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Experts: Youth violence not growing
Incidents said to be getting more publicity
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When Waycross third graders were accused earlier this month of conspiring to kill their teacher, the seriousness and capabilities of the 8-9 year olds were questioned.
But unruly pupils may not be a problem for just teachers and parents.
Shawna Harlin-Clifton, a licensed professional counselor at Gateway Behavioral Services, works with children and adolescents. She said she one to two children a week are referred the center for acting out.
"We aren't seeing more aggression than usual," she said. "But we see the normal violence and aggression where they're having difficulties in the home with their siblings or their parents.
"The extensive piece of weapons and greater violence, we have not actually seen that come through here."
Dr. Ned Rinalducci, sociology professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University, believes adolescent crimes are just overly publicized.
"Violent crime in adolescents is not increasing, it seems that way," Rinalducci said. "National data on juvenile crime has been slightly decreasing."
Harlin-Clifton attributed any violent and negative behavior in youth to an increase in aggression. Though they may be young, she said teens do face stress.
And as times progress, teens face added responsibilities that were not common to previous generations.
The recent sentencing of the Guyton teen mother for abusing her child reintroduced the idea that teens may not be ready for such responsibilities and can act out violently.
"If we don't have effective ways to deal with our stress, then we will do it ineffective and we will make bad choices," Harlin-Clifton said.
But Rinalducci believes that change is constant and societal shifts do not influence crimes.
"They (adolescents) are dealing with changes and issues that previous generations of youth did not have to deal with, but on some level that is true of every generation," he said.  
Harlin-Clifton cited school as a place where stress can pile up when students are reprimanded for not following rules, not having homework or talking too much.
Effects of such reprimands may have sparked the third grader plot in Waycross.
Dr. Nathan Pino, an associate sociology professor at Texas State University, taught at Georgia Southern University for five years. He said economic troubles can "put stress on families, which can create more family conflict and problems at school."
He also believes a lot is asked out of today's teachers.
"We put too much of the blame on teachers. They can only do so much given the nature of their job and all of the things we expect them to do," he said.
And home is often not a haven for the kids. Both parents may work or no adult in the household may be an effective parent.
"They might go home by themselves in the afternoon and not have any extra activities to do," Harlin-Clifton added. "If they are more involved in positive activities, then there's also going to be a reduction in their chances of being violent."
Pino also stressed the importance of keeping students involved.
"After-school programs are great for reducing delinquency, as most delinquency occurs between 3 and 7 p.m. when kids get out of school and before parents come home from work," he said.
Pino said it may appear the targets of adolescent violence is changing, but most is still within families.
"Families are sources of a lot of violence, whether it is domestic violence, child abuse or violence among siblings," he said. "Violence among siblings is actually the most common form of family violence."
This was the case for an Effingham County teen who recently pled guilty for slaying his 7-year-old brother.
"We have actually witnessed a slight decrease in family member victim-offender relationships over the past several decades," Rinalducci said.
Harlin-Clifton explained how she sees the community trying to lend a hand by providing after-school programs to occupy idle time, but families have to be able to support those programs and play a large role on their own.
"Strong family relationships inhibit criminal behavior, as does involvement in schools and communities, creating those situations is the hard part," Rinalducci said.
It is a worthwhile effort, according to Pino.
"If we let these students fall through the cracks it will be far more expensive to deal with them later when they become delinquents," he said.
Harlin-Clifton commends the county for "sponsoring events that coordinate with the school year."
The public library recently gave students an outlet while they were out for spring break by hosting activities including a Spring Fling, where students made crafts and played board games.
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