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Violence in Children: Nature or Nurture

Updated on September 21, 2013

Nature or Nurture

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Nature Vs. Nurture

For years we have argued about what force drives our actions whether it was nature (instinct as in flight or fight mentality) or are we taught violence (parents, media, peer pressure, and other). If it is our nature can this tendency toward violence be curbed(teach a young species a new way to act)? If it is nurture then can a society address this issue without changing such concepts as freedom of speech? Can we use nurture to train nature? Could our education system be based on the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we see many different views on why children act out using violence. From violent video games, TV, Movies, sports, and even sugar. We see and hear many different views. Rarely do you ever see it broken down into individual incidents. You also rarely see an adult given such motive unless it fits a particular group’s agenda as in man shoots his neighbor not because of a long time feud, but because of a gun culture (he saw a commercial for a Stallone movie).


In an adult the alpha male/female response is (to some extent) considered normal. The person who “takes charge” is revered and (usually) will become our leader. This could be tied into the survival instinct. The strong survive and the weak perish. In a time when survival was built on hunting and gathering this instinct was critical, but does it have a place in modern society?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines society as “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; especially : an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession .” In any group people seem to strive for some sort of order and with that leader. But, we choose our leaders (for the most part) on charisma and strength over intelligence and education. It is like how Jon Stewart says in his book “America” we choose the willing over the able in our leaders. Given a choice we will choose the person who projects strength. A Reagan over a Carter. This is true in the micro societies called a clique.


Lord of the Flies

Clique and Micro Cliques

At any age the need to fit in within the group dynamic will include a person who will take a leadership role that whether by design or over time will define the group. The motivating factor is dependant on the age, education, location, and outside society views (class, race, sex, and age). The last one being (in some cases) the most important. Children tend to conform or rebel to how society sees them as well as the opportunities presented to them. It can be said that any clique is defined by society for better or worse. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a clique as “A small group of people who spend time together and who are not friendly to other people.” Society’s definition can be a factor in the motivation of the clique leader and thus by the clique as a whole. The book “Lord of the Flies” is an excellent example of this concept of cliques with the leaders of both cliques defining the group’s philosophy. Jack’s group built around hunting (strength and aggression) and Ralph’s group built around fire (structure and security).

A Micro-clique is a clique created and define by an incident that dissolves as the incident ends. This can be seen when two children fight. Small cliques will form around (chanting in some cases) the fight with the leader being the dominant child in the fight. In some cases the children involved in that micro-clique will have little to nothing in common except for the social pressure to back the winner or a fear of the dominant child in the fight. When the fight ends the group dynamic will return to normal, although if the fight changes the social standing of that child a new dynamic or clique will develop. This will include a clique built around the winner and (in some cases) the loser.


In any adult case motivation is a prime focus even when that motivation is a result of mental health issues. But motivation (outside of horrific cases such as school shooting) is secondary with children. It would appear that as far as the modern media is concerned motive is nonexistent in why our children fight. The differences is that with children lack the ability to verbalize (argue), making the only way to show dominance is through violence (bullying and fighting). A way to stand out (dominate) is to point out what is wrong with someone else. Like driving and drinking (don’t mix the two) motive is an adult thing. The class bully is because of the games he/she plays at night not some personal issue, two children are fighting because of the wrestling show the night before with no other reason. In a time when we could be teaching our children how to deal with these feeling and live together we instead are cutting school funding (in some cases eliminating Kindergarten) and abandoning our faith based systems. Teaching a nonviolent alternative is treated by our society as weak. In history the underlining narrative (and fact) is that in many ways might has been more successful than right.

Children face a natural violent tendency (survival instincts) living with poverty, a violence based culture, social standing (clique and society) and system that rewards the strong. An education system that favors those willing to fight for what they want or need. It is no wonder why little Billy pushed little Tommy down. We domesticate our animals and we are animals so shouldn’t we domesticate ourselves?

Is your child and alpha or a beta (Shepard or Sheep)

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    • mike102771 profile image

      Michael Collins 4 years ago from Lakemore, Ohio

      Thank you for the response and I can see how we are alike in out trains of thought.

      Now I do not have kids. I say this because in some circles because of this I should have no opinion or at least an uninformed opinion. It just irritates me when I hear people talk about first slapping their kids around for “acting out” in class. Then there are the ones that berate their children for not defending themselves or acting like a “sissy.” Then questioning where they get this mean streak. If you beat a dog you will make it mean the same thing is true for all animals.

      I would imagine that men like Saddam Hussein or even that Saudi Arabian guy (whose name I will not type in this sentence) do not think of themselves as bad guys doing evil. To them we where the great evil.

      A few years ago I knew a man who was assaulted in the street. The other man (who was about the same age) said “are you going to fight me like a man.” He said “I am going to act like an adult.” Then he took out his phone and called the police. The man was arrested, faced a fine (don’t know how much) then an unknown amount of hours in anger management. And for this simple act of sense the man I spoke of was later stabbed in the back while walking home from the bus one night. He was a nonviolent man and stood by his beliefs even with everyone acting like fools. I never saw him after the stabbing. He was a temp at the company I worked for and when he could not come to work they fired him.

      When I wonder if we have a future I think about him and a few others. People who may even have a right to be angry but instead can rise above it. It’s like the original Rocky. Some people would say it’s about fighting or violence, but in reality it was about a man overcoming odds and history to prove himself. The movie would have been the same even if it was about chess (except without an audience). The point would have been lost if he had won (and was lost with every sequel).

    • vveasey profile image

      The Medicine Man 4 years ago from Detroit,MI


      Here are a couple of my hubs that harmonize with this one

      "Where does our potential for violence originate?"


      "This is a violent planet"