Violence among youths is a social phenomenon that has been experienced in many social settings and communities. To understand this phenomenon, we must understand that violence is not a single activity, but rather a socially defined group of events that share similar characteristics (Furlong&Smith,2004). Violence is a universal phenomenon, although there are some places where its prevalence is higher than others. Sociologists seek to investigate the factors that create higher rates of violence in some societies than others. This paper will approach the problem of teen violence form a functionalist approach.
The functionalist approach, also known as functionalism, has its roots in the works of contemporary sociologist Emile Durkheim. His contribution to the study sought to understand how society achieves stability. The functionalist approach assumes that societies function like organisms, with all the different institutions integrated and co-joined to produce a stable living environment (Shaw & McKay, 2002). The presence of teen violence is a step away from the construct of a stable society.
Violence among youths is not only a sociological problem, but also a serious public health problem. A report by the Centre for Disease Control revealed that in 2000, nearly two hundred thousand youths were killed in situations of interpersonal violence. The number of youths injured form such altercations is twenty to forty times higher than that figure. This indicates that violence among youths is rampant in many parts of the world.
An interesting, yet grave facet of youth violence is the rising cases of school shootings. These refer to incidents where students and other attackers stage violence at institutions of learning such as high schools and university campuses. Incidents such as the Virginia Tech Massacre that cost thirty three lives and left scores injured, the Bath School Disaster, University of Texas massacre, Sandy Hooks Elementary and other high profile events of violence have resulted in the death of hundreds of school children and left even more fatally wounded.
The functionalist approach views violence from a formal and informal perspective. According to Shaw & McKay (2002), the occurrence of violence among youths and teens is a social problem since it is shared among different communities. Individuals are exposed to the construct of violence in everyday situations. Their communication and interaction takes place on a formal or informal level to describe the events. At an informal level, conversations and events are accounted to other members of society such as friends, family and relatives. On the informal level, the construct of violence is explained by scholars who carefully and methodically analyze the separate events looking for similarities and explanations to the incidence of violence among youths.
Causes of Youth Violence according to the Functionalist Approach
The functionalist approach has yielded many factors that may be used to explain violence in youths. There is a common belief among functionalists that violence takes place in society when the communal mechanisms do not work to address the needs of certain key players in society. This means that violence will take place among youths is the social mechanisms put in place do not address their needs. The following factors have been identified in the functional theory to attempt and explain the incidence of violence among youths;
- Socialization: It is important for children to be taught at an early age the expectations and interaction process of individuals within their age bracket. Socialization is an important part of the growth process, since children learn more from their peers than from teachers, parents and adults. Where school children lack important interpersonal skills and cannot cope with ordinary interaction settings, violence may erupt. According to Warr (2004), school children who exhibit violent behavior are likely to have suffered from lack of supervision at home, harsh discipline and lack of nurturance by parents and care givers.
- Stress management: All groups of individuals in society experience stress; though at different levels. Parents experience stress to provide for their families in increasingly difficult economies, students face a lot of mental pressure to perform in highly competitive academic fields, teachers face pressure to complete syllabi and many other group interactions. It is important to note that each group of stakeholders in this scenario faces a different kind of pressure, with varying intensity and different solutions(Shaw & McKay, 2002). In most communities, companionship, play, music, sports, sex and other engagements have been the main ways to relieve stress. Where these activities fail to reduce stress, violence may ensue.
- Social and political change: Families, communities and nations have evolved to create situations that work to create positions that disadvantage other members of society. The evolution of politics and social change is important in creating societies where everybody has equal opportunities and justice. The lack of opportunities and a growing gap among the rich and poor, the differences in social classes and the perception of flaws in the justice and legislative system have created a lot of social pressure which is manifested through violence.
- Control: The concept of social control is of utmost significance in studying the onset of violence in society. Social control is necessary to prevent individuals in society from oppressing other individuals. Research by Shaw and McKay (2002) reveals a high correlation between low socioeconomic status,ethnic heterogeneity, residential mobility, and violence. The study concluded that neighborhoods that lack stable, cohesive networks of social control experience high rates of juvenile delinquency. This is a pointer to the significant role of society in providing guidance and supervision to the youth and consequently reducing the prevalence of violence.
- Conflict management: The presence of mechanisms that provide equitable solutions to societal problems and other platforms for conflict management is a deterrent to violence. Societies that have platforms where their issues can be addressed equitably to provide justice are less prone to violence. The root of such conflict management platforms is the family unit. Children need to learn at an early stage that there are many avenues to channel their frustration and solve problems without violence. Communities that provide support to each other in terms of conflict management and have formal and informal platforms to solve problems are not likely to experience cases of youth violence.
Interventions to prevent Youth Violence
Attempts to prevent and reduce the incidence of youth violence can only be effective if they take into account the sociological explanations behind violent behaviour. The functionalist approach analyses violence not only from the perspective of an individual, but also the societal factors that may lead to violence. The functionalist approach is most effective when socially-aware program are disengaged from mechanistic approaches such as reward and punishment(Shaw & McKay, 2002). The approach seeks to instill values, skills and beliefs in community that would create a behavioral shift in the affected target group.
For a social-cognitive approach to be effective, it has to be implemented at the youngest age. The functionalist approach to preventing youth violence targets children at their youngest ages. Ideally, these efforts should reach all individuals in community, and not those with a history of violence (Warr, 2004). Schools, churches and other societal settings that allow interaction of participants from across the board is an excellent forum to teach children how to avoid violent behaviour.
The Role of different stakeholders in preventing youth violence
The school community is particularly important in the intervention exercise since it has the ability to pick students from diverse backgrounds. Children spend seven to eight hours per day for five days in a school setting thus making it one of the most effective places to instigate a behavioural change. The availability of trainers in schools is also a factor of prime importance in choosing the venue (Warr, 2004).However, even with all these facilities, it is still queer to note that the high incidence of youth violence takes place in schools and other institutions of learning. Bullying, gang related bahaviour, school fights, sexual harassment and other forms of interpersonal violence take place within the boundaries of the school, thus creating an interesting paradox.
The role of parents and the community in general in reducing the prevalence of violence cannot be underestimated. The effectiveness of well-conceived school programs may fail without the support, cooperation and approval of parents and the community. Policy makers, social workers and other stakeholders must therefore find ways to involve the community and parents in all stages of the program. Furthermore, the intervention must consider the diverse cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs and attitudes held by participants. The interventions against violence should educate, rather than attempt to change the cultural, religious and ethnic beliefs of individuals.
Violence among youths in schools is a social and public health concern that requires dire action. The number and severity of cases of school shootings has been rising gradually over the decades. This indicates a failure in the current social system to curtail the vice. However, policy makers, sociologists, parents and the community in general have taken up preventive measures to reduce the incidence of violence among the youth. The most effective functionalist interventions require an upheaval in the entire social system. This is necessitated by the fact that society is made up of many interrelated facets that make up the whole.
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