displayed more hostility (Anderson & Dill, 2000). This suggests that, due partly to the more repetitive and active participation of video game play, violent video games have even greater effects than the well-documented effects of exposure to television and movies (Anderson, 2000).

In Congressional hearings, video game spokesmen have disputed these claims, and instead point to a handful of internal studies that find no increases in aggressive behaviors. When confronted with the massive amounts of evidence to the contrary, they point out their efforts to incorporate a rating system that helps parents make informed decisions about the content contained within the games they purchase for their children. When this strategy does not work they, like their television counterparts, they fall back on their First Amendment right to produce any material of their choosing (Anderson, 2000).

One question remains to be answered. Why are some of the best-selling video games also the most violent ones? Could Drew Markham’s suggestion that we are violent by nature be the reason? Are there other factors that are contributing to record-breaking video game sales? An industry insider reported that psychologists are often consulted by video game designers in an effort to find ways of making their games more appealing (Young, 2009). The goal is to get the player addicted to the game, to change the motivation from, “I want to play this game” to, “I need to play this game”. These Clinical psychologists know that attracting players to video games starts with inducing an adrenaline rush and the most effective way to trigger that rush is to create vivid, imaginary worlds, with the prospect of the player’s death around every corner. These simulated environments increase the amount of dopamine that is being produced while playing a game (Young 2009; Costa 2007; Koepp, et al., 1998). Dopamine, sometimes called the master molecule of addiction, is connected to the same reinforcing effects of drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines (Costa 2007; Koepp, et al., 1998). When players engage in vividly violent games it is like receiving a jolt equivalent to an injection of amphetamines. So one can argue that perhaps the reason the most violent video games consistently make the top-seller’s list is because they are designed in such a way to maximize the dopamine output for the player, thus becoming physically addictive (Costa 2007; Koepp, et al., 1998).


As it stands right now, the research overwhelmingly has not supported the catharsis hypothesis. To the contrary, most studies have found that playing violent video games and watching violent television is related to increased aggression, physiological arousal, aggressive thoughts, and decreased pro-social behaviors in children. Studies consistently support the view that exposure to media violence not only desensitizes people to violent acts, it also encourages aggressive self-views and automatic aggressive responses. Extensive exposure has also been shown to have long-term effects on individual aggression levels. In fact, the relationship between media violence and aggressive behavior is almost as strong as the relationship between smoking and lung cancer.


adaptive Adaptive behavior is a type of behavior that is used to adjust to another type of behavior or situation.

agents of socialization the individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions that provide substantial amounts of socialization during the life course.

aggression any physical or verbal behavior intended to hurt or destroy.

antisocial behavior a pervasive pattern of behavior that displays disregard for the violation of rights of others, societal mores, or the law (such as irritability, consistent irresponsibility, lack of remorse, failure to conform to social norms, etc.).

catharsis emotional release. In psychology, the catharsis hypothesis maintains that “releasing” aggressive energy (through action or fantasy) relieves aggressive urges.

correlational a type of scientific investigation in which the causality between variables cannot be directly inferred.

culture the enduring behaviors, ideas, attitudes, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next.

desensitization the process of reducing sensitivity.

dopamine a neurotransmitter associated with movement, attention, learning, and the brain’s pleasure and reward system.

effect the result or consequence of an action, influence, or causal agent.

environment every non-genetic influence, from prenatal nutrition to the people and things around us.

experiment a research method in which an investigator manipulates one or more factors (independent variables) to observe the effect on some behavior or mental process (the dependent variable). By random assignment of participants, the experiment controls other relevant factors.

gender roles Learned behaviors that condition activities, tasks, and responsibilities viewed within a given society as “masculine” or “feminine.”

imitation copying (or trying to copy) the actions of someone else.

longitudinal study a research strategy in while the same individuals are studied over a period of time, usually several years or more.

modeling the process of observing and imitating a specific behavior.

observational learning (also known as vicarious learning, social learning, modeling) a type of learning that occurs as a function of observing, retaining and replicating novel behavior executed by others. It is argued that reinforcement has the effect of influencing which responses one will partake in, more than it influences the actual acquisition of the new response.

pro-social behavior positive, constructive, helpful behavior. The opposite of antisocial behavior.

random assignment assigning participants to experimental and control conditions by chance, thus minimizing preexisting differences between those assigned to the different groups.

reinforcer in operant conditioning, any event that strengthens the behavior it follows.

stereotype sometimes accurate but often overgeneralized belief about a group of people.


Anderson, C.A. (2000). Violent video games increase aggression and violence. Testimony to the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on “The impact of interactive violence on children,” March 21, 2000.

Anderson, C.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science, 12, 353-359.

Anderson, C.A., & Dill, K.E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 772-790.

Ballard, M.E., & Wiest, J.R. (1998). Mortal Kombat: The effects of violent videogame play on males’ hostility and cardiovascular responding. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 717-730.

Barlett, C., Anderson, C., & Swing, E. (2009). Video Game Effects—Confirmed, Suspected, and Speculative: A Review of the Evidence. Simulation & Gaming, 40(3), 377-403. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Barlett, C., & Rodeheffer, C. (2009). Effects of realism on extended violent and nonviolent video game play on aggressive thoughts, feelings, and physiological arousal. Aggressive Behavior, 35(3), 213-224.

Bluemke, M., Friedrich, M., & Zumbach, J. (2010). The influence of violent and nonviolent computer games on implicit measures of aggressiveness. Aggressive Behavior, 36(1), 1-13.

Browne, K., & Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. (2005). The influence of violent media on children and adolescents: a public-health approach. Lancet, 365(9460), 702-710.

Comstock, G., & Scharrer, E. (2006). Media and popular culture. In W. Damon & R. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (6th ed.). New York: Wiley.

Costa, D. (2007, April 24). Turn It Off, Kids!. PC Magazine, p. 55. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Koepp, M., Gunn, R., Lawrence, A., Cunningham, V., Dagher, A., Jones, T., et al. (1998). Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game. Nature, 393(6682), 266. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

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