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The problem of teenage aggression: how to cultivate a negative attitude to cruelty?

30.05.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Aggression among underage school and teenage children often causes lack of understanding in parents and criticism from teachers. Parents, depending on the circumstances, say the following: “he was a nice obedient child and suddenly…”, “we don’t do him wrong at home and have no idea where so much aggression comes from,” “he’s got everything he needs.”

Adolescent aggression and cruelty manifest in destructive behavior towards peers, teachers, younger family members, animals, disrespect and rudeness in conversations with adults. It is difficult for children to explain the reasons and cope with the problem on their own, and parents sometimes do not know how to help them. The school in most cases takes a defensive and accusaitic position.

What to do if cruelty has become a habit in your child? You will find answers to this question in the article.


  1. The problem of child cruelty as a social phenomenon
  2. What is the meaning of child cruelty in terms of psychology?
  3. How does aggression manifests itself in adolescence?
  4. Causes of child cruelty and aggressiveness
  5. Methods of psychological correction of aggressive behavior in children

The problem of child cruelty as a social phenomenon

child cruelty

Violent children in school are a pressing problem. This is evidenced by the news, videos on the Internet and just life situations. Teenage cruelty has become one of the biggest problems of the modern school. At least one aggressor is present in almost every grade. At first, the child can torment animals, then begins to humiliate classmates, say rude things to teachers and behave defiantly with parents. When aggressive children gather in a multi-person community, it becomes a serious problem.

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Even if the child behaves aggressively only in the external environment, and is quite adequate at home, the inaction of parents can lead to the fact that sooner or later cruelty will turn to family members. Aggression in the outside world often turns into the cruelty of children towards parents, younger brothers and sisters, so prevention of aggressive behavior in children and adolescents is a common task of the family and society.

“We have a friendly and loving family with two children — a son and a daughter. We’re doing well, but our 9-year-old son’s been behaving inadequately lately. He was always very active and sometimes crude and stubborn, but we’ve been able to easily correct his behavior before. Recently, a daughter was born in our family. My son loves his sister very much, but sometimes he behaves as if possessed. He talks to us and other adults as if we’re peers, raises his voice and can be rude. Does not like to go to school, and often fights with classmates. Making him finish his homework is a challenge; he becomes hysterical and throws things around the room. We don’t beat him, although I often hear from others that he needs a strap. We try to talk calmly, to explain that his actions and behavior harm others and himself. We suspect that my son’s aggressiveness is partly due to his passion for computer games, even though we strictly control the time at the computer.”

— Irina, mother of 9-year-old Sasha

According to studies of the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, being conducted since 2005 in different cities of Russia, the number of children with calm, stable non-aggressive behavior significantly decreased. Statistics for 2006 and 2010 has already shown that the proportion of adolescents with adequate behavior decreased even more, from 32% to 15%. [1]

Studies have shown that about 48% of high school students showed cruelty to their peers in one way or another and participated in group beatings and fights. They represent 21% among children of 7th — 9th grades.

Each case of cruelty and aggressiveness in school and adolescent children should be considered individually, taking into account the characteristics of development, temperament, abilities, and social conditions. However, there are methods of effective correction and prevention of child cruelty and aggressiveness based on nurturing a humane attitude and controlling how negative emotions manifest. We will talk about them below.

What is the meaning of child cruelty in terms of psychology?

From the psychological point of view, aggressiveness includes several concepts, which, although similar in meaning, have different kinds of manifestations. At various stages of the development of child psychology, these concepts were given a meaning corresponding to time and a specific area of focus. In the modern sense: [2]

1. Aggression is a physical or verbal, direct or indirect inappropriate behavior in order to harm and damage animated and inanimate objects. That is, aggression can be directed at a person or an animal, as well as at objects.

2. Aggressive behavior is the form and specificity of responding to different circumstances and situations. Namely, aggression serves as a stimulus to action, on the background of which a certain manner of behavior is developed which is repeated in situations unfavorable for the child. Aggressive behavior can be a way to achieve a particular goal, a method of easing tension or a form of self-affirmation. It is especially expressed in adolescents.

3. Cruelty is a moral and psychological trait, manifested in bullying, offensive, derogatory attitude towards people, society and animals. Cruelty is always associated with causing physical or psychological pain. Sometimes it is accompanied by pleasure from the process.

4. Violence is a deliberate act of physical exposure to cause pain, to damage a living object. School bullying of a weak or distinguished child is a prime example of violence.

Note that aggression and cruelty may be the signs of mental illness. If your child’s manifestations of aggression flow into hysteria and are accompanied by prolonged physical stress (clenched fists, tense facial muscles) — it is worth consulting a psychiatrist.

How does aggression manifests itself in adolescence?

aggression manifests itself in adolescence

Typical psychological features of aggressive behavior in children and adolescents [3]:

  • refusal to participate in general games, events;
  • excessive self-defense, turning into attack against children and adults;
  • denial of the authority of adults (parents, teachers);
  • resolving disputes by conflict;
  • blaming other people, not admitting one’s own mistakes;
  • using hysteria as an ultimate argument;
  • rapid transition from verbal bickering to threats and physical violence;
  • the inclination to exaggerate the hostility of others;
  • increased excitability and motor activity;
  • passive resistance and negativism;
  • misinterpretation and inattention to feelings of others.

On a physiological level, aggressiveness can manifest itself in the form of constant tension of muscles, uncontrollable movements — clenched fists, lips. Prevention of adolescent aggression begins with the study of causes which can be external and internal.

“Our 11-year-old Seryozha behaves very aggressively at school. He often argues with teachers, accuses them of excessive pickiness towards himself, explaining his behavior as self-defense. He is a smart, capable and well-read boy, he is not rude, but defends his point of view whilst literally foaming at the mouth and is not swayed by even obvious facts and arguments. Hi is firmly confident in his rightness and ready to prove it with fists. So far, this manifested only in knocking his fist on the desk or hitting the wall. But he is growing and soon enough will allow himself more. Recently he has started shouting and behaving aggressively at home. He allows himself to shout and blame his mother.”

— Alexander, father of 11-year-old Seryozha

In these and similar situations, parents often ask the following questions:

1.     Why do children torment animals and what to do about it?

2.     Aggressive child – what are the reasons?

4.     Cruelty in the teenage environment — how to act?

5.     Are there effective preventive measures against violence in teenagers?

First, let’s turn to the causes of problematic behavior.

Causes of child cruelty and aggressiveness

Causes of child cruelty and aggressiveness

The causes of this behavior lie in external and internal factors. In the recent past, causes of teenage aggression and child cruelty were sought exclusively in family relationships. But this factor is not always the most important one, otherwise, how can one explain the aggressiveness of children from quite prosperous families, where physical violence is not used as an educational measure? Scientists argue that a genetic predisposition cannot be ruled out. [5]

Parenting and atmosphere in the family

On the part of the family, child’s inappropriate behavior may be due to:

  • too rude an authoritarian upbringing, most often on the part of a strict father;
  • excessive expectations of the child;
  • lack of love and weak emotional connection with parents;
  • intimidation (the child may not be beaten, but still fears it);
  • excessive connivance and indulging;
  • conflicts at home;
  • lack of frankness between the child and parents.

If there are problems in family upbringing, the child manifests cruelty already in kindergarten, and this should be a warning to parents. Often kindergarten teachers talk about problems in relationships between children, but many parents find a lot of excuses and explanations and are not able to recognize the problem.

Children do not become violent immediately, it is a gradual process. It is important to observe and timely apply methods of correcting the behavior of aggressive children.

Teenage and child aggression as a desire to assert oneself

According to research by psychologists, first manifestations of aggression in children start at the age of 9-10. It is the period during which the child starts growing up, draws some distance from the family and prioritizes relationships with friends-peers. Cruelty in the child’s environment is often the desire to assert oneself in the company of peers, which takes a violent form. That is, the child wants to prove his importance and strength, and chooses the easiest way to do so – suppression by the violence of the weaker object (younger children, animals) in physical or psychological terms. Child cruelty to animals is one of the first manifestations of aggressive behavior and it is important to understand why the child engages in it.

Violent movies and games

Indirect causes that provoke teenage aggression include hobbies, such as movies, TV, the Internet, and computer games. The influence of the modern entertainment industry is one of significant reasons why children become violent and aggressive. Minors who watch films with scenes of violence are changing their worldview. Computer addiction, in general, can lead to the child having a wrong system of values. Computer becomes the most important thing, the rest is secondary. With this model of behavior, the child will be ready to fight and be rude in order to maintain access to his or her favorite entertainment.

Methods of psychological correction of aggressive behavior in children

Timeliness is one of the main factors of successful correction and prevention of cruelty in teenagers. It is important not to miss the moment. Western psychologists have come to the conclusion that if a child sees that he is not punished for bad behavior and aggressive attitude to others, bullying becomes worse. [6]

What if the child is violent? In this situation, parents can help in the following ways:

1.     It is necessary to teach the child to control his emotions from early preschool age. At the age of 4 kids can understand and restrain their emotions.

2.     Establish close contact with the child. He should not be afraid to talk about his problems; the fear of disapproval and being misunderstood will make him clam up.

3.     Share your emotions with the child, and when discussing an unpleasant situation talk about the fact that for you it is also unpleasant, you are hurt and sad. Sharing emotions with the child reduces the degree of distress.

4.     If you went too far with the punishment, shouted or offended the child, calm down and talk calmly, admit that you were wrong and failed to control your negative feelings.

5.     Do not blind yourself to the displays of cruelty, find out the reasons and explain the consequences. The child should understand that he is responsible for his actions.

6.     If others show aggression against your child, teach him to defend himself and to react correctly — to ignore it, to be calm and to translate it into jokes.

7.     Maintain self-confidence in your child, appreciate his achievements and encourage good behavior. Confident person will not need to defend his dignity with his fists.

What to do if a child is violent — the 7Spsy behavior modification technique

If your child is very violent and you cannot affect his aggressive behavior on your own, contact professionals. Modern technologies allow you to work with children’s aggression and cruelty remotely and confidentially.

For example, 7Spsy behavior modification technique is a scientifically sound, patented method of behavioral psychology. The course includes an individual training program, which the child is engaged in on his own. The psychologist helps to understand the tools for training and supports the process of changes throughout the course through a convenient communication channel — e-mail, phone or online chat.

We will teach a negative attitude to cruelty

Make for consultation WATCH VIDEO

In 2-6 weeks it is possible to change the behavior pattern by replacing subconscious attitudes causing a habit of cruelty to positive ones.

After passing the course an aggressive child or the teenager will completely change their behavior and gain calm confidence and benevolence.


  1. Statia po dokladu RAN o detskoi zhestokosti (https://rg.ru/2012/06/01/pokolenie.html)
  2. Bolshoi psikhologicheskii slovar, V. P. Zinchenko, B. G. Meshcheriakova (https://www.elkniga.ru/static/booksample/00/19/15/00191530.bin.dir/00191530.pdf)
  3. Doklad o detskoi agressivnosti (https://nsportal.ru/shkola/rabota-s-roditelyami/library/2015/11/17/doklad-detskaya-agressivnost )
  4. Natsionalnaia pedagogicheskaia entsiklopediia (https://didacts.ru/termin/zhestokost-detskaja.html)  
  5. Statia v AIF «Malenkoe zlo». Psikhologi raskryli prichiny detskoi zhestokosti» (http://www.altai.aif.ru/society/education/56065)
  6. Statia «Cruelty of adolescents: causes and prevention. Difficult teenager» (https://ilovevaquero.com/dom-i-semya/19743-zhestokost-podrostkov-prichiny-i-profilaktika-trudnyy-podrostok.html)