How to counter culture of carrying arms

3rd April 1998 at 01:00

After the Arkansas school slaughter, TES correspondents report on growing violence among the young worldwide

Up to a quarter of Israeli schoolboys carry weapons such as sticks, knives and guns at least once a month for self-protection, and one in three pupils reports having seen a classmate holding such a weapon, a new survey indicates.

Out of more than 7,000 Jewish youngsters surveyed, 80 per cent of 11 to 13-year-old boys, and 32 per cent of girls, have been involved in a physical fight at least once during the past year. Some 16 per cent of boys and 5 per cent of girls sustained injuries needing medical treatment.

The findings were released this week as a local appendix to a comparative international survey of more than 100,000 11 to 15-year-olds in Europe, Israel and Canada, published by the World Health Organisation two years ago.

That report, The Health of Youth, ranked Israel sixth to eighth out of 23 for bullying, defined as anything from pestering to physical violence between children of unequal strength. Curiously, the highest levels of bullying were found in Greenland (at age 11), Lithuania (at age 13) and French-speaking Belgium (at age 15). Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland scored low in all three age categories.

Among Israeli 11-year-olds, 67 per cent of boys and 55 per cent of girls said they had been bullied at least once on school grounds during the previous year; 24 per cent of boys had been bullied three times or more.

The Israeli study, which included sixth-formers, also found that 17 per cent of 15 to 17-year-olds had thought seriously about committing suicide.

Dr Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of Israel's National Council for the Child, said that the young absorbed violent attitudes from computer games, television, and the behaviour of adults on the roads, at football matches, or in the home.

"What message do youngsters get from a computer game which tells them to get into their cars and run over as many people as possible?" Schools were often reluctant to report violence to preserve their reputation, and many youngsters felt there was "nobody to talk to".

Not so at the 530-pupil Janusz Korczak school in northern Kiryat Shemona, awarded the prestigious Prize for the Defence of the Child in 1995 for its work to combat pupil violence. The school's initiatives include:

* elected pupil committees responsible for cleaning, sports, "active break times"; * the award of certificates for positive acts; * the involvement of children and parents in the formulation of school rules on prohibited behaviour; * the creation of a quiet space where experienced teachers can work one-to-one with problematic children, several times a week, encouraging them to talk about problems in school or at home; * strengthening of life skills education, to give pupils the tools for solving disputes non-violently; * workshops for parents on bullying.

Sue Surkes

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