Preventing adolescent violence
We are living in what appears to be an increasingly violent world. Adolescents are more likely than anyone else to be a victim of violence.1 Violent crimes include assault, rape, and robbery. It is commonly thought that violent crimes are not planned and the victims are innocent bystanders. This is not true. Most violent crimes occur between friends or acquaintances or within families.
To help prevent your adolescent from being involved in violence, you can:
- Be involved in your child's life. Know your child's friends and how they spend their free time. Because peers strongly influence your child's behavior, talk to your child about how friends who get into trouble can affect him or her. Explore ways your adolescent can avoid unsafe situations. And talk about what qualities to look for in friends. If your child has friends who often get into trouble, encourage him or her to join a school club, sports team, or church group to meet new friends.
- Find alternatives to and discourage physical violence.
- Explore ways, such as through role-playing, that your child can deal with conflict without resorting to violence. Let your child consider which approach fits him or her best. For example, brainstorm ways to reason with a bully, such as by saying, “I don't have anything against you.” or “This is not worth fighting about.”
- Be a role model. Evaluate the ways your family deals with conflict and ensure that all are nonviolent. Think about how you resolve problems with your co-parent. And identify the similarities and differences with how you each address conflict with your teen. Try to come to terms with any differences, and work together to provide firm, fair, and consistent approaches. Children who witness violence in their homes and communities are more likely to think of violence as the best way to deal with conflict. Let your teen see you deal with a disagreement by discussing the issue, not by physically or verbally attacking the other person.
- Remove guns from your home. Guns are involved in most teen murders.2 Some teens carry guns to help them feel secure. But having a gun often turns simple fistfights or assaults into murders. The most common victim when a teen fires a handgun at home is the teen. The next most common victim is a friend of the teen. Locking a gun in a separate place from the shells may help discourage access, but it is not foolproof.
- Talk to your child about healthy relationships. Dating abuse is common among preteens and teens. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, and/or physical. It can happen in person, over the computer, and over the phone. Explain that a caring partner would not do something to someone that causes fear, lowers self-esteem, or causes injury. Ask your child to talk to you or another trusted person if he or she has concerns about abuse. Have your child keep the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline number handy. It's 1-866-331-9474. For more information, see the topic Domestic Abuse or go to www.loveisrespect.com.
- Encourage regular physical activity. Participation in competitive or recreational sports can be a healthy outlet for excess energy. And coaches often are healthy role models.
- Protect your child from violent media as much as possible. Some TV programs, movies, video games, and Web sites show a lot of violent acts. Youths who watch a lot of this violence may come to believe that such behavior is okay.3 This can make them more likely to act violently themselves. It can also lead to nightmares, aggression, or fears of being harmed.
- Discourage alcohol and drug use. And discuss how to handle a situation in which drugs and/or alcohol are being used by others. Alcohol, tobacco, or drug use is a risk factor for youth violence.4
- Pay attention to your child's perceptions. Adolescents who view the world as harsh, interpret harmless situations as hostile, and view people as either victims or bullies are often more prone to violence. If this describes your child, talk to him or her about your concerns. If you think your adolescent may need help dealing with conflict situations, talk with a doctor or licensed counselor.
- Champion H, Sege R (2008). Youth violence. In LS Neinstein, ed., Adolescent Health Care: A Practical Guide, 5th ed., pp. 984–993. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2006). WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999–2006. Available online: http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_sy.html.
- American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media (2009). Policy statement: Media violence. Pediatrics, 124(5): 1495–1503.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Understanding youth violence. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/YV-FactSheet-a.pdf.
Last Updated: February 1, 2010
Author: Debby Golonka, MPH