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Are We Losing A Generation to the Foibles of Anti-Social Behavior?

There is a deadly new "game" going on in our streets. It's called the Knockout Game and consists of someone, usually a teenage boy, trying to knock out another random person in just one punch. Local news reports in several cities have attributed several deaths to this phenomenon, with CBS This Morning finally picking up and reporting on the story nationally. They indicate that the actual prevalence of this type of incident is hard to determine, as many police agencies did not previously recognize this as a trend. Unfortunately many of the victims themselves don't even realize they have been attacked in this manner, because they were knocked unconscious and can't remember any details of the incident.

Some of the attacks are preserved digitally and posted for the world to see. When asked why they would commit such a random act of violence, many of the perpetrators shrug and simply say that it was fun. This rationale bears an eerie resemblance to the Oklahoma teens that were charged with murdering an Australian college athlete this summer because they were bored. All of which begs the question of whether we are losing a generation to the foibles of anti-social behavior. In a cruelly ironic twist, the most socially connected digital generation might well become the most anti-social human generation.

The victims in these incidents were often chosen at random for no other reason than being different from their attacker or being seen as an "other." It is an oddly personal yet distant crime, getting close enough to do significant harm to another person, yet still not attaching any emotion to the event. When asked why they would choose to inflict pain in such a casual manner, one expert theorized that it had to do with the brain development of the teenagers in question. He said that the part of the brain in teenage boys that craves excitement is fully grown at this age, while the part that can visualize outcomes and act as a behavioral control valve is still undeveloped. While that might make logical sense in situations like skateboarding off a handrail, it certainly doesn't seem like quite enough to explain such a heinous act. There has to be more involved when teenagers are so willing to casually act in such an anti-social way. Somewhere along the line they have missed out on what it means to be a social member of a community. They attach no value to the importance of "being" with others in humanity.

A Random History of Random Acts of Violence

Certainly there is a long history of violence against others who seem different. The religious Crusades, ethnic cleansing, and warfare itself are all strong declarations of violence against those we don't like. But violence today seems different. It is much more random and impersonal. The mass shootings of innocent people, terrorist acts, and now the Knockout Game, all seem to have a bit more of a feeling of mayhem about them. They appear to be increasing in number, although this is hard to gauge. Maybe we hear more about them because there are more media outlets to report on and discuss these activities ad nauseam. Or maybe it is so disturbing because the perpetrators are so young, and in danger of becoming lost forever.

It's hard to believe that in their short time on earth they could build the emotional callousness needed to take another life. In 2008, though, the World Health Organization reported that 250,000 homicides occur annually among youth ages 10-29, over 40% of the total number of homicides. Because they start so young, youth violence can also lead to a lifetime of violence. The costs to society are extensive in terms of the welfare and criminal justice services required, losses suffered by the victims, and the emotional cost of the unraveling of our feeling of peace and safety.

Because these acts are so sad, sick and threatening, they often lead to dire predictions of where our world is heading. A feeling of unease and paranoia begins to take hold and build. These acts of brutal violence are destroying our very core values as human beings and it seems like we are doing nothing about it. The causes of some forms of violence are well-documented: poverty, illiteracy, mental health, feelings of isolation, and environmental factors.

While there is some justification to the connection between exposure to violence in the media and aggressive behavior, this also has to be looked at in the context of socialization by parents and peers which can promote or support the learning of violent behaviors. Parental abuse, or parents who are disinterested and inconsistent in their discipline, can be a starting point for a child to learn aggressive behaviors. Positive encouragement for appropriate social behaviors is often lacking. Left unchecked, these initial feelings can be fanned by peer pressure and taken to an even higher level. When a teenage boy who has no social filters is urged on by his adolescent peers, they often take turns trying to think of the stupidest, most violent, or dangerous act they can commit.

Can Anything Be Done?

It is time for those of us in the social media universe to take up the challenge of effecting change in our world. We hold the power to affect lives and influence societal change. Let's stop just repeating these horrid stories and start holding a conversation about what can be done to make things better. Instead of searching the internet to find another video of these acts taking place, we can begin to use the power of the web to search for solutions.

There are some courageous people already taking up the lead in this cause, but more are needed because correcting some of these deeply ingrained problems will take all of our collective humanity. We need to promote and advocate for prevention programs, which can be very effective in reducing youth violence. Students who receive teaching in life skills and positive reinforcement have the foundational attitudes necessary to control anger, solve problems, and resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.

Other forms of violence are preventable by addressing the societal ills of poverty, income disparity and gender inequality. Anti-poverty and urban renewal activities are effective at reducing youth violence. More psychiatric services need to be made available to those in danger of succumbing to the palpable allure of violence. Honest discussions about reducing access to drugs, alcohol and weapons can be held without all the inflamed rhetoric. The World Health Organization (WHO) offers a treasure trove of research-based evidence on the effectiveness of addressing the underlying causes in preventing violence. Wouldn't it be better for our own personal futures to promote these reports on our social media sites instead of some of the rubbish we include there now?

And, yes, maybe we do need to address the problem of boredom. Can we possibly get off of our digital devices long enough to stand up, get involved, and help think up an increased amount of alternative activities so that we don't lose another generation to the foibles of anti-social behavior evidenced in this hideous game?