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Whether it is fueled by the media, America’s involvement in two overseas wars or some other reason, those with aggressive children have a lot to be concerned about. Memories of Columbine and news stories of adolescent violence encourage parents toward swift intervention if their kids display aggressive behavior. While it is not condoned as a replacement for psychotherapy or other medical assistance, massage therapy is gaining recognition for its value in helping reduce aggression in affected youths.

Two Violence Breeding Grounds

Although there is likely a combination of reasons explaining why some children have problems with aggression, two culprits have recently been confirmed in respected professional journals: violent video games and children of deployed military soldiers.

Trailing behind television, video gaming is the second largest segment of the entertainment industry. In today’s booming video game market, eighty percent of the most popular games feature aggressiveness or violence as their primary themes. According to AskDrSears.com, one in four American boys plays an extremely violent video game each day. Unfortunately, the sales of extremely violent games are climbing.

A study published in the November 2008 issue of Pediatrics revealed important information about the effect violent video games have on children. After assessing American and Japanese children’s video game habits and their level of physical aggression against each other, the researchers concluded that exposure to violent video games was a causal risk factor for aggression and violence in those children.

Also appearing in a November 2008 publication, another study investigating childhood aggression appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. While it is known that deployment stresses a soldier’s family, further investigation revealed the impact on preschoolers of having a parent away at war. The researchers concluded that children between the ages of 3 and 5 with a deployed parent are more likely to show aggression than other young children in military families.

An Escalating Problem

Physical aggression in children is a major public health problem. In addition to the physical and mental effects on the aggressor’s victims, aggressive children are at higher risk of alcohol and drug abuse, accidents, violent crimes, depression, suicide attempts, spousal abuse and neglectful or abusive parenting.

Experts in the field believe that humans learn to regulate their use of physical aggression during the preschool years. Those who do not learn this regulation are at the highest risk of serious violent behavior during adolescence and adulthood. Thus, parents are advised to pursue therapeutic intervention for young children who are already demonstrating aggressive behavior or who are at high risk for aggressive behavior before physical aggression becomes a way of life.

Massage Therapy to Reduce Aggression

Depending on the cause, the degree of aggression, the person’s age, resources and healthcare coverage, there are many approaches for dealing with aggressive behavior. While it comes as no surprise to many learned bodyworkers, a convincing body of evidence is demonstrating that daily massage therapy sessions can reduce aggression in children:

  • In the September 2008 edition of Acta Paediatrica, Swedish researchers found that five to ten minutes of massage each day is an easy and inexpensive way to decrease aggression among preschool children.
  • In the May 2008 edition of The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, researchers observed that massage therapy could immediately reduce anxiety and, thus, is a useful tool to deescalate aggressive situations in a psychiatric setting.
  • In the Fall 2002 edition of Adolescence, a study compared the effects of massage vs. relaxation in aggressive adolescents. While those in the relaxation group experienced few benefits, the adolescents receiving massage had markedly reduced anxiety and hostility and were perceived by their parents as being less aggressive after the five-week study.

The recently published study from Sweden proving that massage reduces aggression in preschoolers opened up a huge market for bodyworkers. Considering the popularity of violent video games and the thousands of American children with a parent away at war, there are more children than ever that could benefit from regularly applied massage therapy.

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