Youth Culture Window

Hostility in the Hallways

Dynamic ImageThe past twelve months have seen their fair share of violence. From shootings, to the Boston bombing, to high-profile teen suicides, and even the release of carnage-laden video games, today’s teens have a front-row seat to savagery.

According to the latest research, it looks like it’s taking its toll on teens.

Brutal Behavior
The Josephson Institute of Ethics,
 a non-profit research entity based in LA, just released the findings from a study of 23,000 high school students in which the young people were asked questions about various aspects of their thinking and behavior on multiple topics. The discoveries about young people and violence/bullying was more than a little alarming.

For starters, 30% of guys (and 32% of girls) claimed that “Physical violence is a big problem at my school.” Beyond that, 33% of guys (and 17% of girls) believe, “It is OK to hit or threaten a person who makes me very angry.” Thus, it wasn’t surprising to find that 50% of guys and 37% of girls admitted to actually hitting a person out of anger in the past year.

Related findings were just as troubling (and provide insight as to why the lashing out is so prevalent):


  • 29% of guys and 18% of girls admit having prejudices against certain groups.
  • 45% of boys and 32% of girls said they had “used racial slurs or insults” to describe others.
  • 46% of boys (and 37% of girls) admitted they’d “bullied, teased, or taunted” someone in the past year.

Sadly, these kinds of numbers help us understand that when it comes to the age-old question of “fight or flight,” lots of teenagers are quite content to simply fight. Using simple testing procedures, researchers working in collaboration with the American Academy of Neurology found that teenagers were more likely to respond poorly to aggressive situations than were children or adults.

That’s not exactly a shocker.

But young people’s attitude and lifestyle leave experts feeling worried about the future. “This violence and bullying data is alarming for all of us, especially for parents, students, teachers and society as a whole,” explained Michael Josephson, research leader. “It shows a trend toward the acceptability that violence is OK if we feel angry. What worries me the most is that these high school students will carry this behavior forward as they enter adulthood.”

Curbing the Carnage
With the amount of angst, bullying (cyber or otherwise), and all-out violence, a natural question to ask at this point is, “Where are the parents?”

Evidently, in the dark.

According to research by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 30% of kids claimed they had been cyberbullied by someone…but only about 10% of those kids’ parents knew about it. 15% of the same kids admitting to bullying others online, but again, less than 5% of the parents thought their kids were capable of such activity.

Part of the reason for such a sizeable gap between actual bullying and parents’ perceptions is due to the fact that so many teens intentionally hide their online activity from their parents. In a recent study in Ireland, more than half of the teenagers surveyed admitted they had deleted their web browser’s history to hide their digital footprint. (55% of the lads and lassies confessed to online behavior that their parents wouldn’t approve of, also.)

I’m sure American kids wouldn’t do that, though.

Oh, wait…nevermind. 

Fortunately, there are several things that parents can do to help curb the carnage that kids are walking through each day (even if some kids are bent on keeping their actions private).


  1. Don’t make assumptions about kids and bullying. We really don’t know until we ask…so ask! The last thing we want for our teens who are facing the torturous scenario of bullying (online or face-to-face) is for them to have to face it alone. On the flip side, we don’t want to find out from another parent or kid that our teen is the one doing the bullying. Take nothing for granted and ask lots of questions. It’s possible to get out in front of this problem and provide our teenagers with help before they even need it. But we will have to talk with our teens about this issue…a lot.
  2. Teach appropriate responses to bullying, teasing, and violence. Common Sense Media put together a short video that offers some practical advice for dealing with cyberbullying, but there are more forms of harmful behavior than just cyberbullying. Show your kids how to look for the kid who’s hurting at school. Walk them through a few ways to interject themselves into someone else’s pain. Make sure your teens know the proper channels to go through to help a peer get the relief they need. Beyond that, show them in God’s Word how serious He is about justice for the weak and freedom for the oppressed. A true Christ follower should never be the one who is doing the bullying, neither should he/she tolerate it from others. Make sure that your teenagers have the tools they need to change someone else’s world.
  3. Model a lifestyle of love and support. The most powerful lesson we give our kids is our own example. If they see us talking down about someone from the office, or overhear us insulting our spouse, or using inappropriate gestures toward a neighbor, we muddy the waters and undermine our own authority on the subject. Take examples from your own life (past or present) and share them with your kids, carefully explaining what you did (or wish you would have done). The chances of them imitating great behavior increases significantly when they’ve first been challenged by a godly lifestyle. Use your life to give them something to aim at.

As parents and youth workers decide to take the issue of bullying seriously, we’ll discover it’s one of those problems that can actually be solved. There has never been a time in history when bitterness and hatred could withstand God’s people who engaged themselves on behalf of the hurting.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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