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Violent Adolescents

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This volume looks at the reasons behind adolescent violence, and illuminates the earlier disturbances in the life history of the adolescent, which contribute to violent behaviour. The contributors look beyond the "why" of the behaviour and offer solutions on how to handle the situation. The contributors are all experienced practitioners and draw from their extensive experience in the consulting room. The concise and thought-provoking chapters discuss such problems as suicidal and self-destructive behaviours, school-bullying, violence towards the parents and violence while in care. This book is full of insights into the common problem of adolescent violence, and it should be required reading for all concerned with the young adults of today.Part of the Forensic Psychotherapy Monograph Series.

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CHAPTER ONE. Understanding self-destructive behaviour in adolescence

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Andrea L. Scherzer

The term self-destructive behaviour is at once nebulous and provocative. For example, being late for work or school and raising blood-pressure and stress levels could be seen as self-destructive, as could the more obvious problem of developing a drug habit. The term also conjures images of adolescent rebellion, and often it does begin in adolescence. For adults and teenagers, behaviours that have potentially negative implications for both mental and physical health also serve a defensive, protective purpose and therefore hold a compelling attraction from which it can be difficult to detach themselves. This chapter links emotional deprivation—which can include neglect as well as over-identification by the parent with the child—in childhood with a tendency in adolescence towards employing self-destructive strategies to cope with difficult emotional experiences.

Adolescence is a confusing time of experimentation and testing boundaries, so it is not unusual for teenagers to engage in activities that might be seen by the adults around them as risky. Giving acted rather than spoken messages—often about anger and disappointment—is also a common feature of adolescence. However, there is a significant distinction between teenage acting-out and deliberately physically hurting oneself in order to avoid confronting psychic pain. The term self-destructive behaviour has many possible interpretations, but in this chapter it is used to refer specifically to eating disorders and to the practice of deliberately wounding the body through activities such as cutting and burning, which is generally defined as self-harm.

 

CHAPTER TWO. Beyond “bullies” and “victims”: a systemic approach to tackling school bullying

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Lucia Berdondini & Andreas P. D. Liefooghe

Bullying has received a great deal of attention over the past few decades. Ever since the groundbreaking work of Olweus (1977) in schools in Norway, the phenomenon of bullying has been researched internationally (e.g., among others, Berdondini & Genta, 2001; Genta, 2002; Smith & Myron-Wilson, 1998). This has not been restricted to schools: bullying at work (e.g. Einarsen, 1999; Liefooghe & Mackenzie Davey, 2001; among others) and bullying in communities (Randall, 1996) have also featured highly on the research agenda.

This chapter focuses on bullying in schools and draws on research from both developmental and organizational perspectives. After all, schools are organizations, and we believe that a lack of focus on the organization and system has led to seeking explanations for bullying purely at an individual level. Research typically examines characteristics of bullies and victims and offers explanations that draw on theories of, among others, aggression and personality. While we do not reject this research, we argue that over-individualizing distracts from a range of variables that can contribute to bullying incidents. In particular, in terms of interventions, a systemic perspective can provide a more balanced (and arguably more effective) way of dealing with bullying within schools.

 

CHAPTER THREE. Parent battering and its roots in infantile trauma

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Reinmar du Bois

Childhood is filled with powerful emotions: fear, panic, un certainty, excitement, powerlessness, rage, triumph, love, and hate. When these feelings are left uncontained—either by parents or in play—and if there has also been trauma, the child can be quite overwhelmed. His response may be increasingly violent behaviour.

Child-battering and “partner-battering” are both well documented. However, parent-battering has received little attention. This chapter focuses on the subject of parent-battering and argues that an overly traumatic primary relationship can result in an adolescent acting violently towards his parents.*

In both humans and animals, aggression is associated with neuro-nal activity in the limbic system (Eichelman, 1983). This controls the “fight-or-flight” impulse and is where the origins of fear or an aggressive impulse originate. Other areas of the brain (specifically, the frontal cortex) are also involved in human aggressive behaviour (Mark & Irvine, 1970). Both neurological and psychological research has shown that human aggression is not determined by drives and cannot be likened to instinctual behaviour. While the classic notion of a boiler with a valve to relieve mounting pressure is too simplistic, there is solid biological evidence that aggression is based on a strong, natural disposition and may vary according to individual temperament and hormonal (testosterone and steroids) influences.

 

CHAPTER FOUR. Violence in care

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Bruce Irvine

I don’t want to talk about it
I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT
I don’t want to say anything Thinking about it hurts me HURTS ME

Hitchum, aged 10 (VCC, 1998)

Being in care, being “Looked After” is a complicated, difficult, and often painful process. When a child is placed in the care of the local authority, the process is often acrimonious and difficult, the experience for the child traumatic, and the experience of professionals working in the area often soul-destroying. The intensity of the crisis that precipitates the child into being removed from their family underlies the exposure of a fundamentally important anxiety on behalf of society. The child being received into care is ultimately the result of adults who have been unable to provide an environment within which the child can grow, develop, and learn. This failure is profound, as it highlights the complexities of raising children and the range of skills, supports, and resources that are required to do it successfully. Any parent, when being honest about their experience of parenthood, will acknowledge the times when they have felt so close to doing things that would have hurt, injured, or scarred their children. Thankfully, the very vast majority of adults are able, when faced with these intensities of feelings, to contain them. This is facilitated not only by the emotional security of the parent, but also by the context within which the parent is living being conducive to promoting their own resilience to mental health difficulties.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. Working with adolescents who want to kill themselves

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Emily Cooney & Lynn Greenwood

Exam stress, bullying, abuse … it is not unusual to read newspaper reports of adolescents whose experiences have driven them to suicide. While the “successful” cases may hit the headlines, less often reported are those young people whose attempts to overdose, cut their wrists, hang themselves, or end their lives in other ways have “failed”.

What provokes such a severe crisis in an adolescent? While there is no quick and easy answer to such a question, perhaps it is about facing intolerable experiences at a time when the world feels an uncertain place. After all, adolescents find themselves negotiating dramatic physiological and emotional changes at the same time as they are being encouraged to re-negotiate the oedipal experience and step further outside the (sometimes questionable) security of the family and into a broader social environment. Where that environment feels threatening and where the home may be—at best—unsupportive and—at worst—neglectful or abusive, this transition can feel painfully impossible to achieve.

 

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