'Violence today could be understood as an inadequate attempt to solve problems, conflicts or unpleasant life situations when we do not have the necessary psychosocial skills or abilities to manage them'

Publication date: 

Hilario Garrudo Hernández. Clinical psychologist, Psychotherapist and Trainer of TrainersInterview on youth violence with Hilario Garrudo Hernández, Clinical psychologist, Psychotherapist and Trainer of TrainersClinical psychologist

1.- How can we understand violence in human beings?

We must start from the fact that violent behaviour is inherited from our evolutionary ancestors and has always been present in the human species, but for different purposes and with different motivations. In primitive societies, it had a functional and adaptive nature and was exercised mainly as a means of survival or to obtain food, or to protect the species and the territory. In contrast, today's violence in human beings responds to other causes and factors that have little or nothing to do with the original motivations. Consequently, violence could be understood today as an inadequate attempt to solve problems, conflicts or unpleasant life situations when we do not have the necessary psychosocial skills or abilities to manage or deal with them in a competent, empathetic and respectful way. One could argue that violent behaviour in itself is in some ways a clear demonstration of incompetence on the part of the perpetrator, individually or collectively, and in any of its manifestations. 

2.- And referring to youth violence in particular. How can we interpret it?

It is important to consider that juvenile violent behaviour has a multifactorial aetiology and does not respond to a single cause or factor but results from a series of interrelated factors. Some of the most common factors that can lead to violence are psychological and personality disorders; permissive educational models or lack of limits and rules that allow certain behaviours to go unpunished, especially by parents; having suffered or witnessed domestic violence; school failure or inadequate and demotivating teaching-learning methods; substance abuse, problematic use of ICTs with access to websites or online risk communities with violent content, etc.

In any case, violent behaviour is learned by imitation or vicarious learning from the earliest stages of life. Its appearance in the social sphere reflects social violence itself, existing inequalities, prevailing values such as immediacy, competitiveness, consumerism or success without effort, and the prevailing social model of conflict resolution based on confrontation and the use of more or less justified or tolerated violence.

As for the profile of a violent youth, although we cannot generalise, there are a series of personality traits that are usually present; among them low self-esteem, impulsivity and the search for immediate gratification, low frustration tolerance and inability to tolerate rules and limits within family, school and social environments, lack of empathy, poor reflective capacity and a tendency to deal with problems through force or imposition.

Violent behaviour among young people can be exercised individually or in groups when youths come together to carry out joint violent actions with different aims and goals: self-affirmation, sense of belonging, harassment, rebellion and the questioning of authority or the system, to protest, etc. In this type of violence, group pressure and the use of social networks play a significant role that must be taken into account when it comes to preventing and tackling this phenomenon. 

3.- With regard to the latest displays of group and explicit youth violence that have caused a degree of social alarm, to what extent has the pandemic situation influenced this?

There is no doubt that the pandemic, and especially the confinement we experienced, is having an impact on people's behaviour and lifestyles. And even more so among adolescents and young people, who have such a great need for social relations and face-to-face interaction with their peer group that has been interrupted. Remaining isolated and "locked down" in their homes for so long may have increased the weariness, stress, anxiety and resulting frustration that is often the prelude to aggression. Still, it does not in itself explain the phenomenon we are witnessing.

In my view, the pandemic has been a precipitating rather than a predisposing factor in what is happening. In some ways, the pandemic has exacerbated violent behaviour in young people who were already predisposed or accustomed to it, but not in those who already had a complete range of adaptive behaviours. I even know that the pandemic may have been a source of resilience for some of them. 

4.- What can society do about this increase in youth violence?

I think the first thing we could do is reflect on the origin and nature of the phenomenon and why it is currently emerging with such virulence. Therefore, it is important to abandon the hypocritical idea of stigmatising or demonising young people who, for the most part, display highly praiseworthy attitudes and behaviours that we adults would like for ourselves.

The behaviour of children and young people, for better or worse, is also the result of everything that adult society has passed on to them and taught them in all learning contexts, whether formal or non-formal. It should not be forgotten that, in many cases, they are also victims of these poor lessons and of the inadequate models to which they have been exposed regarding the solution of problems and conflicts, whether in the family, school or community environment. When they engage in violent behaviour, in many cases, they are simply reproducing what we have shown them.

In conclusion, if we accept that the learning and acquisition of violent behaviour take place mainly in their early and second childhood, we cannot wait until the person reaches adolescence or young adulthood to prevent it. We will have to implement and put into practice educational-preventive actions as early as possible. And that is the task of everyone, parents, educational agents in formal and informal contexts, the media, institutions and political representatives.

Course-workshop: Youth violence: origin, nature, types of violence and strategies to prevent it and intervene