How Parents Can Reduce Youth Violence
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of their Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a bi-annual survey that measures adolescent health and well-being. Collected in fall 2021, the survey responses from 17,232 U.S. high school students showed that most of the indicators for teen well-being worsened significantly from past years.
The survey showed that experiences of youth violence, including sexual violence, are increasing. Most alarming was the large increases in violence against teen girls, including:
- 20% were electronically bullied, including through texting, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media, during the past year.
- 17% were bullied on school property during the past year.
- 10% did not go to school because they felt unsafe either at school or on their way to or from school at least once during the past 30 days.
- 14% (1 in 7 girls) had been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to sometime during their life.
- 18% (1 in 5 girls) were forced by someone to do sexual things (including kissing, touching, or being physically forced to have sexual intercourse) when they did not want to during the past year.
With the prevalence of youth violence growing, it’s important that parents take action to address these problems. Below are ideas for how parents can reduce youth violence.
Teens who know how to approach a problem and resolve it effectively are less likely to be angry, frustrated, or violent. Problem-solving helps teens identify the pros and the cons of potential solutions before taking action. If your teen understands that there are many possible solutions to a problem, they are more likely to spend a few minutes examining their options rather than resorting to impulsive behavior. Whenever your child faces a problem, don’t solve it! Walk through the process with them. Help your child think through the consequences of each possible solution and determine how their behavior will affect themselves and those around them. Allow them to make the decision, implement their chosen solution, and discover the results for themselves.
Stay Involved in Your Child’s School
Take an active role in your child’s schools. Show your children you believe education is important and that you want your children to do their best in school by being involved in their education. Get to know your child’s teachers and help them get to know you and your child. Talk regularly with staff. Volunteer in the classroom or library, or in after-school activities. Work with parent-teacher organizations.
Join a Violence Prevention Group
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the crime rate can decrease by as much as 30 percent when a violence prevention initiative is a community-wide effort. Join up with other parents, through school and neighborhood associations, religious organizations, civic groups, and youth activity groups. Talk with each other about violence problems, concerns about youth in the community, sources of help to strengthen and sharpen parenting skills, and similar issues.
Writing an editorial for the local newspaper, holding a petition drive, speaking before a school board meeting, or sending a letter to your legislator can be effective ways to voice your opinion and gain support from decision makers for violence prevention programs in your community. These efforts also role model your values to your teen.
Work with the School
Parents can ask school administrators for help in creating a safe and supportive school environment. Offer to help create and implement policies. Ideas to suggest to your teen’s school include:
- Creating school-wide behavioral expectations
- Offering psychological and counseling services
- Including student participation in safety planning
- Creating anonymous reporting systems for students
- Monitoring school parking lots and common areas, such as hallways, cafeterias, and playing fields
- Developing crisis plans and providing preparedness training to all staff members for a variety of safety situations
- Creating school-community partnerships to enhance safety measures for students beyond school property
- Teaching students alternatives to violence including peaceful conflict resolution and positive interpersonal relationship skills
If you keep firearms at home, ensure that they are securely locked, that ammunition is locked and stored separately, and that all children in your home know weapons are never to be touched without your express permission and supervision.
Talk to Your Teens
Listen to and talk with your children daily (not just when there’s a crisis). Ask your teens their opinions on a wide range of topics. Don’t wait for your children to come to you about the difficult subjects, but rather start important conversations about violence, sex, drugs, and more. You can use the news or pop culture (songs, movies, tv shows, etc.) to start these conversations. Ask open-ended questions and use phrases such as “tell me more” and “what do you think?” Phrases like these show your children that you are listening and that you want to hear more about their opinions, ideas, and how they view the world. This is not a time to lecture your teens, but rather to learn more about them and ask questions that encourage them to think critically about the world around them. When you have open conversations frequently, you will be able to weave in your opinions and values without it sounding like a lecture.
Set Clear Rules
People are guided by the expectations of those around them, and teens need boundaries. Communicate clearly that violent behavior is never acceptable. Be specific about what behaviors you won’t tolerate, such as name-calling, threats, put downs, yelling, throwing things, or any physical attacks (hitting, slapping, kicking, punching walls, etc.). While you might think that small behaviors, such as name-calling, aren’t important to curtail, studies have shown that these behaviors can escalate, whether at the hands of the teaser or the victim, and they actually lead to anger and violence.
Follow Through on Discipline
Research shows that when parents, teachers, or other authority figures consistently follow through on enforcing the rules, teens feel safe and learn self-discipline, which is essential to preventing violence.
Know the Warning Signs
Being able to recognize when a teen’s behavior is starting to change is a crucial part of preventing violence. Sudden changes such as withdrawal from friends, decline in grades, abruptly quitting sports or clubs previously enjoyed, sleep disruptions, eating changes, evasiveness, or lying can be an indicator that something is troubling your teen.
Know When to Intervene
Parents need to step in and intervene when children exhibit behavior or attitudes that could potentially harm them or others. If your teen threatens you, bullies others, fantasizes about violent acts, is intentionally cruel to animals, shoves or hits anyone, or punches holes in your walls, you absolutely should seek professional help.
Your teens learn most from observing you. Settle your own conflicts peacefully and manage anger without violence. If you yell, swear, and break things, don’t expect your teen to control their anger. If members of your family hit each other, call each other names, or throw things, your teen will naturally assume that these are appropriate ways to express their anger as well. Instead, talk about your angry feelings in a calm way. For example, you might say, “I’m really angry that you didn’t clean your room like I asked you to. I’m going to go take a break to calm down for a few minutes, and then, we’re going to talk about your consequence.”
The only way to change the way our youth behave and the increasing violence among young people is for each of us to do our part in our community. If we each take small steps in our own lives to role model peaceful conflict resolution, stay involved in our children’s schools, practice proper gun safety, work together to protect our communities, discuss violence with the youth in our lives, and influence lawmakers, we will see the violence begin to decline.