Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Teenagers taught that violence pays


In Hamilton a group of teenagers tortures a man in his own home, some taking the lead while others stand and watch.

In Hastings, a boy pours petrol over another at a party and sets him alight. Observers, according to police, "thought it was quite funny".

A study of violence among teenagers in Nelson reports adolescent girls fighting each other as a form of entertainment for boys.

The common element in all these violent incidents is that they had an audience. A few hundred years ago, people turned out to watch each other being burned in town squares. On special occasions, there might be a drawing and quartering. But that was before television, when they had to make their own fun.

These incidents are happening because young people think violence is normal. Society condones aggression as never before. To take a mild example, most people who saw the footage of Graham Capill being assaulted outside court by Daniel McNally reacted approvingly. They were equally impressed when Capill's lawyer, Jonathan Eaton, wrestled McNally to the ground. Two assaults, two thumbs up. What's a kid to think?

The Child, Youth and Family worker who claimed unfair dismissal when he was sacked following an arrest for assaulting a child is typical of those who don't understand how violence works.

But we know a lot about what makes a young person violent. We know that the more a young person is exposed to family violence, the likelier they are to be violent themselves.

We can observe that an anti-military bias has shifted in recent years to the point where images of bloodied soldiers are admired and their high-tech weapons are envied.

Four weeks ago, the most famous person in the world achieved that status by shooting 69 people in a day, and killing eight others with a bomb.

Violence in games and movies, it's now clear, doesn't provide a healthy release for a young person's violent instincts. Where other factors are at work, it encourages them. One of those factors is the inability to interact properly with others, thanks to poor communication at home and a raft of semi-relationships on the internet. This can lead to a lack of empathy, meaning a burning boy is not seen as a real person suffering real pain.

Not everyone exposed to violence turns into a thug, just as not everyone who is exposed to mathematics becomes a mathematician. But given the place of violence in society, it can seem a reasonable option.

Rather than spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to fix a youth-unemployment rate that's a consequence of a stagnant economy, we would be better to spend some of that time and money on measures to discourage young people from turning to violence. After all, potential employers are likelier to take on a teenager if they can be sure that he or she won't set them alight for a jape.


One of the world's most famous annual events is the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. The bulls rampage through narrow streets to the ring, in which many will meet their death. Young men attempt to outrun them, thereby showing the world their daring and bravado.

Real New Zealand is a lesser-known, Rugby World Cup-linked festival, designed to show the world who we "really" are. It's a programme of events that are either going to happen anyway or involve performers who don't get out much.

One of the few highlights was to have been a running of the sheep down Queen St, presumably to a location in which many would meet their shearer. Young men would no doubt have attempted to outrun them, thereby showing the world that they can stand up to a flock of sheep.

But small-minded busybodies bleated so much about humane principles and using animals for entertainment and other faddish views that the event was cancelled.

You will be relieved to hear, however, that the real New Zealand will still be on display to amaze the world. The sheep-shearing and wood-chopping contests are going ahead.


We used to be asked to root for the All Blacks. This week we were expected to do the opposite, in yet another edgy marketing campaign.

Controversy was incited. Use of the phrase "tongue in cheek" didn't help. In reality, anyone who's seen a crowd of rugby fans will know sex is already out of the question. But whoever came up with that promotion deserves to be made head of PR at adidas.

- Herald on Sunday

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