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What Makes Children Violent?

Youth violence


Whenever youth violence is in the news people ask “Why did this happen?” or “What can be done to keep it from happening again?” Research is providing a clearer understanding of the root causes of youth violence and practical knowledge about which prevention approaches work and why. Most experts agree that:

  • Violence is learned and can be unlearned.

  • Youth are part of the collective solution to violence prevention

  • Violence is a complex problem that requires a comprehensive, multifaceted response.

  • Partnerships and collaboration are more effective at violence prevention than isolated individual efforts.

Most studies indicate that no single factor or unique situation causes an individual to engage in violent behavior. In recent years “The Ecological Framework” has been developed to describe the network of individual, family, community, and environmental factors that determine outcomes for children. The framework shows the environmental, community, family, and individual factors that affect children’s development and behavior.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has identified poverty, media exposure to violence, and adult disregard and mistrust of young people as the primary environmental factors that contribute violent youth behavior. The most powerful environmental factors that prevent violent youth behavior are the recognition of youth as a valuable resource and youth working with adults in meaningful activities.

Availability of drugs and firearms; communities with high crime rates, gang activity, poor housing, and lack of services; and poor quality educational and recreational opportunities are the community level factors that make violent youth behavior more likely. Improvement of these factors makes violent behavior less likely for the youth in the community.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention have found that youth who do not have consistent, positive interaction with parents or other responsible adults are more likely to develop violent behavior. In addition, abuse or neglect, and exposure to high levels of marital and family conflict makes violent youth behavior more likely. Youth who have friends, siblings or other close relatives who are involved in violent behavior are also at higher risk.

In contrast, youth are less likely to be involved in violent behavior:

  • If they have frequent, in-depth communication with all members of their family.

  • If they have consistent interaction with successful, non-kin adults

  • If their parents set and maintain clear boundaries for behavior

  • If their parents use reasonable, consistent discipline

It is important to be cautious when looking at individual factors that may contribute to violent behavior so youth are not labeled. However, aggression, problems with concentration, excessive risk taking, and restlessness that are not appropriate for age or stage of development can be indicators that the child may be at greater risk developing violent behavior. In addition, youth with diagnosed depression or who have poor school achievement are at greater risk for development of violent behavior.

Violent behavior is less likely for young person who has grown up in a community, family, and environment that has helped them develop these characteristics:

  • A sense of purpose and belief in a positive future

  • A belief that education and learning are important

  • The ability to act independently

  • A sense of control over her environment

  • The ability to adapt and be flexible

  • A sense of empathy and caring for others

  • The ability to solve problems

  • The ability to seek out support when needed

  • Conflict resolution and critical thinking skills.

Parents will be most successful when they are involved not only in the family level of violence prevention but also at the community and environmental level. Active participation in school activities is one way parents can help shape community and environmental experiences for their child. Youth and adults working together to solve problems is another powerful way to reduce the risk for violent behavior. In addition, parents who set and maintain clear boundaries for behavior and use reasonable, consistent discipline provide additional protection for their children as they grow up.


Janet Benavente

 

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