Youth Violence: Signs and Prevention
Occasionally we see chilling reminders of teenage violence. We might watch the news about a school shooting or see evidence of gangs or hear about a bullying incident. Parents and teachers cringe at these sad stories, but many of us feel powerless to help or feel that this problem is uncommon or won’t happen in our area. Middle Earth wants to share some facts about youth violence so that you are armed with good information that youth violence is prevalent and, many times, preventable.
Youth violence is violence between adolescents or teens, including fighting, threatening, and bullying. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 years old. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that an average of fifteen young people are killed every day, usually with firearms, and 750,000 young people are treated in emergency rooms for violence-related injuries each year. A recent CDC study of high school students found that 33 percent had been in a physical fight in the last year and 25 percent of youth experience bullying each year. More than one in four girls ages 12-17 was involved in fighting during 2009, according to new survey data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Some factors that increase the chances that a troubled teen will be involved in teen violence are:
- Involvement in gangs or fighting
- Low parental involvement
- Discipline that is inconsistent, lax, or too harsh
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- A history of violence in the home
- Emotional problems/lack of self-control/temper
- Injuring animals or people
- Lack of involvement in positive extracurricular activities
- Exposure to media violence
- Lack of economic opportunities in community/low income
- Poor performance in school, especially due to learning disorders
- Risky or illegal behavior
- Not respecting the rights of others
These risk factors are not what causes teen violence, but they often put teens in situations where they are more likely to be victims or offenders.
Things parents can do to help children and teens avoid being involved in teen violence include:
- Talk to your teens and listen to what they have to say; reassure them that they can talk to you about anything. Show caring and concern. Don’t criticize them and avoid shouting.
- Show your children positive attention every day; praise good behavior and tell teens you love them.
- Set an example of non-violent behavior, and tell your teen that violence is not the best solution to a problem and that there are other ways to cope, such as with compromises, humor, or ignoring or avoiding people who are bothering them.
- Help children and teens learn ways to cope with anger, such as by thinking about things that make them feel peaceful, taking deep breaths, or ways to solve the problem without being violent.
- Teach problem solving skills to children. Studies have shown that violent adolescents tend to not have effective problem solving skills. All children must be taught how to develop several possible solutions to a given problem and weigh the pros and cons of each solution to choose the best alternative. Children need to understand that not all problems are solved immediately and that by setting goals and thinking through the obstacles to those goals they can succeed. Children also must hone their ability to think of different consequences that might happen in certain situations. These skills are ones that are developed over time as they are practiced with parental supervision and guidance.
- Encourage children to avoid being a victim by staying away from situations that are risky or that they feel uncomfortable about, or by saying no and getting away from bad situations.
- Take the time for fun family activities, which don’t need to cost anything as long as the family is together. Make these times special. Try to have at least one meal each day together as a family.
- Set clear and consistent rules, with appropriate, non-violent consequences for breaking rules that are consistently enforced. Consider creating a behavior contract with your teen that clearly states what you both expect their behavior to be and what the consequences of breaking the contract are.
- Know where your children are, what they are doing, and whom they are doing it with. Meet all of your children’s friends.
- Be involved in your children’s school and emphasize the importance of education. Set an example by reading, and check your teen’s homework without doing the work for them.
- Help your teen find ways to contribute around the home, at school, at your place of worship, or in the community. This can include doing chores or volunteer work.
- Do not allow children access to drugs, alcohol, gangs, or guns, and explain to them why they should avoid using these.
- Monitor your children’s media, including television, movies, music, video games, and internet. Consider allowing computer and televisions only in public parts of the house, not in children’s rooms. If you see something in the media you disapprove of, calmly explain to your child why it is wrong. For instance, the violence they see on TV is fake and real violence is not funny or good because is causes suffering, is against the law, etc.
- Encourage your children to understand their culture and its positive values.
- Don’t leave teens unsupervised after school; this is the most dangerous time for most teens. Juvenile crime peaks between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. If you cannot be home with your teen after school, arrange for them to join an after school program or activity.
If your teen has been the victim of teen violence or bullying, seek counseling for him or her. School counselors or local health clinics may offer free counseling. Teens who have been victims of violence often need guidance to cope with their feelings. Teens who are afraid of violence should seek the protection of someone in authority, like a police officer or school administrator; they should not use violence or weapons to protect themselves.
If you think your troubled teen is involved in teen violence, it is important to talk to him or her. You should:
- Get him or her counseling from a qualified professional; if there are issues of violence or abuse in your family, get family counseling as well. A counselor can help them learn better ways of dealing with their emotions, and suggest ways to remove themselves from violent situations. Violent teens need to learn ways to deal with emotions without resorting to violence.
- Remove guns and other weapons from your home
- Limit access to violent media or influences
- Talk to local police and school counselors for additional ideas on preventing teen violence.