The following research is based on the analysis of factors, which lead to criminal behavior. The material for the research is violence and aggression among teenagers, who become criminals. It should be mentioned that teenage is characterized by instability and hostility towards other people. It depends on many factors, which will be thoroughly discussed in the following research. Psychological analysis of the murder will be based mainly on frustration-aggression theory and excitation transfer theory, as well as other psychological hypothesis. Analysis of these theories helps understand whether it is possible to prevent further spread of aggression among children and teenagers.
Every day we come across numerous examples of aggression in TV-programs, literature and newspapers. And we ask ourselves: what motivates all those people? What are the reasons for aggressive behavior and what can be done about it? The answers to these questions can be argued about. Let us analyze criminal behavior on the example of a murder:
A four-year old boy went for a walk with his small sister. The girl soon returned home and said that her brother went to play with older boys to the forest. Worried mother began to look for her child. After desperate efforts, she involved police, teachers and students at local school into the search. The boy was eventually found on the outskirts of the village with signs of violent death. Later it turned out that several drunken teenagers were looking for fun that evening and decided to beat up the boy. They cruelly beated him, smashed his face and jumped on him. Then they took off his clothes, bound his hands, raped and eventually murdered him. It is a cruel illustration of teenage delinquency, but it represents a rich material for the analysis of aggressive behavior. First of all, it should be mentioned that there were four of underage criminals, all of whom had problems in families and at school. One of the murderers had mental retardation and frequently played truant. Others were often seen roaming about in the evenings in a drunken state. They used to bully and deceive other children, and were uncontrolled by their parents, who also led a riotous life. In this regard, it is clear that the main factor of children’s aggression was bad example of their parents and lack of attention, care and control from their side.
There are several theories, which help us understand the connection between family atmosphere and child aggression. Olweus points out four factors that lead to child aggression:
- The first one is parental hostility and indifference to her child (Olweus, 1978). We all know that children tend to imitate adults’ style of behavior, and it especially concerns parents. Thus, if a child experiences lack of love and care from the side of his parent, he is likely to work off his bad temper and aggression on his friends or just surrounding people.
- The second factor is a tolerant attitude of parents to child’s aggression towards his peers and family members. It is also a kind of indifference and careless attitude to a child, which may cause a psychological disorder in later years.
- The third factor is acceptance of physical punishments, threatening and scandals. This is probably the most important factor of all, as it constantly keeps a child under stress, which influences his personality and future life-outlook. Children, who witness family scandals, are likely to become hostile towards surrounding people, which may also cause criminal behavior.
- The last factor takes into account personal peculiarities of a child, such as his temper. It is known that hot-tempered boys, brought up in an unfavorable family atmosphere, are frequently considered aggressive by other people.
We consider that all these factors, suggested by Olweus, could influence the behavior of those four teenage murderers. It is known that all of them had problems with their parents. Some of them had lack of discipline, others constantly witnessed scandals between family members, and still others could suffer from indifferent attitude of their parents. As a rule, future criminals are brought up in families, in which parents pay not much attention to their children. In our case, parents of the teenagers were addicted to alcohol and showed little interest in their children.
There was a gap between children and parents, which led to criminal behavior in teenage (Lorentz, 1966). Such children are likely to gang up on their peers and especially smaller children, who are unable to defend themselves.
Besides, children tend to acquire certain models of behavior in the course of their interaction with other children.
Noisy games give them an opportunity to acquire aggressive habit patterns.
One more important factor is social status. Aggressive children are often disliked by their peers. We know that one of the boys, who committed a murder, was mentally retarded, and he was obviously teased by other boys. It caused his frequent truancy. He began to hate other people for their unjust attitude to him, and sought revenge. Such children often work off their aggression on weaker and less protected children. In such a way they want to feel themselves stronger.
Analyzing the cruel murder of a small boy, it is important to mention the necessity of an appropriate system of sex education. It particularly concerns teenage boys, who suffer from emotional stress, caused by hormonal changes.
Teenagers, who fail to mix with people easily, are likely to become perverts. Thus, four teenagers, who raped a small boy, had clear sexual deviations, which could originate from the hostile attitude of peers and society towards them.
Sexual deviations can be also caused by lack of parental attention to the development of child’s personality. Sex deviations may be also caused by exposure of pornography (Zillmann, 1998). It especially affects teenagers.
Speaking about teenage the motives to criminal behavior, we should mention the theory of frustration-aggression (Baron & Richardson, 1993). According to this theory, aggression always originates from the state of frustration that does not let people realize their ambitions. This hypothesis was elaborated by a group of American psychologists, especially D. Dollard, who made the greatest contribution to this field of study. They claim that frustration cannot exist without aggression, and vice versa. In this regard, psychologists distinguish affective, impulsive and expressive aggression. Here we should focus on major conditions, which provoke it. One of them is difference and similarity of the aggressor and his victim. Thus, when teenagers abuse small children, they are subconsciously provoked by weakness and defenselessness of children. They understand that children are not able to protect themselves and they make use of it. Such kind of aggression was defined as pernicious. Basically it is peculiar to teenagers who strive for superiority over other people. On the other hand, teenage personality is so unstable, that they can show aggression just for fun.
Why do people, especially children become criminals? The majority of people consider aggression to be a result of inner disharmony and emotional instability. After all, not everyone gets involved in violent actions and not everyone gets pleasure from hurting other people. The example of a violent murder, performed by teenagers, shows that aggressive behavior cannot exist in a social vacuum; it is always provoked by certain factors, such as actions of surrounding people. Thus, it is unlikely that a teenager would kill a small child without any reason. Probably, if the latter did not provoke him, he would not become a victim. Words, actions and appearance of the victim can frustrate, irritate and solicit an unstable personality to commit a murder (Bernstein, 2001). Even the very presence of other people can cause aggressive reactions.
One more theory suggests that aggression is determined by excitation, which can be observed and measured (Zillmann, 1983). It is known as an excitation transfer theory. In this case, excitation implies factors that stimulate nervous system, such as heart acceleration, elevated sweating and blood pressure. It suggests that aggression may be considered an inborn inclination toward violence. Probably, every person experiences fits of aggression from time to time, but inborn inclination to aggression makes it easier to provoke people.
Thus, we see that these two theories were based on completely different principles, and it is hard to decide which of them is more applicable in this situation. On the one hand, aggression is greatly influenced by environment, which includes attitude of society to a person and relations within a family. But on the other hand, the elimination of external factors will be of no use, if a person is inclined to aggressive and violent behavior. It is impossible to completely eliminate the source of human violence, but psychologists are trying to investigate this problem deeper.
The above described murder suggests that both theories are right to some extent. It this regard it should be emphasized that people, who tend to behave aggressively, provoke frustrating situations themselves. A hostile child can turn a usual game into a battle in a split-second. Besides, as has been mentioned, hot-tempered boys tend to study worse and attend school less willingly. In such a way, teenagers create a circle of frustration around themselves, partly because of their personal characteristic features, partly because of environment.