Skip to Content
Advanced Search



(Download this overview as a PDF)

Killing and Homicides are terms dealt with under the topic: "Violence" in the Youthworker’s Encyclopedia. Please see that topic for fuller discussion and resources.

Every day in America, 13 children are victims of homicide, and almost as many are involved in killing another person. In 1986 602 kids under 18 years old were killed by by guns; in 1992 1,468 of that age group were shot and killed. In 1970, 18 15-year-olds (per 100,000 population) and 28 16-year-olds were arrested for homicide; in 1991, that proportion rose to 59 15-year-olds and 76 16-year-olds. (FBI and U.S. Dept. of Justice) In the United States, from February 2nd to May 21st 1998, eight kids, in seven violent school incidents, killed 23 of their schoolmates and teachers—wounding 48 more.

Aggravated assault and killings are higher in the U.S. than in other Western countries. Still, most societies are concerned about increases in youthful violence and killings. Canada’s Center for Justice reports an almost five-fold increase in assault rates (per capita assaults) between 1964 and 1993. New Zealand and Australia report a fourfold increase...with a doubling of their murder rates. Significant increases of assaults are reported by Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands, and Scotland as well—along with smaller increases in murders. South Africa and other countries in the developing world are also aware of the increase of violent crime including youthful killings.

David Groomsman is a military psychologist who has coined a new term for his discipline: killology, an interdisciplinary study of the methods and effects of training military recruits to kill. Basically, he shows that civilian soldiers are very reluctant to kill others (tracing this from the Civil War through the World Wars and Vietnam. Snipers are now trained and go into combat in pairs (one operating a telescoping site and the other pulling the trigger) which increases the kill rate.

What Grossman is showing that killing is unnatural; people have to be trained to kill.


Children don’t naturally kill; they learn it from violence in the home and most pervasively, from violence as entertainment in television, movies, and interactive video games. ([1998, August 10]. Christianity Today, p. 32)


Grossman goes on to show how similar the media’s techniques are to the ways in which the military trains its soldiers to kill.


Every time a child plays a (violent) interactive video game, he is learning the exact same conditioned reflex skills as a soldier or police officer in training. ([1998, August 10]. Christianity Today, p. 36)


Television was brought into a Canadian town in 1973. In the next year aggression in first and second graders (defined as hitting, shoving, and biting) increased 160 percent after exposure. Canadian children in two control towns without TV showed no such increase. (Centerwall, 1992)

The Journal of the American Medical Society (1992, June 10) published its definitive research on the effect of television violence on children. In every country studied, there is a doubling of the murder rate within 15 years. This is how long the researchers figured it took for the brutalization of three- and five-year-olds to reach "prime crime age."


...the introduction of television in the 1950s caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate, i.e. long-term childhood exposure to television is a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides annually...if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States...


An objective study of human nature and development would seem to detect a basic aggressive streak in boys, and in adult human beings as well. It is a natural self-defense mechanism. Social conditioning, however, makes killing unnatural in most situations. In war and law enforcement, soldiers and police are trained to kill under certain conditions and with established restraints.

When children are conditioned to delight in killing, first as observers in cartoon comedy situations and then more seriously in the struggle between so-called forces of good and evil, the more vulnerable can act out the killings they’ve seen. Gradually, the media desensitizes; then it even trains children by means of some interactive video and fantasy games. A majority of children may only become desensitized to violence (which is harmful enough), but those who feel terribly and unjustly ostracized or picked on, may take arms to kill. The school killings of 1998 in the U.S. are examples of such behavior.

Statistics and theory are one thing; the reality of being tortured and killed, of losing one’s beloved child or closest friend, and the stigma of being related to a young killer, are another. These are terrible experiences to live through. Imagine playing or talking one moment, and the next, seeing your playmate shot and killed beside you in a school yard or a school hallway! Or walking home from school and being shot at your front door steps. Think of what it means to care for a baby, do all that loving parents do through sickness and health, good times and bad times, and just as your son or daughter seems to be "blooming" have them cut down and leave their body at the cemetery. Tough youth workers have been burned out after attending fifty-some funerals of kids they knew and worked with. And many of the killers are remorseless...apparently without feelings or conscience.

There is no simple answer to youthful violence or the control of media violence. Every parent and all who are concerned for children and the future, should know the many responses available to us in terms of "unlearning violence" and reducing the killing. (See Violence for further information.)



  1. Why did you turn to this topic of "Killing?" Did you find here a beginning of what you were looking for? How have you or people you care about been affected by killings?
  2. With what did you most agree or disagree in this article? How would you change it?
  3. How will you raise your children in such a violent world?
  4. How should this topic be dealt with in classrooms and youth groups?



  1. We no longer ought to be puzzled about the origin and nature of youthful violence. Enough studies have shown us that many societies, and especially U.S. society is a violent culture and that the toxin of violence is affecting our children.
  2. There are responses to youthful violence: violence prevention programs, suggested controls on the media itself, parental interventions, gun control, suing of media and gun manufacturers the way tobacco companies have been sued, and a general promotion of pacific values.
  3. We also know more about warning signs in youthful killers. Many tragedies can be cut off by early intervention.

Dean Borgman cCYS