Youth Culture Window
Question: What does Youtube and a wrestling mat in Carthage, Missouri have in common? Answer: They both offer young people a place to flaunt their violent physical aggression directed at their peers. The new trends surfacing in teenage-inflicted brutality is leaving some alarmed, and others, nonchalant.
The First Rule: There Are No Rules
On March 30th, at a home in Lakeland, FL, six teenage girls from Mulberry High mercilessly beat a 16 year-old female “friend” of theirs, while two teenage boys stood guard outside. The prolonged violence that Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd labeled an “animalistic attack” with a “pack mentality” gave the victim a concussion and left her unconscious for a short time. The victim was taken to the hospital where she was treated for her wounds, which included some hearing and vision loss.
Evidence of the intense cruelty not only includes the victim’s wounds, but a videotape, as well. The aggressors filmed the entire episode, plotting to post it on Youtube to further embarrass the girl. Youtube, currently the 2nd most popular website in the world, offers users the ability to upload and share video footage. A search entry of “teen fights” yields a collection of almost 3,000 videos currently available (many of which are just like the one described here).
The responses to the beating are quite varied. At their arrests, the girls joked, “Guess we’re not going to go to the beach on this spring break,” while another one asked detectives, “Am I going to be released in time to go to cheerleading practice tomorrow?” One of the accused girl’s parents actually blamed the victim. And Sheriff Judd wants the suspects tried as adults to “make the case an example to others.”
Meanwhile, in Carthage, MO, kids as young as 6 step onto the mat and don protective gear to fight with each other in a kids’ version of Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport some critics call “human cockfighting.” Members of the Garage Boys Fight Crew use mixed martial arts in a competition where participants are matched in weight divisions and use sucker punches, kicks, and body blows to pummel one another into submission during several 2 minute rounds.
Again, there are mixed reactions. Some states do not even consider this kind of competition legal for minors. Medical experts are seriously worried that such young bodies are not able to withstand the pounding. But the parents of participants love the “discipline” and “positive reinforcement” that the fight club offers them. So, who’s right?
Granted, these two cases have their differences. The fights in Missouri, while highly debated, are still “sanctioned” events. Conversely, the attacks in Florida have landed 8 teenagers in jail, facing various charges including kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, and battery to name a few.
Physically aggressive behavior in teenagers is nothing new. But the evidence points to a widespread problem for today’s families. In a report released by the Center for Disease Control in 2006, it was found that…
- 36% of high school students reported being in a physical fight
- 7% of high school students admitted to carrying a gun, knife, or club to school
- violence is the second leading cause of death for young people
Additionally, in a recent study conducted by the Pew Forum, researchers found, “About one third (32%) of all teenagers who use the Internet say they have been targets of a range of annoying and potentially menacing online activities.” This “cyber bullying” includes sending threatening messages, spreading private conversations, promoting rumors, and even releasing embarrassing photos to the world.
But the problem doesn’t seem to be limited to just its increase in frequency. The quasi-celebrity status that some young people gain from posting their fights online (that attracts thousands of viewers) certainly affects the situation. On top of that, confusion abounds as to the appropriate response to the situation by adults.
Welcome to Sparta
Sparta, the ancient military civilization, intentionally bred violence into their youthful citizens for their forced conscription into the armed services. But who, or what, is behind the spread of this purposeless violence in our society?
The Internet is an obvious starting point. In the case of the FL beating, insults and slurs began flying in the online social network, MySpace, well before the punches started flying in the home-turned-torture-chamber. And then there was the plot to post it on Youtube….
But the Internet is not the only suspect in this problem. Music and video games are also making a dent on teens’ behavior. Studies show that excessive exposure to graphic and violent content, leads to a “desire to experience more violence in both video games and real life.”
Sadly, the worst factor by far, acts of violence suffered at home, must also be taken into account. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that “exposure to multiple forms of violence, including domestic violence, child abuse, and general family climate of hostility, doubles the risk of self-reported youth violence.”
Ending the Trend
Can anything be done to bring about a significant decrease in violence amongst today’s youth? As youth leaders, we may be best equipped to bring about change.
- Educate parents about the problem. Take the time to share this information with them. This isn’t a problem that affects “at-risk teens” only. Any teenager has the potential to fall victim to this kind of reckless behavior. Trust us; they will appreciate your efforts!
- Teach. Students need a biblical alternative to violence. Everyone gets angry from time to time, about serious stuff and silly stuff. How we react in those times is what’s really important. Also, spend some time giving instruction on forgiveness. That was one of Jesus’ remedies for the problem. TheSource4YM.com has great resources (like this one) that will help you.
- Engage in relationships. If you do have students that you suspect may be involved in violent behavior, get them into a one-on-one relationship with a trusted adult leader. The time we spend with them could save their lives.
You and I didn’t start the fight. We may not even be able to fully end it. But we appreciate each of you who have accepted God’s invitation to step into the fray for the Kingdom’s purposes.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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