School Connectedness, Anger Behaviors, and Relationships of Violent and Nonviolent American Youth

By Thomas, Sandra P.; Smith, Helen | Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, October-December 2004 | Go to article overview

School Connectedness, Anger Behaviors, and Relationships of Violent and Nonviolent American Youth


Thomas, Sandra P., Smith, Helen, Perspectives in Psychiatric Care


PROBLEM. Youth violence research often focuses on risk factors arising from early familial interactions rather than school-related factors.

METHODS. Via an Internet questionnaire, 282 girls and boys (ages 7-19, mean 15.3) from 47 states and Washington, DC, reported on school connectedness, interpersonal relationships, and anger behaviors.

FINDINGS. Substantial percentages of violent youth did not perceive themselves to be liked by classmates and reported loneliness. If not liked by classmates, 80% hated school. Likers and haters of school differed on seven variables (all p [less than or equal to] .01).

CONCLUSIONS. Insufficient attention is paid to the alienation experienced by disliked and lonely students. Mental health nurses could play a pivotal role in fostering change in the social climate of schools and helping youth to achieve better anger management and social skills.

Search terms: Anger behaviors, school connectedness, youth violence

Youth violence is a serious problem in America, commanding attention from school officials, behavioral science researchers, and juvenile justice personnel. Although recent reports suggest some decline in juvenile arrests for Violent Crime Index (VCI) offenses, Snyder and Sickmund (1999) estimate that fewer than half of violent crimes by young people are ever reported to the police. Even if arrests for VCI offenses such as aggravated assault and murder are decreasing, studies show U.S. school children remain heavily involved in fighting, weapon carrying, and bullying (which can include both psychological and physical abuse). In the national priorities outlined in Healthy People 2010 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000), reduction of adolescent physical fighting and weapon carrying to school are specific objectives.

Out-of-control anger behavior appears to be rampant among youth, perhaps echoing the behavior modeled by adults who engage in road rage, air rage, and desk rage. A recent survey of more than 15,000 teenagers (Josephson Institute of Ethics, 2001) showed that 75% of boys and more than 60% of girls had hit someone in the past 12 months because they were angry. The high frequency of bullying behavior has been documented in several studies. More than 1 in 6 sixth- to tenth-graders say they are bullied sometimes; more than 1 in 12 say they are bullied once per week or more (Nansel et al., 2001). In an online poll conducted by Time for Kids, 27% of the respondents admitted bullying others, and 41% said they had been picked on (Labi, 2001). Middle-school students interviewed by Horowitz et al. (2004) reported being teased and bullied about their physical appearance, personality and behavior, family and environment, and school-related factors such as academic ability. "Being different in any way" was the underlying theme in focus-group discussions with these students.

Teasing and bullying escalated when students were highly sensitive, cried, or acted "odd" (Horowitz et al., 2004). The bystanding audience often supports bullying behavior, as shown in a study of more than 10,000 third-to ninth-graders (Twemlow, Fonagy, & Sacco, 2001); 10% to 20% experienced a vicarious thrill from watching other students being bullied.

Weapons are prevalent on school property despite metal detectors and other security measures. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 1999) showed that more than I in 13 students were threatened or injured with a weapon (such as a gun, knife, or club) on school property in the past year. Josephson Institute data (2001) revealed that more than 1 in 5 (21%) high-school boys and 15% of middle-school boys took a weapon to school at least once during the past year. Nearly 1 in 3 middle-school boys (31%) and 60% of high-school boys said they could get a gun if they wanted to. Highly publicized school shootings, such as those in Colorado, Mississippi, and California, have created pervasive fear (Erwin, 2002). …

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