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Opinion

Culture and Education

Anger Styles of Juvenile Delinquents and How to Approach Them

Kyoko Fujino
Professor, Faculty of letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Decreasing number of juvenile offenders

The word “juvenile delinquent” conjures up an image of wild and rowdy teenagers. Figure 1 shows the number of youth who were charged with bodily injury between 1958 and 2014. A look at this figure indicates that although the percentage of bodily injury cases where juvenile offenders were arrested fluctuates over the years, the number of youth committing violent acts of crime has decreased overall.

Nonetheless, various anger-related issues are observed among juvenile delinquents. The following is a discussion regarding such social phenomena.

Intentional acts of violence

The most fitting image of a juvenile delinquent is probably one where they intentionally act violently in order to control someone by threatening him or her. Juvenile delinquents like these do in fact exist.

But would they be satisfied even if they could force someone to obey them? Would they genuinely be happy?

Bullies similar to the one above are shunned and people gradually distance themselves from them. In the end, they become all alone. Yet, the inherent desire for wanting to have people in the palm of their hands comes with the assumption that people are around. There are surprisingly many juvenile delinquents longing for company.

For this reason, urging such boys and girls to think about whether violent acts lead to real happiness and to have them acquire negotiation skills become crucial, so that they can deal with others using lawful means instead of rough acts.

Moreover, there are adolescents who behave aggressively to look for stimulation. They want to do something flamboyant, seek excitement, and keep themselves in suspense. If you could imagine a teenager whose way of speaking and behavior illustrate hot-bloodedness and who does not know how to work off their overflowing energy, you have got the picture. A typical example is the motorcycle gangs from some time ago. Appropriate guidance is desirable for these youth so that they can have similar experiences within sound legal frameworks.

Recently, however, there have not been so many juvenile delinquents who are as lively and energetic as the ones mentioned.

Reasons for being hot-tempered

When asked why they acted violently, many juvenile delinquents said they lost temper and their actions were rather unintentional, only realizing what they had done afterwards. Noticing signs of anger and coping with anger to regain composure before anything happens become necessary in such cases. Still, is that enough?

A close observation of those who flare up and take violent actions depicts that such juveniles snap quite easily. Furthermore, even frivolous matters make them feel that they have been insulted, and such tendencies can be pointed out as the reason for becoming quickly enraged. They are vulnerable to criticism, even if it is trivial, and assume that they have been made fun of. In addition, because they are seeking for more attention, they take even a trifling act of indifference as a sign of disregard. Such feelings evoke a sense of humiliation.

These juveniles are so sensitive because they either consider themselves useless or dislike themselves to start with; therefore, they tend to interpret the real world with prejudice, thinking that others must also see them the same light but find that hard to accept. Hence, the juvenile delinquents mentioned above lay the blame on those who humiliate and attack them to avoid sentiments of inadequacy towards themselves.

If the mechanism of becoming angry matches the description above, teaching this group of youth to become more tolerant so they do not have to feel insulted could serve as a valuable mean of prevention as well.

The problem of internally-directed anger

Since anger as discussed above is directed externally in the form of physical attacks, it can be recognized by the people around them. However, anger is not necessarily projected outward, including the ones felt by juvenile delinquents. The inclination of expressing one’s anger as socially undesirable is spreading among troubled youth, too.

Any person would become angry if they feel their space is being intruded and would take countermeasures to restore it. However, under the trend mentioned above, they would deem that asserting him or herself in the face of such violation will make the situation worse. Instead, they continue to put up with it, hoping the feeling would go away without much serious thought. If this person continues to contain their anger within them, their anger would reach a limit and explode in the form of a sudden outburst of fury. One countermeasure against this is to acquire a way of self-assertion using socially accepted practices.

Additionally, there are people who, even though they are upset with something, try to persuade themselves that they are not. There are also those who blame themselves for feeling somewhat irritated because it is uncertain what is annoying them. Out of frustration, these people often engage in self-harm, by inflicting pain on themselves or by becoming drug-dependent.

Could anger be reduced by not acknowledging it or by directing it to oneself? The answer is no. Rather, such actions could make someone feel helpless and become desperate, leaving them apathetic even towards themselves. At this point, nothing matters to them anymore at and putting a stop to what they do becomes unnecessary, sometimes leading them to commit audacious crimes.

Here lies an aspect of reality behind culprits of incidents that catch the public eye, who are often described as quiet and unassuming. Before anger develops into such serious situations, convincing these people that they are irreplaceable and deserve respect is essential. They must understand that their daily lives will not change for the better if they continue to blame themselves instead of facing themselves squarely.

Countermeasures against adversity are also necessary

In addition, many juvenile delinquents are, in fact, living in unfavorable environments, and they often feel anger towards the circumstances they are in. Furthermore, if they have experienced abuse, bullying, and the like, they are frightened or cautious by the possibilities of being attacked. They also have a strong tendency to think that society, including the people around them, will not help them. As a result, they cannot readily accept offers of support. They often believe that they can only fend for themselves (and those around them) and perform acts that are considered illegal in mainstream society without remorse.

Such distrust and hostility toward the world gradually accumulate. Consequently, this group of youth is always angry, and clues to eliminate such anger cannot be easily found. Countermeasures against this need to start from making them feel that remaining as a part of mainstream society is in their best interest.

Points to note in anger management training

Recently, schools, businesses, and other organizations have adopted anger management as part of their psychological training programs. As described above, however, anger management must not aim only to simply avoid showing one's anger.

First of all, anger sends a message that there is something wrong with the person feeling upset. Allowing people to learn appropriate ways of expressing their anger and to learning how to cope with the root of anger will help them adapt to society.

Kyoko Fujino
Professor at the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Professor Fujino's areas of specialization are criminal psychology and clinical studies on delinquency.
1984: Graduated from Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I
1986: Completed a master's course at Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Science
1986: Entered the Correction Bureau of the Ministry of Justice as a first-class (psychology) national public servant
1992: Completed a master's course in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Texas, U.S.A.

She has taken up the post of classification officer at the juvenile classification home in Tokyo and Hachioji. She has also been an office manager and researcher at the Research and Training Institute of the Ministry of Justice. She then became professor at Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the post she has held to the present day.

Major publications and translations
Anger Management: Eleven Methods –– Let Us Resolve Anger Skillfully, supervisor and translator, Kongo Shuppan, 2016
Six Steps to Support Children in Trouble: Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) Programs Aimed at Solving Problematic Behavior, Akashi Shoten, 2010
Psychological Support for Surviving Families of Victims of Crime and Disaster D Restorative Retelling about Violent Deaths, translator, Kongo Shuppan, 2008
Can We Stop Using Drugs?: Workbook to Stop Using Drugs, editor and writer, Japanese Correctional Association, 2007