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40 MAY 2002
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Youth Violence: Some thoughts above Canadian airspace

Niall McElwee

So, here I am once again writing my regular column for the CYC-Net – 39,000 feet over Canadian air space and the onboard computer is telling me that it is minus 49 outside. Pretty damn cold, but not as cold as back on land in Calgary and Edmonton where I have had the pleasure of visiting over the past week or so.

I have just attended and presented a couple of papers at the 3rd Western Canadian Conference on Youth Violence in Calgary at the kind invitation of Dr Grant Charles, which turned out to be a most informative affair. I had the opportunity to meet up with Canadian friends from previous conferences and chat about Child and Youth Care developments in our respective Provinces and, in my case, country. I had the distinction of being the sole representative from Ireland at the conference so I was forced to, once again, prove that the Irish can certainly drink (I apologise to Shelly for dropping you on your head and “respect” to Brian and Derrick for driving me around town in the SWOT van!).

We live in violent times where all too often violence is sensationalised and promoted in the media. It is ironic that a tragic shooting took place in Germany where 16 people were killed through an act of youth violence as our conference drew to a close. Certainly, the reasons youth resort to violence are many and complex and each incident has its own map that we must attempt to navigate as interested professionals. An act such as occurred in Germany has its gestation in the past and not in the present. It is to the past that we must look if we are to garnish any clues as to why one individual may take it upon himself to murder people in cold blood.

Would it have made a difference if guns simply could not be obtained by citizenry? Could this ever be the case? It is unlikely as people will always find something to use to hurt other people if the will is really there. Nonetheless, there are often “flags” in the background or behaviour of an extremely violent young person. Research now points to intentional injury of pets as a predictor of future violence against people.

Perhaps the single thought I will take away from the Conference in Canada is that we are putting our emphasis in the wrong place in our teaching and socialising of children. We should spend less time teaching them to be independent and more time on teaching them to be interdependent on their siblings and peers. We must re-establish the idea of community – and on living together rather than as separate beings. If we can accomplish this, each youth may well attain a sense of emotional ownership and belonging to the group.

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