A burning issue
The violent tendencies taking root in our society are a concern, say experts.
THEY allegedly dragged two gas tanks, stolen from a nearby stall, up two flights of stairs before stacking them up in front of the dormitory door with their nozzles loose. Then they doused the area outside the room with petrol.
It was indeed detailed planning and hard work from a group of seven boys, aged between 11 and 18.
The fire had razed Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz, burning 23 people, including 21 children, to death.
Chillingly, the motive is said to be in response to an altercation with a group of students from the school, who taunted them for reportedly smoking ganja.
Are our young growing violent? And why?
Wasn’t it just three months ago that Malaysians were stunned by the brutal abuses that naval cadet Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnian and student T. Nhaveen suffered in the hands of their peers that led to their deaths?
The tendency of youngsters turning to violence in resolving conflicts and differences is worrying, say experts.
There seems to be an emerging pattern of aggressive behaviour among youths in Malaysia, says Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist Assoc Prof Dr P. Sundramoorthy although there is not enough data on how serious it is.
More research is needed, Dr Sundramoorthy says.
“The trend among those below 14 resorting to violence to solve their ongoing ‘problems’, without fully understanding the consequences, appears to be growing. We need more studies to see why this is happening.
“Like many are saying, last time, kids would just throw stones at each other but now they would steal, burn and kill, causing massive or maximum harm to others.”
A major issue that needs to be addressed is school truancy and the dropout rate, he adds.
According to Bukit Aman statistics, violent crimes among schoolchildren in 2014 dropped slightly from 542 in 2013, while the cases involving non-schoolchildren jumped by 5% from 2,011 cases in 2013.
The high level of aggression among Malaysian youths is a reflection of the aggressive attitude of the adults in society, he says. “We are willing to hurt others over small matters, like road bullying.”
One reason is that Malaysians generally have no value of life, he says, pointing to our low standards of safety and the murder cases in the country.
“Per capita, the number of murder cases in the country has not increased over the last 30 to 40 years, but the nature of the killings has become more brutal and barbaric.”
Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says the aggressive behaviour among youths is not healthy.
“Peer conflicts are normal among children and teens but what is not normal or healthy is when they turn to aggression or violence to deal with these conflicts.
“Teens who usually resort to aggression and violence to deal with conflicts and problems have poor impulse control and low tolerance, combined with a lack of developed skills to cope with frustration.”
Dr Mohanraj believes this is happening because children and teens lack positive adult role models either at home or at school.
“Children and teens emulate aggressive behaviour including that of their parents and the community they live in. Those coming from a lower socioeconomic class with aggression in the family background, going to schools known for poor discipline, is a potent combination for the eruption of violence to solve conflicts,” he says.
Child and youth psychology expert from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Prof Dr Khaidzir Ismail reiterates an oft-repeated underlying reason – poor parenting skills. It’s time to address this, he says.
“Many parents are too busy with work and leave their children to the maids or on their own. Consequently, their children lack soft skills like coping skills and anger management. Many lash out in anger when things don’t go their way and manipulate or emotionally blackmail their parents.”
Dr Mohanraj says the phenomenon could also be linked to the rising mental health illness in the country.
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015, about 4.2 million Malaysians aged 16 and above suffered from mental problems.
Worse, aggressive and violent children and teens may display anti-social or sociopathic behaviour and personality as adults, he notes.
“The victims of aggression and taunts can have immediate and long term effects on their psychological state.
“They can display features of low self esteem, become depressed, or withdrawn and suicidal in the immediate aftermath of such taunts.
“In the long term there could be maladjustment in their psychological development leading to anxiety disorder or clinical depression and become an introverted adult.”
Dr Khaidzir says the young also have to learn how to deal with differences.
“They shouldn’t taunt those who are different or do not agree with them.”
He believes violence by young people on young people has been happening for a long time but it is seen to be rising now due to wide media coverage.
“The nature of teens is the same then and now, regardless of race and religion, whether they are from the rural or urban areas or from the West or East. Teens are still developing their brain and emotions, they are in the process of understanding their environment and self-identity.
“It is also an emotional time where they feel dissatisfied and throw tantrums. When they are in this state and they are faced with something that affects their feelings or hurts them, they will retaliate.
“This retaliation comes in various forms; that is why you sometimes see violent reactions like bullying, beatings and now cyberbullying and trolling.”
Children’s easy access to social media has intensified the issue, he notes.
“With social media, our kids have easy access to graphic images of violent acts and information on ways to commit crimes.
“It is also very easy now for videos and picture of these violent acts to go viral, and fast. It used to be that children and youths only hear stories of these violent acts, but now they can see it happening, straight from their bedrooms.”
Schools can do a lot to help the young cope with their emotions, say the experts.
Former president of the Malaysian Psychological Association Dr Goh Chee Leong, who is also dean of Psychology at HELP University, believes it would be helpful to introduce some psychology into primary and secondary school curriculums.
“This may include practical skills like anger and stress management, EQ, developing healthy self awareness and self esteem, and interpersonal skills.”
Dr Mohanraj agrees.
“Children need to be encouraged to talk to an adult, maybe the teacher. Those who are likely to be targets of taunts or aggression must be reminded that the aggressor is actually the weak one and is not the fault of the victim. The victims must be encouraged to hold their anger and not to feed into the behaviour of the aggressor.”
Schools, he says, must promote peer conflict resolution techniques and encourage a buddy system which can prevent one from being an easy target.
Dr Khaidzir proposes for volunteer programmes in schools.
“Look at Singapore. They have programmes where even young children are sent to old folks’ homes, orphanages and welfare homes to do chores and help out.
“Volunteerism can help develop empathy and humanity in the young. We don’t have that spirit or culture here. Our schools are too exam-oriented and do not instil these skills,” he says.
For Dr Sundramoorthy, the Government needs to review the school system.
He advocates for a full-day school system to enable students to get involved in sports, recreational and extra-curricular programmes.
Dr Sundramoorthy also urges the Education Ministry to replace moral education classes with a course in human social behaviour.
“Teach them about crime prevention, anti-drug use, sex education, ethics and integrity, social issues, social etiquette and culture.
“This can help reduce social ills,” he says.