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Research speaks about how children and adolescents “map out” the likelihood of interactions becoming violent. In response to their mental maps, children and adolescents respond appropriately to the perceived likelihood of threat. According to their research, childrens’ early experiences and witnessing violence in others are two major determinants to future violent behavior. A question the reader is left with after reading Hudley is regarding the specifics of the “age appropriate interventions” they suggest. Although they do mention neighborhood beautification and developing local leaders as tacks to change the mental maps of adolescents (Hudley 2007), the vicarious learning that children experience that teaches them that violence is the natural and expected outgrowth of certain behaviors, would seem to intuitively suggest that the learning to change those maps would also need to be in-vivo. Given that intuitive expectation, what would be effective and ethical ways to teach, in-vivo, that confrontation doesn’t necessarily lead to violence?
Another important insight gleaned from the article is that the combination of aggressive behavior and rejection by peers is particularly potent when it comes to the etiology of children who grow up to fall through the cracks. It makes intuitive sense that removing a child who already demonstrates negative coping (violent behaviors, antagonizing peers, internalizing behaviors) would lead to an increase in negative coping skills, because it removes them from their peers normative and socializing influence (Hudley, 2007). Although social consequences for anti-social behaviors is a natural and logical consequence, how can practitioners help children and adolescents who demonstrate rule-breaking and disregard for the rights of others re-engage with their social milieu? What role can or should practitioners play in manipulating the social environment to make it more fertile for reconciliation? The question regarding the “should” of reconciliation is a more complicated one than just one of forgiving individuals who make mistakes. By utilizing natural and logical consequences within a structured setting, practitioners empower victims to advocate for themselves and offenders to take ownership for their behaviors, and thusly, ownership for the ability to change them. What is appropriate given the structure of the setting? When do violent behaviors become anti-social? Is it useful to delineate a difference? It may be useful to consider brain development, yet again, when considering the timeliness of various interventions.
It is during early adolescence, approximately 9-14 years of age that the adolescent brain is involved intensely in the process of pruning. During childhood, the brain “soaks up” knowledge and builds as many connections as they have experiences. The pruning process is the process of trimming away the underutilized connections to strengthen those most commonly used (Santrock 2007). It may be during this period that external attempts to change behavioral patterns may be most effective. It is important to remember, however, that the brain maintains some plasticity throughout the rest of development. The expression, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is just that, an expression. It is certainly not a statement of biological fact.
Hudley, C. & Novak, A. (2007) Environmental influences, the developing brain, and aggressive behavior. Theory into Practice. 46(2). 121-129
Santrock, J. (2007). Adolescence. 12th ed. McGraw-Hill: New York, NY