Youth violence can be defined as the intentional use of physical force or power (threatened or actual) exerted either by or against youth that likely or actually causes psychological or physical harm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that this widespread violence in the United States disproportionately impacts youth ages 10 to 29 years old. These youth are affected as victims, perpetrators, and/or bystanders in these violent incidents. Youth violence can occur within peer or adult relationships, in homes, schools, and communities and can be quite varied in its appearance. Prominent violent behaviors include verbal abuse, bullying, hitting, slapping, and the use of weapons (e.g., stabbing, shooting). Moreover, youth violence includes serious violent and delinquent acts such as aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and homicide. Youth violence is marked by this wide variation in form, and therefore prevalence rates for some forms are quite common while others are quite rare. Thus, violence touches most youth, but the most serious forms are unusual. This result has led to a great deal of attention to youth violence and has led to often confusing or complex statements about its patterns, impact, and needed responses.
Youth violence as a public health and youth development problem often includes verbal and nonverbal actions that imply and employ the coercive use of physical aggression, abuse, and mistreatment against another person including family members as well as peers and adults in home, school, community, and institutional settings. This type of youth violence involves problems and patterns that have clearly harmful and serious effects on the victim as well as involves forms that are problematic because they are violations of prevailing social norms for appropriate behavior.
Research differentiates four types of youth violence, with each having different prevalence patterns, risk factors, and needed interventions: (1) situational violence, where situational factors (e.g., social stress, poverty, firearms) precipitate violence that would not have otherwise occurred; (2) relationship violence, where interpersonal disputes between friends and family often reflect norms and habits; (3) predatory violence, where a person commits intentional harm that is often part of criminal action (e.g., robbery, assault); and (4) psychopathological violence, where the violence is a symptom of a severe mental illness.
The understanding of the causes of youth violence is increasing due to substantial research over the past 20 years. As noted above, these different prevalence patterns are best understood as dependent on similar risk factors, but differ in the extent to which the risk factors involved are primarily sociological, interpersonal, or within the individual. Moreover, even among those with many risk factors, violent behavior, particularly repeated violence, is rare. This rarity has led researchers not only to focus on developmental patterns that differentiate risk for youth violence, but also to emphasize settings and social group processes that might promote or permit violence more readily. At present, the understanding of setting and situational precipitants of youth violence is not well studied and is just beginning to become well characterized. Thus, at present most evidence is about individual differences in tendencies, perhaps leading to the impression that violence likelihood can be well determined as an individual difference. This conclusion would be premature, if not misleading. Most likely, most youth violence, whether relatively minor or very serious, will depend on individual, situational, and accumulated developmental risk factors.
The past 2 decades of research have identified a large set of effective prevention and intervention approaches to reduce youth violence. Among the most consistent findings are approaches that promote parental management of child behavior, social-cognitive features related to use of aggression by youth, and youth norms about accepting or using aggression. Yet there is continuing reliance on many approaches that have not been evaluated or if evaluated have not shown benefits. Also, to-scale implementation of efficacious programs has not occurred. Thus, while increasingly understood and with substantial improvement in preventive and ameliorative interventions to affect youth violence, it remains a common experience of youth and a serious cause of harm to the public health.
- Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. (2007). Blueprints for violence prevention. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/204274.pdf
- Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. (1998). Serious and violent juvenile offenders: Risk factors and successful interventions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Mercy, J., Butchart, A., Farrington, D., & Cerdá, M. (2002). Youth violence. In E. Krug, L. L. Dahlberg, & J. A. Mercy (Eds.), The world report on violence and health (pp. 23–56). Geneva: World Health Organization.
- Tolan, P. H., Gorman-Smith, D., & Henry, D. (2006). Family violence. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 557–583.
- Tolan, P. H., & Guerra, N. G. (1994). What works in reducing adolescent violence: An empirical review of the field (Monograph No. CSPV-001). Boulder: University of Colorado, Center for the Study and Prevention of Youth Violence. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.182.9426&rep=rep1&type=pdf
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