Youth violence affects thousands of young people each day, which in turn impacts our schools and communities. Youth violence typically involves young people hurting other peers who are unrelated to them and who they may or may not know well. Examples include fights, bullying, threats, and gang-related violence. A young person can be involved with youth violence as a victim, offender, or witness.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so now is a great time to consider youth violence and what steps we can take to prevent it.
Homicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 years old. An average of 12 young people are victims of homicide every day. The number of young people who are treated for nonfatal physical assault related injuries in emergency rooms is more than 115 times higher than the number killed. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 23% of high school students had been in a physical fight in the last year and 16% had carried a weapon in the last month. Additionally, 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property in the last year.
Some factors that increase the chances that a troubled teen will be involved in teen violence are:
- Low parental involvement
- Parental discipline that is inconsistent, lax, or too harsh
- A history of violence in the home
- Use of drugs or alcohol by parents or teen
- Impulsiveness / lack of self-control
- Lack of good problem-solving skills
- 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 and/or weak connection with school
- Risky or illegal behavior
- Involvement in gangs
- Not respecting the rights of others
These risk factors are not necessarily what causes teen violence, but they often put teens in situations where they are more likely to be victims or offenders.
Youth violence is preventable. Things parents can do to help children and teens avoid being involved in 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. Role model responding nonviolently to conflict, stress, and fear.
- Help children and teens learn ways to cope with anger, such as by thinking about things that make them feel peaceful, taking deep breaths, engaging in an activity they enjoy, 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.
- Take the time for family connection. Engage in fun activities, such as games or movies. Try to have at least one meal each day together as a family.
- Set clear and specific 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, 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 connect with a mentor or 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.