Aggressive children bad, sad and rejected, shows research

November 16, 2000

Violent young children are really sad children, says University of Toronto criminologist Anthony Doob, so criminalizing their behaviour will not solve the problem.

"Aggressive 10- and 11-year-olds say they feel rejected by their friends, by their school and by their parents," says Doob, who conducted the research at the university's Centre of Criminology along with colleague Jane Sprott. "Punishing them through the youth justice system risks adding rejection by society to the list."

Doob and Sprott examined data about more than 3,400 10- and 11-year-olds from Statistics Canada's National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth to test the assumption that aggressive young children generally have high self-esteem. They compared the children's perceptions of themselves with those held by their parents and their teachers. "These kids often look happy-go-lucky to us," says Doob. "They strut down the road with their baseball caps on backwards and look as if they're happy. But as soon as we ask anyone who knows about them, we get quite a different picture of the individual kid."

Doob says that while there are calls from time to time to criminalize violent acts by young children, a 1999 Department of Justice public opinion poll indicates the public has little desire for this option. Only 23 per cent of Canadians said they preferred this approach when given the alternative of having the child dealt with through the child welfare or mental health systems. "It's absolutely clear they want something done. But when asked to make a choice, the public actually understands that these kids can be dealt with another way," he says. "A 10-year-old who is violent is not just the smaller version of a 25-year-old who is violent."
This study was funded by Human Resources Development Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. It was published recently in the Canadian Journal of Criminology. CONTACT: Professor Anthony Doob, Centre of Criminology, (416) 978-6438 ext. 230, or Jane Sprott (now a professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph), (519) 824-4120 ext. 3546, or Judy Noordermeer, U of T Public Affairs, (416) 978-4289,

University of Toronto

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