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On the brink: What turns today’s teenagers into killers

sex-and-relationships Updated: Sep 27, 2016 16:15 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

With an increasing emphasis on winning, children feel the need to assert themselves in every situation, experts say. (Representative photo)

The provocation that drove two teenagers to stab their teacher to death in west Delhi was his rusticating them for missing school.

Thousands of students get into trouble for low attendance and other misdemeanours every day. What, then, drove these two to kill?

“Teenagers take more risks because they are at a biological phase of development where they are primed to push and redefine physical and boundaries,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare.

“Their brains are biologically primed to experiment, explore and learn new things, they are high on energy and eager to be accepted by their peers, all of which, if not checked, make them seek stimulation with little thought to consequences.”

Among the big drivers of aggression are:

Low tolerance

Many millennials have low frustration tolerance, say experts. And this leads to frequent expression of anger and violence. “Social interaction between parents, extended families, neighbours and children is decreasing, and many children don’t pick up the skills at home needed to cope with anger and resolve confrontations,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, psychiatry department professor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

“The only way they can deal with a confrontation is by hitting back for violently,” he says. Stressful family situations, parental conflict, unemployment and financial problems aggravate anger.

Social networking

With talking to people IRL (“in real life’) decreasing with increasing social networking platforms, many children are losing the social skills to deal with conflicts and challenges in the real world. “Teenage is when your body is going through a biological and emotional upheaval and you need family and social support the most to help you stay rooted,” says Parikh.

“Instead, social interactions for many teenagers are limited to smart lines and emoticons, which leave them with no place to vent, making them simmer and lash out when you least expect it.”

Inflated sense of self

With an increasing emphasis on winning, children feel the need to assert themselves in every situation. “Children today have a higher sense of self importance, which makes them vulnerable to perceived slights and humiliations,” says Dr Pulkit Sharma, clinical psychologist at Imago. “Everything becomes about winning or losing, and they will do anything to be perceived as the winner in every situation.”

It’s also to do with social perceptions about masculinity. “Anger is more often than not equated with masculinity, especially in boys who use bullying and violence as a means of showing strength,” says Dr Sagar. This becomes more apparent in teenage year, when it becomes important for them to be seen as leaders by their peers.

Video games

Across studies, violent video games have been shown to increase physiological arousal, aggressive cognitions, and aggressive behaviours. “Games desensities and disinhibits children by trivialising violence and brutality and make children hostile, argumentative and insensitive to pain,” says Dr Sharma. “They create a distorted sense of reality and make winning the most important thing for them.”

“Connecting with your child to make them feel safe, cared for and connected, while ensuring they have a healthy and realistic sense of self-esteem and self-worth is important to help them develop into emotionally adults,” says Dr Sagar.

Does my child have a conduct disorder?

Look out for these warning signs:

  • Has trouble paying attention and concentrating
  • Disruptive in class
  • Does poorly at school
  • Gets into fights frequently
  • Reacts to teasing or criticism with extreme anger
  • Is unsocial
  • Prefers the company of aggressive children
  • Doesn’t listen to adults
  • Insensitive to the feelings of others
  • Cruel to pets and other animals
  • Gets frustrated easily