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Aggressive behavior among children and adolescents is on the rise and it is very concerning. This issue needs to be understood by parents, teachers, healthcare workers, and other adults.
Children as young as three or four can display aggressive behavior. Parents and other adults who observe the behavior may be worried. However, they often hope that the child will outgrow it.
Aggression in children can look like: angry tantrums, hitting, kicking, or biting, destructive outbursts, bullying, verbal attacks, or attempts to control others through threats or violence.
Factors Which Increase Risk of Violent Behavior
Research studies have concluded that a combination of causes leads to a risk of aggressive behavior in children and adolescents.
These factors can include:
- Being the victim of abuse or bullying
- Observing violence in the home or community
- Exposure to violence in media (TV, movies, video games)
- Firearms in the home
- Stressful family and environmental factors (poverty, divorce, single parenting, unemployment, loss of support from extended family)
- Brain damage as a result of a head injury
Children with multiple risk factors that show concerning behavior should be evaluated. Their caregiver should arrange for a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. Early intervention can often help.
Treatments typically focus on helping the child to control their anger; express anger and frustrations appropriately, be responsible for their actions; and accept the consequences. In addition, family conflicts, school problems, and community issues should also be addressed by the interventionist.
Research studies have shown that aggressive behavior can be decreased or even prevented if the risk factors are reduced or eliminated through appropriate intervention.
Most importantly, efforts should be directed at dramatically decreasing the exposure of children and adolescents to violence in the home, community, and through the media.
In addition, the following strategies can reduce aggressive behavior:
- Prevention of child abuse and bullying
- Early identification and intervention programs for aggressive youth
- Monitoring child’s viewing of violence during their screen time, including the Internet, tablets, smartphones, TV, videos, and movies.
While not considered a replacement for psychotherapy or other medical assistance, massage therapy is gaining recognition for helping reduce aggression in affected youths.
Two Violence Breeding Grounds
Although there is a combination of reasons why some children have problems with aggression, two reasons have been confirmed in respected professional journals. They are the use of violent video games and watching violent television shows.
Video gaming is the second largest segment of the entertainment industry with more than 90% of American children playing video games. The video game market continues to boom and a JAMA Pediatrics study announced that 90% of the games that are rated E10+, teen, or mature depict violence that is often portrayed as fun or justified in some way where by the act of violence has no negative consequences.
In an article published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologists Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., and Karen E. Dill, Ph.D stated, “One study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games.” Yet another study in the article revealed that, “… even a brief exposure to violent video games can temporarily increase aggressive behavior in all types of participants.” According to AskDrSears.com, one in four American boys plays a violent video game daily.
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.
The JAMA Pediatrics study concluded:
“…habitual violent VGP [Video Game Play] increases long-term AB [Aggressive Behavior] by producing general changes in ACs [Aggressive Cognitions], and this occurs regardless of sex, age, initial aggressiveness, and parental involvement. These robust effects support the long-term predictions of social-cognitive theories of aggression and confirm that these effects generalize across culture. Because of the large number of youths and adults who play violent video games, improving our understanding of the effects is a significant research goal that has important implications for theory, public health, and intervention strategies designed to reduce negative effects or to enhance potential positive effects.”
In addition to video games, frequent watching of television violence by children has been shown to cause greater aggressiveness. Even viewing a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. Children who watch shows where violence is realistic, repeated, or unpunished are likelier to imitate what they see.
Children with emotional, behavioral, learning, or impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence. The impact of TV violence may show immediately in the child’s behavior or may surface years later.
An Escalating Problem
Physical aggression in children is a significant 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 preschool. Those who do not understand 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 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. However, a convincing body of evidence demonstrates that 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 valuable 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. In addition, their parents perceived them as being less aggressive after the five-week study.
- A 2017 study showed a reduction in aggressiveness among elementary school children after ten massage sessions. They also observed an increase in academic performance.
Considering the popularity of violent video games, violent TV shows, and other risk factors, more children than ever could benefit from regularly applied massage therapy.
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