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Parents get tips on coping with youth violence

Youth violence is a worry for many parents Keystone

Peer pressure, frustration and boredom are just some of the possible reasons behind youth violence. Whatever the trigger, a new booklet aims to help parents cope.

This content was published on May 7, 2010 - 21:19

Published by the Swiss Crime Prevention organisation, the booklet was created in collaboration with police departments across Switzerland and offers some insight into youth violence as well as advice on dealing with it.

“They wanted to have something that they could give parents after they discuss the problem with them,” said the organisation’s director Martin Boess.

As the publication points out, conflict is a normal part of life; helping children develop their ability to deal with it properly is essential. If a parent suspects that a child has been victimised, it is important to figure out what really happened.

“Even bullying is violence, and this is something that is not so easy to find out,” Boess told swissinfo.ch.

Other parents may be dismayed to discover that their children are in fact perpetrators of violence. The booklet addresses such scenarios as well.

“Try to find out why the child behaves in an aggressive way. This is not easily done – you have to have a good conversation with the child – you have to relate to him,” said Boess.

Regardless of whether the child is the bully or the victim, parents should seek professional help if need be. However, Boess warns that parents and their offspring must be prepared to face the consequences.

“If the police find out that something really violent happened, then parents can’t say, ‘I don’t want you to investigate against my child’. So that is something that parents have to keep in mind. That’s why we say, first discuss it with the school and the social services of the schools that are being put in place almost everywhere in Switzerland at the moment,” said Boess.

Youth gone wild

Particularly brutal cases have attracted a lot of media attention; for example, the teenager from canton Ticino who was beaten to death in 2008, or the three Zurich teenagers accused of attacking five people on a school trip to Munich in 2009.

In canton Zurich, 2009 saw a three per cent increase in youth criminality on the whole, with a 0.5 per cent decrease in convictions related to violent crimes. However, there was a ten per cent increase in newly reported cases of youth violence.

“If you take the long-term average or development, we can speak of a flattening of the increase of overall criminality. But of course youth violence worries us,” Zurich’s head youth public prosecutor Marcel Riesen told swissinfo.ch.

Feeling like an outsider – whether culturally, socially or economically – can lead some youths to act out in a violent manner. Swiss Crime Prevention’s booklet says the specific motives for attacking someone are varied.

Some youths want to show off and appear tough in front of their peers, while others simply don’t know how to control their negative feelings. Some are simply bored, and others end up behaving against their own nature.

“Countless children and youths involved in violent incidents are followers, either because they want to fit in or because they are afraid of becoming victims themselves,” states the brochure.

In their own hands

Meanwhile, a number of Swiss youth groups have taken the matter into their own hands. For example, the website einmischen.ch is a project of the National Coalition Building Institute.

“The goal of the project is to foster dialogue between youths and adults and to develop solutions for conflicts related to youth violence,” said institute director Andi Geu.

The two-part project involved firstly getting young people to share their input on the topic of youth violence. They did so in the form of drawings, songs and videos, which were posted and judged online. The best contributions will appear on a DVD to be released at the end of May.

“Phase two will involve a variety of events to try to build a bridge between the generations and solve the problem,” said Geu. He mentioned that many of the young people he had worked with felt that society didn’t trust them on account of negative headlines in the media.

On the other hand, some of the project participants have had their own bad experiences with youth violence – making the website a chance for them to share what they’ve learned.

The Swiss Crime Prevention’s brochure also has a page directed at young people. While it doesn’t encourage them to jump into the middle of a fight, it does urge them to take action if they see somebody being attacked.

For example, they should shout for help and dial 117, the telephone number for emergencies. It’s also important to stay with the victim until help arrives and to serve as a police witness.

As the brochure notes: “Anybody could find themselves in need of courageous helpers and witnesses willing to speak up.”

While Boess acknowledges that a brochure alone can’t solve the problem of youth violence, he is optimistic that it can help.

“We hope that we have found the right words and that most people – mainly parents – will find the answers to their questions.”

Susan Vogel-Misicka, swissinfo.ch

Youth violence brochure

The Swiss Crime Prevention organisation’s brochure is available at all Swiss police stations. Its total circulation is 100,000 – with 60,000 German copies, 30,000 in French and 10,000 in Italian. It can also be viewed online and downloaded from the organisation’s website.

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Facts & figures

Up to 50,000 teenagers in Switzerland become victims of robbery every year.

An estimated 30,000 teenagers suffer injuries as a result of violence and have to consult a doctor.

Experts estimated that 100,000 people aged 12-17 suffered injuries from physical aggression without a weapon.

Some 35,000 teenagers become victims of sexual violence.

An estimated 300,000 suffer from bullying, harassment and intimidation.

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