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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Why do some youngers resort to extreme violence?

Child serial killers”, “Kids murdering their parents” – these are the headlines we are increasingly seeing in the news.

Last month, a 19-year-old Japanese teenager allegedly killed and dismembered his mother because he did not like her apparently, and also because he wanted to know more about dissection.

It’s shocking that a teen who is still considered a minor under Japanese law would resort to murder for something as mundane as “not liking his mum”. I’m sure we have all disliked our parents at some point of our lives but letting that be the reason to do away with someone who gave birth to you in cold blood is absurd.

Two other recent cases of alleged parental murder and harm were sparked by computer use and gaming.

The first, reported in China Daily (, happened in Ziyang, Sichuan province. The 14-year-old boy is said to have mixed farm chemicals into the family’s cooking oil, which led to his parents, elder brother and sister-in-law suffering stomach problems and vomiting. The boy later confessed to his crime and said he was upset over his mother banning him from playing computer games.

Another 18-year-old boy – from Yuen Long village in Hong Kong – was arrested on suspicion of stabbing his father to death and wounding his mother. According to a source at the scene, a fight had broken out when his father tried to stop him from playing video games.

Why has it become so “normal” for teens to solve problems with violence?

In New Mexico in the United States, 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego allegedly shot his parents and three younger siblings in January. The incident left the public wondering how a sweet, home-schooled teen described as a doting older brother – who has no history of violence or anti-social behaviour – could commit such an act.

According to a New York Daily News report (, Griego appeared “unemotional” when confessing to the murders but turned animated when discussing his favourite violent video games.

Could it be, then, that overexposure to blatant violence in the video games caused him to “go rogue” and violently kill his family?

It’s not unreasonable to assume that repeated exposure to violence on television and in games might have an impact on youth development. It is true that exposure to violent media results in desensitisation to violence. Furthermore, media violence rarely shows the consequences of violence.

However, the media-violence link isn’t as simple as a headline would have us believe. The teens’ personality is a major factor in determining whether screen aggression will lead to aggression in the real world. A recent article in the Review Of General Psychology journal asserts that exposure to violent media has a much greater impact on those who are more emotionally reactive and less agreeable, careful and disciplined than their peers.

In addition, teens who are isolated and have few connections to healthy adults and a lack of identity and purpose (what one of the researchers, J. Kevin Cameron, calls “empty vessels”) are at higher risk of identifying with perpetrators of violence in television and video games, and might therefore be more likely to engage in violent behaviour.

This conclusion seems more plausible than the notion that violent media invariably leads to an increase in violent behaviour.

Therefore, it makes sense to limit exposure to media violence, but it is not realistic to completely shield our teens from it. Parents should be aware of the TV programmes, movies and video games consumed by their teens. Talking to teens about the things that they see on the screen is also important.

However, I believe the bottom line is to build a strong relationship with our teens. It is this meaningful connection with our teens that will enable them to empathise with others and make sense of what they watch on screen.

If you notice your teens exhibiting signs of anti-social behaviour or a sudden change in their lifestyle and behavioural patterns, find a way to talk to them so it won’t reach a point where they just “snap”.

On the other hand, we, as parents, must recognise that we may not always have all the answers. Whenever we are in doubt, we should seek professional help, so that situations do not turn too “dangerous”.


Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children. Email her at

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