Step up and step in: Recognizing and preventing youth violence

high school bullying help support protection

According to the World Health Organization,1 every year 200,000 homicides occur among youth 10 – 29 years of age worldwide. That’s a staggering and troubling statistic, particularly since it accounts for 43% of the total number of homicides globally each year. And of course, for each young person killed, many more survive but sustain serious injuries requiring hospital care. In fact, youth violence has a serious and lifelong impact on a person’s physical, psychological and social functioning – and it impacts families, friends and communities too.2 But bullying, physical fights, and sexual and physical assault are also part of the youth violence problem.

There are many complex factors that contribute to youth violence in our communities, and while people may disagree on what kinds of action should be taken to help prevent it, we can all probably agree that being vigilant and understanding the risk factors associated with youth violence can play a key role in helping to ensure that the young people in our lives are neither perpetrators nor victims.

Risk factors3

Risk factors within the individual
  • attention deficit, hyperactivity, conduct disorder, or other behavioral disorders
  • involvement in crime
  • early involvement with alcohol, drugs and tobacco
  • low intelligence and educational achievement
  • low commitment to school and school failure
  • unemployment
  • exposure to violence in the family
Risk factors within close relationships (family, friends, intimate partners, and peers)
  • poor monitoring and supervision of children by parents
  • harsh, lax or inconsistent parental disciplinary practices
  • a low level of attachment between parents and children
  • low parental involvement in children’s activities
  • parental substance abuse or criminality
  • parental depression
  • low family income
  • unemployment in the family
  • associating with delinquent peers and/or gang membership
Risk factors within the community and wider society
  • access to and misuse of alcohol;
  • access to and misuse of firearms;
  • gangs and a local supply of illicit drugs;
  • high income inequality;
  • poverty; and
  • the quality of a country’s governance (its laws and the extent to which they are enforced, as well as policies for education and social protection).

What can you do?

The American Psychological Association has some advice for parents to help raise children who are resistant to violence.

  1. Give your children consistent love and attention. It’s not easy raising children, and sometimes they can seem very unlovable when they try hard enough, but children need to have a strong, loving relationship with a parent or other adult in order to feel safe and secure and to develop a sense of trust. If you are struggling, or feel your child has issues that you can’t manage, talk to your child’s doctor or a mental health provider as soon as possible for advice on how to handle the difficulties you’re experiencing. There is help out there.
  2. Make sure your children are well supervised. They’re going to hate it, but you need to know where they are, who they’re with and what they’re doing at all times. Encourage your children to participate in supervised afterschool activities like sports teams, organized recreation, tutoring or community programs that you trust, in order to keep them positively engaged in a nurturing and safe environment. Monitor your young children when they’re playing with others. If you see your child engaging in aggressive or inappropriate behavior, step in and talk about how to solve problems constructively without any physical or emotional violence. Make sure you always model this behavior in your own personal interactions with family, friends and the people around you.
  3. Be consistent with rules and discipline. Children crave boundaries and rules. It’s what keeps them feeling safe and secure, even if they don’t realize it or want to admit it. Enforce the rules you make, and ensure that your children know and understand the consequences of breaking those rules.
  4. Keep violence out of your home. Children learn by example and mimic what they see, so if the people in your home physically or verbally hurt each other, it’s critical to get help from a mental health provider to help break that cycle of violence.
  5. Limit the violence your children are exposed to in the media. Know what they are watching on televisions and online, and know what kinds of video games they are playing. Talk to your children about the violence they see while engaged in these activities, and make sure they understand how incredibly painful and damaging this kind of violence would be in real life, and what the consequences of those actions would be in the real world.
  6. Talk to your children about drug and alcohol use and abuse. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it’s critical.
  7. Teach them tolerance. There are complex political, socioeconomic, and cultural factors that play into the kind of violent news stories we’re seeing so much of lately, but at the core of these issues is a lack of tolerance. It you are unwilling to accept and respect someone else’s differences – be they physical, cultural, political, or religious – it’s easy to believe that another person is not like you in any way. And that makes it easy for relationships – and entire communities – to dissolve into chaos.

There is no one, quick way to prevent your child from becoming engaged in violent activities, or from becoming a victim. It takes a lifetime of vigilance and a willingness to do whatever it takes to ensure that your home is safe and violence-free and that your children always understand the consequences of their actions, and to watch for any troubling signs or changes in your child or the friends they hang out with.


1, 2, 3

416302D CAN/US (06/18)

Previous articleHow to foster community when it doesn’t come naturally
Next articleBe prepared for summer’s extreme weather