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When is might not right?

SHOBA MENON

In the past 30 years aggressive behaviour in children has been on the rise. What has brought about this change?

Reuters

A mother of a four-year-old says, "These days children need to be aggressive to survive." However Arundhati Swamy, a Counsellor in Family and Child Welfare says, "Anger is a natural emotion. But when it is expressed as physical/ emotional violence, it is definitely learned behaviour.

Over the last 30 years, aggressive behaviour among children is on the rise. If it could be measured on a scale of 10, where earlier it ranged between three and four, then today it touches seven or eight. Emotional aggression like bullying is the most common.

Physical violence in boys — hitting, kicking and so on, is seen from early childhood up to middle school, while adolescent girls seem to prefer the more subtle verbal kind of bullying. The more they watch violent TV serials and movies the less they react emotionally when witnessing aggression, and are less concerned about violence in real life.

And the effect of toys like guns? Says Arundhati, "While a toy gun by itself need not harm, the act of shooting combined with strong visual reinforcements can be dangerous. So also computer games and video games that incite violent aggressive feelings need to be supervised with specific time limits. Only extended play of this sort sinks into the system, carries over into the real world, where the child has no control."

Work off aggression

For adolescent boys, much of aggression producing negative energy can be channelled into positive effect through unstructured play (not competitive sport, where again you are under pressure to perform). When other children start imitating aggressive peers triggering off a chain reaction, effective adult intervention is needed. Applying `time-out' when a child is removed calmly and without comment from any possible rewarding consequences of his aggression is an option. Positive reinforcement will encourage children to be more open, and more proud of non-aggressive, socially useful behaviour.

Talk about it

Aggressive behaviour has also been seen, in some cases, as passing through generations, in children of families who thought physical punishment was normal. "Media influence and peer pressure together form a deadly potent combination geared for aggression in children. And when anger starts interfering with the normal functioning of a child, it becomes a problem," says Arundhati. "Learn terms for basic emotions — happy, sad, afraid and angry. Teach them how to identify, acknowledge feelings, talk about it, express themselves, and explore the anger. And remember, such crucial emotional needs need to be met both at school and at home."

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