Violence is defined by the American Psychological Association as an extreme form of aggression. Examples of youth violence in today's society include date rape, homicides, school shootings and fighting. As parents of teens, we know that these types of violent behaviors are more prevalent than they should be. But, did you know homicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 years old in the United States according to the CDC? We need to take an active part in preventing youth violence in the lives of their teens.
In order for parents to prevent violence in their teen's life, they need to understand what the causes are for violent youth behavior. Here I have listed the most common causes of violence among teens:
Violence in the media can influence your teen and can cause them to act aggressively. A study done by several universities, The Influence of Media Violence on Youth, states, "Research on violent television and films, video games, and music reveals unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts." The 'media' here is defined as anything your teen sees, hears or interacts with that can be found on the Internet, on television, in magazines, at the movies, in video games, in advertising, etc. Our teen's existence is filled with media that may have aggressive messages. More about the media and teens:
Your Teen's Neighborhood
Where you live, your teen's neighborhood, can cause your teen to act more aggressively. The CDC points to several community risk factors for youth violence including diminished economic opportunities, high levels of crime and socially disorganized neighborhoods. Therefore, if you live in a neighborhood where teens are forced to join gangs to survive and fighting is the norm, your teen is apt to act aggressively and participate in violent behaviors.
Domestic and Child Abuse
Children who live with violence in the home can become violent people. If your teen is living with domestic abuse in their home, they are learning how to abuse. As child abuse is seen as a cycle, children of abuse can become the aggressors. This aggressive behavior often starts in their teens.
More than once I have received e-mails from mothers whose teens are acting aggressively towards them. They go on to say that their husband treats them badly, yells at them, is hard on their children and is basically a bully in their household. These moms wonder why their teenagers don't understand how they are hurting them since they've been a victim of their father's abuse as well. What these moms need to realize is that their teen learned their behavior from their father. It is a sad truth and not easy to fix, but that is the cycle of abuse.
Insufficient Parental Supervision
Teens who received insufficient supervision by their parents or parental figures are prone to engaging in aggressive behaviors or criminal activity because they make poor choices. When parents do not take an active role in their teen's life, teens go out of control. They make friends with the wrong people, they don't strive to do their best in school and they stop caring about their future. Teenagers need fair and firm discipline - this is one of the reasons why.
Peer pressure can cause youth violence when your teen's friends are prone to aggressive behaviors. This could be juvenile delinquent behaviors, risk taking behaviors like drinking alcohol or taking drugs or being part of a social group were being aggressive is part of the norm - being part of the football team would be an example of that.
Teen drug abuse and addiction can lead to violent behavior. While recreational drug use is supposed to make you feel good, prolonged use of illicit drugs often bring feelings of depression, anger and frustration. This can lead a teen to exhibiting behaviors of aggression and rage.
Dealing with traumatic events can cause violent behavior in teens. For instance, if the teen loses a friend in a car accident that they were also involved in they could get angry at the fact that they were the one that lived. As anger is a normal stage of grief, a violent outburst from this teen seems almost justified.
Mental illness is also another cause of violence among teens. Mental health issues like ADHD, bipolar, ODD, conduct disorder or many of the others that are being diagnosed today, all have aggressive behaviors or angry feelings as common symptoms.
Mental illness sometimes hides behind other causes of youth violence. For instance, a teen with bipolar disorder may be using drugs. If this teen becomes violent, the drug use could hide the fact that the bipolar illness is part of the cause. You can read more about this in this article: Understanding Dual Diagnosis in Troubled Teens.
The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions. American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry.
Youth Violence: Risk and Protective Factors. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 30 Aug 2011.