Three new areas of focus for youth research show interesting and sometimes surprising results: the impact of requiring community service, the impact of listening to violent songs, and the link between bullying and violence. These studies show how research can help us understand the influences on youth and directly or indirectly suggest ways that youth workers can strengthen positive influences and combat the negative ones.
The Value of Community Service Requirements
A Demonstration That School-Based Required Service Does Not Deter – But Heightens – Volunteerism
Edward Metz and James Youniss, Ph.D.
Political Science and Politics, April 2003, Vol. 36, Issue 2, pgs.281-286.
Available at www.apsanet.org/PS/april03/metz.cfm.
One in five public high schools requires youths to perform community service. Some argue that requiring community service is an oxymoron: Voluntary service should, after all, be voluntary, and forcing adolescents to “volunteer” might turn them off. Research on the impact of these requirements has shown mixed results.
Two researchers from Catholic University conducted a case study of students from a public high school in a middle-class suburban town outside Boston. They evaluated the impact of requiring community service for the classes of 2001 and 2002, comparing those students with the class of 2000, which did not have to perform community service.
The two main questions were whether students went on to do voluntary service after completing the requirement, and whether students’ intentions to volunteer after graduating from high school were affected by the 40-hour requirement. Common types of service included tutoring, teaching, coaching, working at local shelters or nursing homes, and organizing food or clothing drives.
The researchers followed the youths from 11th through 12th grades, collecting data in September and May of each year for 486 students. Seventy-eight percent of the students in the school were white, and the rest were Asian, black or Hispanic.
Approximately 93 percent of the graduates went on to college.
The researchers found that the students who were required to do community service volunteered at increasing rates over time, while their participation in required service decreased over time. For students in the class that did not require community service, rates of volunteerism increased from grade 10 to 11, and decreased slightly from grade 11 to 12. Service (whether required or voluntary) was higher at each grade for students in the classes that required community service than in the class that did not.
Students were asked to rate from one to five the likelihood that they would perform voluntary community service after graduation from high school. Among students who were already very inclined to engage in such service, there was no difference between the classes of 2000 and of ’01 and ’02. Scores for these groups were high and increased slightly across grades regardless of the service requirement.
What about the students in these groups who had low intentions at the beginning and end of junior year? By the end of senior year, the 2001-02 students who had completed the requirement reported greater “future intentions” than did the 2000 students who had no requirement. The experience of service, even though required, seems to have increased these students’ intentions to volunteer in the future.
The researchers point out that it was possible that the requirement would take away the motivation of youths already inclined to volunteer or antagonize students who were averse to service. However, neither occurred. Those who were more inclined to volunteer completed their requirements quickly and went on to do more volunteer service during their remaining years in school. The less inclined students who waited until senior year to finish the requirement responded to that experience with increased intentions to volunteer after their high school graduation.
“There is no evidence that the requirement turned students off to service, but quite a bit of support for the notion that required service was a positive motivating force,” the researchers note.
The researchers hope that community service requirements encourage “the habit of participation,” which is “the basis of an identity in which individuals come to understand themselves as political actors who are obligated to be participatory citizens.” To find out if that is true, it would be necessary to continue to follow these students and see whether they volunteer, vote and otherwise become actively engaged after they graduate and become adults.
Although these results are interesting and encouraging, what matters is what these youth do after they graduate, not just what they say they will do.
Exposure to Violent Media: The Effect of Songs With Violent Lyrics on Aggressive Thoughts and Feelings
Craig A. Anderson, Nicolas L. Carnagey and Janie Eubanks
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, April 2003, Vol. 84, No. 5, pgs. 960-971.
Available at http://www.apa.org/journals/psp/press_releases/may_%202003/psp845960.pdf.
Although Eminem and other rappers have attracted a great deal of attention for their violent song lyrics, most of the public attention about the impact of media violence on youth has been on movies, TV and video games. Because youth often listen to music while doing other activities, it is possible that violent lyrics are not as influential as visual media.
On the other hand, favorite songs may be listened to hundreds of times, and can have a strong emotional impact. For those reasons, violent songs could be more influential than other media violence.
Previous studies have found that enjoying or listening to heavy metal and rap music correlates with hostile attitudes, negative attitudes toward women, lower academic performance, behavior problems in school, drug use and arrests. Experimental studies of music without lyrics found that listening to “tense” music resulted in people writing more unpleasant stories in the Thematic Apperception Test.
This new study of violent lyrics is based on five experiments, each conducted on students from a large Midwestern university. Each study ranged in size between 60 and 160 students, approximately half male and half female.
In each experiment, young people listened to the lyrics of a song, then completed a scale aimed at measuring whether they were feeling hostile or having aggressive thoughts. Some songs had violent lyrics and some did not; some songs were humorous and others were not.
Hostile feelings and aggressive thoughts were measured in several ways, such as the students’ tendency to turn incomplete words into hostile words (changing “h_t” to “hit” rather than “hat”), and the youths’ scores on the authors’ State Hostility Scale, which consists of 35 sentences describing current feelings, either hostile or friendly (such as “I feel furious” or “I feel like yelling at someone”).
Students who listened to the violent song expressed more hostility and aggressive thoughts immediately afterward. There was no effect of violent lyrics on arousal, understandability of lyrics or familiarity with the songs.
However, certain factors appeared to sometimes dilute the impact of the violent songs. In some cases where the students had another task between the time they listened to the songs and filled out the questionnaires, they did not seem more hostile in their responses to the questionnaires, although they continued to have more aggressive thoughts.
The youth who listened to a violent humorous song were not as influenced as those who listened to a violent song that was not humorous. The authors conclude that humor partially canceled out the effect of violence on the State Hostility Scale, but did not completely cancel out violence for aggressive cognitions.
Using a meta-analysis on the five experiments, the researchers concluded that violent lyrics increased the students’ feelings of hostility and likelihood of interpreting ambiguous cues as hostile, and this was true (although less influential) even if the violent lyrics were in a humorous song.
The researchers were surprised to find that youth who were initially more hostile did not respond differently to the violent songs from those who were less hostile.
The strength of the studies is that they used songs with similar styles and the same artists, so that the only difference was whether lyrics were violent. The researchers also studied whether the songs increase arousal, not aggressiveness. Surprisingly, they found no differences in the level of arousal for those listening to violent and non-violent songs.
Overall, the findings from the five experiments were consistent with one another, suggesting that listening to even one violent song can have a short-term impact on a college student. But the fact that students did not show increased hostility when they were given another task between listening to the song and participating in the hostility survey or word tasks indicates that the impact of these songs on hostile feelings may be short-lived. However, their impact on aggressive thoughts may be longer lasting.
Because other youth were not studied, it is not possible to know if younger or older students, or less educated youth, would be affected the same way.
Unfortunately, the researchers did not study the impact of repeated exposure to the same violent lyrics. It seems logical that if the song had an impact after listening just once, the impact would be greater if the student listened to it many times.
Because listening just once causes short-term hostility and increases the chances of interpreting ambiguous cues as hostile, the authors note that it is possible that those hostile feelings could generate negative reactions from other people, which could start a cycle of hostile or aggressive behaviors. That, however, was not evaluated in this study.
Bullying and Violence
Relationships Between Bullying and Violence Among U.S. Youth
By Tonja R. Nansel, Ph.D., Mary D. Overpeck, Dr.P.H., Denise L. Haynie, Ph.D., W. J. Ruan, M.A., and Peter C. Scheidt, M.P.H.
Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, April 2003, Vol. 157, pgs. 348-353.
Available from Nansel at Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 6100 Executive Blvd., Room 7B13, MSC 7510, Bethesda, MD 20892-7510, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
After news stories revealed that some of the school shootings in recent years were carried out by youths who had been bullied and ostracized, bullying became a hot subject of research scrutiny. This new study examines whether the bully or the bullied victim is most likely to be dangerously violent, by measuring four violence-related behaviors: carrying a weapon in the past 30 days, carrying a weapon in school in the past 30 days, frequent fighting during the past year, and sustaining an injury from a fight that required medical care during the past year.
The study is based on more than 15,000 students who participated in Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC), a nationally representative survey of youth in grades six through 10 in public, Catholic and other private schools during the spring of 1998. The youth completed anonymous questionnaires during one class period.
Bullying was defined in the survey as “when another student, or a group of students, say or do nasty and unpleasant things to him or her. It is also bullying when a student is teased repeatedly in a way he or she doesn’t like. But it is not bullying when two students of about the same strength quarrel or fight.”
Besides being questioned about how often they had carried weapons for self-defense, fought or required treatment for fight-related injuries, students were asked how often they had bullied others or been bullied both in school and away from school during the current school term. The responses for the latter were “I haven’t,” “sometimes,” “about once a week” and “several times a week,” with the latter two combined in the analysis.
The results showed that violence-related behaviors were more common in boys (ranging from 13 percent to 27 percent who reported each behavior) than girls (ranging from 4 percent to 11 percent). The authors point out that these responses, if extrapolated on a national scale, indicate that 2.7 million students had carried a weapon in the past 30 days, and 1.8 million of them had carried a weapon to school. In addition, 1.7 million students had been in four or more physical fights in the past year, and 2.9 million had been injured in a physical fight in the past year.
Being bullied in school was reported more frequently than being bullied away from school. Sixteen percent of boys and 11 percent of girls reported being bullied in school either sometimes or weekly, while 23 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls reported bullying others in school either sometimes or weekly.
Bullying and being bullied, either in school or elsewhere, were related to each of the four violence-related behaviors. The youth most likely to carry a weapon reported bullying others in or away from school or being bullied away from school. For boys, frequent fighting and being injured in a fight were most likely among bullies (in school or out) or among those bullied away from school. For girls, frequent fighting and being injured in a fight was most likely among those who bullied others.
Since these violent behaviors were intertwined, the researchers used multivariate logistic analyses to find out that each of these behaviors was important independently, but the behaviors also formed a strong pattern when looked at together. For example, youths who were sometimes bullied in and away from school, and who also bullied others away from school weekly, were 15.9 times more likely to carry a weapon.
The authors note that this is the first study of its kind, so the results may be preliminary but are still important. They conclude that bullying often occurs in conjunction with more serious aggressive behavior, and therefore should not be considered a normal and accepted part of youth behavior, even though it is common.
Although violence-related behaviors are associated with being a bully or being bullied, they tend to be even more likely for those doing the bullying. Violence-related behaviors are especially strongly linked to bullying that occurs away from school. Even carrying a weapon in school is more related to bullying out of school than bullying in school.
For youth workers to help reduce violence, it is necessary to reduce bullying both in and out of school. Programs aimed at reducing violent behavior should also try to reduce bullying, because it is associated with carrying weapons and other behaviors that are linked to violence.
We can’t tell from this study whether bullying causes other kinds of violence, or is merely a symptom. However, if those who are bullied are more likely to carry weapons, preventing bullying might prevent them from thinking they need a weapon.