Chapter Ten takes a look at the epidemic of childhood aggression and its etiology. The authors start this chapter by pointing out not only the number of rising incidents of violence, the fear adults have in confronting gangs of children or teenagers that was unheard of in the past and the violence of teenagers against each other. They also point out that aggression is not only limited to attacking each other, but also includes attacking oneself through self-deprecating remarks, self-hostility, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and impulses.
The key to these unlocking the reason behind these behaviors, the authors contend, is to understand the frustration of unmet attachment needs. “There are many triggers for frustration, but because what matters most to children- as to many adults- is attachment, the greatest source of frustration is attachments that do not work: loss of contact, thwarted connection, too much separation, feeling spurned, losing a loved one, a lack of belonging or of being understood.” When peers replace parents, frustrations mount even higher for a variety of reasons discussed within the chapter.
On page 133 the authors write that despite frustration, “it is not a given that frustration must lead to aggression” (which, by the way, I am so glad the authors put that in there because that was exactly what I was thinking!) They go on to say, “The healthy response to frustration is to attempt to change things. If that proves impossible, we can accept how things are and adapt creatively to a situation that cannot be changed. If such adaptation doesn’t occur, the impulses to attack can still be kept in check by tempering thoughts and feelings – in other words, by mature self-regulation.”
A part of this chapter is subtitled “How Peer Orientation Foments Aggression” and cites three ways peer orientation contributes to aggression. Overall, peer orientation seems to dilute a child’s natural apprehensiveness and caution. Emotional self-numbing is a goal of many peer oriented children and combined with the intake of alcohol can lead to aggression.
Chapter Eleven is entitled “The Making of Bullies and Victims” and begins with the thought that whilst bullying has always been around, it has recently reached epic proportions in that a quarter of all US middle-school children (grades 6,7,8 for my foreign readers)were either perpetrators or victims of bullying.
The authors cite the lack of adult attachment for these children and note bullying can be reproduced in animal studies where the generational hierarchy is destroyed. One of the studies the authors cite involve a group of monkeys in which they are separated from adults and raised by each other with the result being self-destructive and aggressive behavior.
The authors distinguish that some children are “psychologically set” to become bullies before peer orientation sets in. They look at situations that may foster a child’s longing and drive to be dominant over peers in the absence of attachment, including:
- The child was hurt or abused whilst in a dependent role.
- The parent has failed to give the child a secure sense that there is a “competent, benign, powerful” adult in charge.
- The parents has failed to attach to the child.
- The parent puts the child in charge and in the lead and “looking to them for cues how to parent.”
- The parent does everything possible to make everything work for the child in order to avoid upsetting the child.
- The parents gives many choices and explanations “when what the child really needs is to be allowed to express his frustration at having some of his desires disappointed by reality, to be given latitude to rail against something that won’t give.”
- Parents are not present for children due to being preoccupied with stress.
- Parents are too passive, too needy or too uncertain to “assert their dominance” and the children move into the position of being dominant.
The authors also have an intriguing section in this chapter on “The Unmaking Of A Bully” in which they assert that “the bully’s only hope is to attach to some adult who in turn is willing to assume the responsibility for nurturing the bully’s emotional needs.”
I will stop there but encourage those of you reading along with me to leave a comment as to what you thought about these two chapters…