Dr. Paul Whitehead, spokesman for the Utah Psychiatric Association, says much of the escalation in school violence may be linked to the following causes:
-Television. The average child spends four or five hours a day in front of the television - often, more time than they spend with a teacher. On a typical Saturday morning, there are 36 violent incidents per hour. By age 16, children may have seen 18,000 murders and hundreds of thousands of other acts of violence. There are more war movies that leave nothing to the imagination. Violent shows teach children the techniques of violence, reduce internal restraints by making it appear natural and desensitize them to violence, pain and suffering. "The effects are cumulative. The more they see, the more they absorb and the more impact it has on their behavior. There are too few programs such as `The Cosby Show,' which focus on positive conflict resolution."
-Stress. "Youth are under more stress and tension these days than they used to be. We expect more from them, give less to them culturally although we give more materially. Their lives are saturated with sexual messages that put them into conflict; they are bombarded with violence; they are infiltrated with drugs and alcohol. They have less sense of continuity. Ever since they were born, they've had the threat of nuclear war hanging over their heads; that's a major concern for them. They have to work longer and harder to compete effectively."
-Pressures on the family. "We have many more single-parent families. With exceptions, children don't do as well in that situation. Our families are more mobile. On average, they move every five years, uprooting the kids from extended family and friends. Families are under economic pressures and more mothers are working outside the home. They can give their children less support." The average working parent spends 30 seconds per day in meaningful conversation with children. Almost twice as many children and adolescents are living in poverty than there were just 10 years ago.
-Availability of guns. "That has swift and deadly impact. A gun puts distance between the killer and his victim. He is able to surrender the rituals of killing. He doesn't have to be next to or touch his victim." In 1981, 11,500 Americans were killed by guns, compared with eight in Great Britain, 42 in West Germany; 49 in Japan and 52 in Canada. Teenagers who use guns for suicide are much more frequently successful than those who try other methods.
-Drug and alcohol abuse. More young Americans are dropping out of society as they become addicted to chemicals. Frequently, they turn to crime and violence to support their habits.
-Social isolation. Youths may join gangs or groups of Satan worshippers to fill a void in their lives. The group often provides a "compensatory mechanism for the socioeconomically deprived. It gives them a way to establish a sense of power and puts pressure, particularly on young males, to keep proving themselves." Negative attention is easier to obtain than positive attention, which requires effort, discipline and preparation."
-Overcrowding. Long recognized as a source of conflict, overcrowding may be a factor in Utah schools, which have the greatest classroom loads in the country.