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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday's Confession: Why I Have Not Posted for a While: Results From Children and Violence Survey

Thought for the Day: This is probably the hardest post I have ever written for this blog. Although my clinical practice has been busy, that's not the reason. I have also had a number of out of office appointments that have reduced the time I have for writing, but that's not why I have not been able to complete it. I could blame my inability to complete this post on missing daylight savings time. I do feel like more than an hour has been stolen from my day, but that would not explain my procrastinating on this post either. I must confess that I have been obsessing about how to write it for some time, because I am embarrassed that my attempt to tackle an important topic in a new way, simply did not go as planned. I have been taught that psychological research needs to be reported fully, even when it does not go as planned. Hopefully, it will shed some light on the topic, despite the fact that it is less than stellar research.
      When I posted a question several weeks ago in a mini qualitative research project and it generated close to 100 responses (and counting), I was excited and pleased with the idea of involving readers of my blog in this way. Encouraged by the previous project, I decided to try a survey to start a conversation on another topic, Children and Violence. I tried to keep the survey short and anonymous. I asked only for an age range, gender and whether the respondents were from the USA or other nations, followed by six brief questions. The 1st question asked whether the respondents believed there was a rise in violence among children. They could reply yes, no or other with room to explain their opinion. On the other questions, people chose a 5 point range of responses from strongly agree to strongly disagree with 3 levels in between. There was also one open ended question at the end of the survey which asked if they had other thoughts about variables that contribute to their perception of children and violence today.

     As the responses trickled in, I began to worry. I decided to post the survey on Quora, a format I had recently discovered where people converse on a wide variety of topics. I quickly discovered that posting a survey is not allowed on Quora. Therefore, I posted the questions one at a time on Quora to see what conversations it would generate. Although people began to respond, the questions, out of context, without the option to rate their feelings about the questions, ignited some strong understandable criticism of bias. When I explained why the questions were presented this way, people understood and posted their opinions. 

     Although Our Parenting Spot  an amazing parenting forum shared the survey on their site and tweeted it, frequently, only 22 people filled out the survey. Eight more people posted comments on Quora. Although this is far from a large enough sample to produce statistically significant results, it raised some interesting clinical questions. Hopefully these questions can help begin to understand the complexity of researching this complex topic. I believe it sheds some light so that parents, educators and concerned citizens can begin to find ways to discuss and address these issues.

     Why did so few people respond to this survey? I don’t know for sure, but here are a few guesses. Perhaps it was not well executed. Some people may have felt it was biased and therefore did not respond. Although that may have played a part, I do not think that is the reason people did not respond. Another possibility is that people do not want to take the time to fill out surveys, even if it may take just a few minutes to complete. Many people may feel inundated with requests for responses on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. The earlier post which generated far more responses was based on a one or two word response to one simple question, making it easy to respond. Are we becoming conditioned to only spend a second or two by pushing a "like" button or just writing a word or two? 

     It could be that by not defining the term violence or clarifying how the results would be used, people glanced at it and did not want to fill it out. Perhaps if I had called it, Childhood and Aggression, people would have been more willing to participate. Although I did state that the results would be used to search for solutions and to open a conversation on the topic, it may not have been clear enough to get people to participate.

     Another possible explanation may be that people don’t want to think about children and violence at all. As parents and grandparents, we see our role as guardians of children. Looking into whether there is a rise in violence among children is uncomfortable for parents and educators alike. If there is a rise, have we failed in our role as protectors of children? Did people simply not want to feel the discomfort of even thinking about the topic and looked no further?

     Similarly, we may not want to see children as anything but innocent. Are we putting blinders on to how violence in the world is impacting on our children? Even though the sample was very small, the results may help answer some of these questions. I will divide the results into three parts. Today, I am sharing starting the results from the survey. In subsequent posts, next week, I will share Quora conversations and finally some thoughts and ideas that we can take away from this project. Here are the survey results...

     The sample ranged in age from 18 to above 60 with 9.09% from 18-29, 27.27% from 30-39, 18.18% from 40-49, 9.09% from 50-59, and the remaining 36.36% were 60 or older. Men composed 41% and women 59% of the study’s respondents. The majority, 81%, were from the United States. 

     Just over 52% feel there is a rise in violence among children, 38% do not believe there is a rise in violence among children and around 9.9% were not sure if violence is on the rise or that it may simply appears to be. 

Summary of Answers to the Survey Questions
     On most of the other questions, a similar dichotomy occurred. The only question a large majority (72.73%) strongly agreed or agreed with was that: Children see too much violence on TV, video games, & in movies. Only 22.74% either disagreed or strongly disagreed with just 4.55% who neither agreed or disagreed. One respondent commented that: "I believe now a days, parents are too quick to turn on the game systems, apps on their phones or just the TV in general as a babysitter. I also feel as though more parents now, then before, want someone else to raise their children. We don't have dinner time conversations anymore. We as a society need to bring back family values and learn to unplug technology for the sake of our children and families." 

Another comment on this was:  "I think they (children) are exposed to images much too early and their brains sort of imprint from the video games and movies... Also they hear much more news than they used to - at a much earlier age... it never stops... a virtual flood of info."

     In this survey 45.45% felt that schools are not focusing enough on social relationships & other forms of conflict resolution, while 27.27% either disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 27.27% were in the middle, neither agreeing or disagreeing. This respondent felt that parents not schools are at the center of the issue, "Parents need to take an active role in guiding their children in what acceptable practices are for releasing anger."

     When asked whether children have been abused or bullied & have not seen any other alternatives to stop the violence, 36.37% disagreed or strongly disagreed, 45.46% agreed or strongly agreed and 22.73% Neither Disagreed Nor Agreed. One comment noted that "School systems should not punish students for standing up for themselves when being bullied."

     Half of the respondents feel parents are too busy  trying to make a living to teach children alternatives to aggressive behavior while 27% percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. Twenty three percent neither agreed or disagreed with this statement. Here are a few comments seem parents as playing a major role in the problems children are exhibiting: "Parents need to take an active role in guiding their children in what acceptable practices are for releasing anger. School systems should not punish students for standing up for themselves when being bullied." Another wrote: "The pace of life is too much and there is no training for parents to become good training. We get that from our parents and if that isn't good that remains all we know." Another felt that children have a "Lack of proper parenting in the home, and instilling moral values and good judgement skills into their kids. Parents are trying too hard to be a "best friend" and not hard enough to be a parent." Unfortunately, this type of blaming of parents seems to be too simplistic. Parents surely play an important role in their children's lives, however, there are many variables which are or may feel out of their control. I believe that most parents are doing their best to protect their children from the deluge of violence in the modern world. 

     Fifty-five percent felt it was too easy for children to get access to guns and 4.5 \% did not have an opinion. Forty one percent of the respondents disagreed with the statement.

     Close to 55% felt that: Children are more stressed & depressed than in the past, while 17.28% disagreed or strongly disagreed and 18.18% neither agreed or disagreed. One survey respondent said that , "Today we put too much pressure on our children to be smarter, faster, stronger than everyone else. Many years ago we were just happy they graduated now we want them to go to college and work and try to maintain some form of a social life so they do not become withdrawn, but this is too much to ask of anyone these days. Things were so much simpler once and there was less violence because of it. Now we stress out, suppress and then explode in an unhealthy way."

     If people took the time to respond,  it appears that they felt fairly strongly one way or the other. The open ended responses and the conversations on Quora lead me to believe that people’s opinions on this difficult discussion are virtually split down the middle.

     Here are some additional comments people gave as to what other things may be impacting on children and violence in our society which may help open a broader discussion. Many of the comments seemed to point to a broader issue than just families, schools or community. Here are a few more to consider:

     "The breakdown of families, the lack of sense of community involvement as a whole and that fact that children are not being taught to be responsible citizens and instead are being handed everything on a platter."

     "It depends on where these children live. In the U.S. there does seem to be a rise in violence. I think it is because of the lack of emotional knowledge and careful parenting."

     "Kids are not held accountable or taught personal responsibility by irresponsible & ill trained parents. Often due to lack of family planning education."

     "People are self-absorbed and not paying attention to kids. Everything is the "teacher's fault." There is also much more evil in the world - not just on TV but in real life. parents cannot let kids play in the streets unsupervised. It is a selfish world today. This is not about guns or teachers or TV (which only puts on TV what people want to watch). This is about evil in the hearts of people."

     "Violence seems to be seen to be acceptable now."

     "Lack of parental guidance, lack of discipline in the education system, extremely violent video games."

      When all these comments are put together, it is not surprising that many people don't want to respond to a survey. The issues may seem overwhelming or unsolvable. I, however, believe that opening the conversation can help us begin to find creative solutions. Before I move on, I want to spend some time in a 2nd part to this article presenting the responses of the people from Quora who do not think that violence among children is on the rise. Then I will share some thoughts on possible solutions.

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