National Study Identifies Which Teens Involved in Violence
A national study reveals that nearly 7.8 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 — almost one third of teens — participated in one of three violent behaviors over the past year. The study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), showed that 22.6 percent of adolescents reported having participated in a serious fight at school or work; 16.1 percent reported involvement in group-against-group fighting; and 7.5 percent reported attacking others with the intent to seriously hurt them.
With nearly one in three youths engaging in at least one of the violent behaviors in this SAMHSA report, it is clear that youth violence remains an ongoing public health problem.
For those of us who have worked with adolescents, this is not surprising. In my work with teens in the juvenile justice system, I almost exclusively worked with teenagers who had been violent. Their violent behavior ranged from hitting or slapping a family member to attacking an antagonist with a knife or a firearm. For many of these youth, some as young as 11 or 12, violence is a way of life. The only way they know how to solve conflicts is with their fists or a weapon.
While violent behaviors occur among youths in all economic circumstances, the recently-released SAMHSA research report indicates that rates are highest among young people in families with lower incomes — regardless of their age or gender. Also, having lower grades in school is strongly associated with higher rates of violence, and for those with a “D” average or lower, income made no difference in the percentage who engaged in violent behaviors.
Overall, male adolescents were more likely to engage in violent behaviors than females (34.6 percent versus 27.0 percent). Yet, key factors relate to family income and grades at school.
Adolescents from families with higher annual incomes are less likely to engage in violent behaviors than those from lower income families. For example, adolescents from families with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are far less likely to be involved in violent behaviors than adolescents from families with annual incomes of less than $20,000.
And academic performance is also associated with risk for participating in violent behaviors. Adolescents with “A” averages in school were less than half as likely to be involved in violent behaviors as adolescents earning “D” averages in school.
Low academic performance even seems to transcend the association with family income as a risk factor for violent behaviors. Among adolescents with “D” averages, those coming from families with annual incomes of $75,000 or higher had nearly identical rates of violent behaviors as those who came from families with annual incomes of less than $20,000 .
“Youth violence has long lasting, devastating consequences — the alarming rates of violence found by this study reinforce the importance of our efforts to prevent violence,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., is quoted as saying on the SAMHSA website. “These rates also underscore the need to treat the psychological trauma that can result from youth exposure to violence. Community leaders and school officials can use this vital information in making decisions about creating safe learning environments, and effective treatment programs which can rebuild young lives and promote safer communities.”
Given the results of this study, it seems that for community leaders, youth in low-income families should be targeted for programs that promote positive youth development. Such programs can promote positive relationships with peers, emphasize youths’ strengths, and provide opportunities to learn healthy behaviors.
As parents, there are things you can do as well. As Pamela S. Hyde suggests in her quote, if your child has been exposed to violence, then he or she needs help to cope with that experience. Research is very clear that when young people are exposed to violence, even if they appear healthy afterwards, their risk for being violent themselves soars.
Furthermore, since academic grades appear to be a major factor in youth violence, it’s important that you be very involved in school and your youngster’s education. Parental involvement in education is shown in dozens of studies to be the key factor in academic success. However, given the relationship to violence, it’s even more imperative that you get involved in your child’s school life – and stay involved throughout high school.