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Our young children are taught to be violent

Psychologist W. Douglas Tynan of Nemours/ Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children wrote this for the kids health blog on and

Psychologist W. Douglas Tynan of Nemours/ Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children wrote this for the kids health blog on and

Preventing violence should begin in early childhood with programs that help parents raise emotionally healthy children and include efforts to intervene with troubled individuals who are threatening aggression, concludes a report on gun violence released this month by the American Psychological Association.

The committee that developed these recommendations encompassed many backgrounds, from security experts to child psychologists. (Tynan served on the committee.)

In the United States, more than 31,000 people die by guns each year, with suicides accounting for nearly two-thirds of that figure; most of the remainder are homicides. Fewer than 1,000 are police or self-protection shootings.

Other countries, notably Australia, have cut overall death rates of homicide and suicide by nearly two-thirds by setting some limits on gun access.

The most violent cities

American cities are the most violent in the world. Homicide rates in major U.S. cities are almost four times as high as places we think of as dangerous, such as Bogotá, Colombia.

One major finding of this review is that the two most simplistic explanations - "people kill people" and "guns kill people" - are both wrong. People with guns kill people, and we have to evaluate the development of aggressive behavior and access to firearms if we are to control this problem.

Horrible school shootings, such as the one in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people died, are rare. Many more children were killed all over the United States that month in single shootings. Daily shootings on the streets of Philadelphia and Wilmington will claim more young lives this year than that dreadful day in Newtown.

The family environment has been found to be influential in the development of aggressive behavior. Youths who are aggressive from an early age are often raised in families under great stress. And their behavior is often dealt with by harsh parenting practices that amplify aggression. Risk factors include harsh or inconsistent discipline, poor parental supervision, and the modeling of pro-violent attitudes.

The first three years

Reducing aggressive behavior can start in the first three years of life. Teaching parents how to manage those problems well without escalating violence is essential. Programs to help with parenting skills such as Strengthening Families, Triple P parenting, and the Incredible Years all can help.

Troubled kids cannot "grow out" of these problems. The key is continuing consultation with a mental-health professional who can help children focus on identifying what is upsetting them and finding a better solution.

Research has shown early intervention with at-risk families can improve parenting skills and disrupt the pathway from early aggression to violence. But access to that treatment is often limited.

In regard to guns, there needs to be a return to sensible gun safety. In a home with guns, children under 18 should never have access without adult supervision. Guns should be unloaded and locked. Kids should be taught to call 911 first when they feel threatened, not to reach for a gun.