Teen Violence: What You Should Know, What You Can Do

teen violenceThe first thing to understand about teen violence is that violence is a learned behavior. Children learn violent behaviors from their family and peers, as well as observe it in their neighborhoods and in the society at large. These behaviors are reinforced by what young people see on TV, on the Internet, in video games, movies, music videos, and what they hear in their music.

When children are disciplined with corporal punishment or verbal abuse, or when they are physically or sexually abused, or when they witness such behavior in their home, it is not surprising that they behave violently toward others.

Research has shown that violent behavior can be decreased or even prevented if these risk factors are significantly reduced or eliminated:

  • Being the victim of abuse ― physical, sexual, emotional, and/or neglect
  • Exposure to violence in the home, school, and/or community
  • Exposure to violence in media (TV, movies, etc.)
  • Combination of stressful family socioeconomic factors (abandonment, death, illness, use of drugs and/or alcohol, poverty, unemployment, loss of support from extended family)

As an individual is exposed to more risk factors, the probability that he or she will engage in violent behavior increases.  Clearly, violence leads to violence.

Warning Signs

Get help quickly if your child is exhibiting these warning signs for potential violence:

  • threats of violence, either verbal or written
  • past violent or aggressive behavior (including uncontrollable angry outbursts)
  • access to guns or other weapons
  • bringing a weapon to school
  • past suicide attempts or threats
  • family history of violent behavior or suicide attempts
  • blaming others and/or unwilling to accept responsibility for his/her actions
  • recent experience of humiliation, shame, loss, or rejection
  • bullying or intimidating peers or younger children
  • being a victim of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, neglect)
  • witnessing abuse or violence in the home
  • themes of death or depression repeatedly evident in conversation, written expressions, reading selections, or artwork
  • preoccupation with themes and acts of violence in TV shows, movies, music, magazines, comics, books, video games, and Internet sites
  • mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder
  • use of alcohol or drugs (illicit or prescribed)
  • disciplinary problems at school or in the community (delinquent behavior)
  • past destruction of property or vandalism
  • cruelty to animals
  • firesetting behavior
  • poor peer relationships and/or social isolation
  • involvement with cults or gangs
  • little or no supervision or support from parents or other caring adult
  • a sense of entitlement ― believing he/she should get what he/she wants at whatever expense

Typically, the greater the number of these warning signs present, the greater the risk.  It is important to realize, however, that many children exhibit these warning signs and never resort to violence.  Even so, these signs indicate that something is wrong, and your child needs help.

teen violenceGuns and Violence

As a precaution, make sure that your child does not have access to firearms, and remove other dangerous materials or objects from your home.

If there is a gun in your home, it must be kept out of reach of your children and their friends.

The gun must also be kept safe from family members who are depressed, abusive to others or abusing alcohol and.or drugs..

If there is a gun in your home, keep it unloaded and locked away, separate from the bullets, with the key available only to responsible adults.

Teenagers often act without thinking first. When teenagers are angry or depressed, they are more likely to kill themselves or harm themselves or others if they have access to a gun.

It’s best not to have a gun in your home at all if someone who lives there is depressed or thinking of suicide, or is a troubled teenager.

If you have a gun in your home, you are 5 times more likely to have a suicide in your house than homes without a gun.  An unlocked gun could be the death of your family.

Get Help

If you are concerned about your child possibly committing violence, you need to arrange for him or her to be seen by a mental health professional. Find a counselor or therapist who is experienced in working with teens and their families. 

The goals of treatment typically focus on helping the teen to:

  • face and understand the issues underlying his/her aggressive and violent behavior
  • learn how to control anger
  • express anger and frustrations in appropriate ways
  • be responsible for his/her actions
  • accept consequences
  • address family conflicts, school problems, and community issues

Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.