Program Outcomes for Youth
Risk Behaviors 
Adolescent Violence  
Roselyn K. Polk 

Violence committed by adolescents is neither a new, nor a rare phenomena. Although predominate stereotypes place the focus of most violence within the poverty stricken, drug-dominated inner-city neighborhoods and schools, violence among adolescents spans all ethnic groups, socio-economic levels, all lifestyles, and exists within both urban and rural communities. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) defines violence "as any act that causes psychological, emotional, or physical harm to individuals and/or communities, or causes damage to property" (Gardner & Resnik, 1996). Theories such as culture of violence theory (Felson, Liska, Sourth, & McNulty, 1994), psychopathology theory (Lewis, Shanock, Pincus, & Glasser, 1979), social cognition theory (Markus & Zajonc, 1985), drive theory (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939), instinct theory (Freud, 1950; Lorenz, 1966; McDougall, 1908; Trotter, 1916), social learning theory (Bandura & Walters, 1959), conflict theory (Dahredorf, 1968), and impression management theory (Felson, 1981, 1982; Mason, 1998) have all attempted to explain the mechanisms that form the foundational basis for violence. However, no single theory has yet been able to explain the multi-faceted components of the social, psychological, and biophysical facets that appear to be intertwined within violent behaviors. 

Adolescents, like all humans, are social by nature and this sociability predisposition leads them to engage in interaction with others human beings. These social interactions and their resultant negotiations can lead to interpersonal tensions that can, under the right conditions, manifest into interpersonal violence. Thus, the acceptance of the use of violence and violent behaviors do not themselves occur within a vacuum. Rather, they manifest themselves in relation to differences in beliefs and motivations, physical and sexual abuse, temperament, and victimization that can arise from and within the many interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship interactions that make up an adolescent\rquote s social world. Interactions that are primarily negative in context may have serious long-term consequences. For example, those adolescents t hat live with domestic violence are more likely to view the use of violence in their intimate relationships as an acceptable social norm, as well as an acceptable form of conflict resolution. Children who identify with television, film, and other forms of media characters may be at risk for being influenced by the violence portrayed by those media depictions, including violence-oriented animated computer games. 

Many other factors also play a role in the production and exacerbation of violent behaviors. Alcohol, illegal substance abuse, gang membership, and accessibility to firearms each play a role and place their unique brand on adolescent violent behaviors. Lifestyle (Hindelang, Gottfredson, & Garafolo, 1978), opportunity (Cohen, Kluegal, & Land, 1981) , chronic poverty (Greene, 1993), and weapon-carrying (DuRant, Getts, Cadenhead, & Woods, 1995) are other factors implicated in the escalation of violence and victimization occurring among adolescents in our nations schools, homes, and communities. 

The violence associated with gangs has resulted in gang membership increasingly becoming a national violence prevention focus. Current research indicates that adolescents join gangs for a variety of reasons including identity development and a need to belong, peer-friendship, enhanced self-esteem, and access to resources. One may also seek membership out of fear or self-protection and peer pressure. With the increase in the lethality and frequency of violent gang related incidents, an increase linked to the availability of resources such as illegal drugs, and the firearms used to protect those resources, many communities are focusing on gang membership intervention and suppression.
Trends in Youth Violence 
Violence is prevalent throughout our society and spans all segments of society, all races, classes, and lifestyles
Most violence occurs among acquaintances meaning that one has a greater likelihood of being hit or killed by a family member or friend while at home than by a stranger or while outside the home 
Adolescence is a time of heightened violence and the frequency of engaging in violent behaviors is greater for adolescents than for all other age groups
Violence risk differs among adolescents and those at the greatest risk are adolescents who are poor, urban-dwelling, male, and Black
Component Elements of Adolescent Violence
Chronic poverty, e.g., living in impoverished, high crime areas
Alcohol and illegal substance use/abuse
Personality traits e.g., low self-esteem, temperament
Parental influences and family conflict
Academic failure, including dropping out of school
Socio-cultural structural factors, e.g., acceptance of violence in problem solving/conflict resolution, minority oppression
Accessibility to firearms
Gang membership
Physical and sexual abuse victimization
Forms of Violence
Assault (including rape and sexual assault)
Sibling abuse, including incest  
Suicide--self-directed violence
Bullying and other school-related coercion and violence
Vandalism (and other forms of property damage)  

Adolescent violence in our nations' schools and inner-city neighborhoods continues to be a salient concern for adolescents, parents, communities, and schools. In its scope, adolescent violence is not limited to any one ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or geographical region. And early childhood experiences such as neglect and abuse can substantially impact whether or not an adolescent engages in acts of violence. In addition, the relative ease with which adolescents are able to access guns, illegal drugs, and alcohol exacerbates the violence problem. In 1992, the CDC reported that 26% of high school students carried a weapon and arrests for homicide doubled for youth ages 15-16 from 1986 to 1991 even though there was no population increase in the number of adolescents of this age (Fox & Pierce, 1994). However, current FBI figures indicate juvenile arrests in 1997 for all types of violent crimes dropped 4% from the previous year. Arrests i n 1996 for violent crimes fell 9.2% following a 2.9% decline in 1995. 

Despite the pessimistic overtones of much research and the media, programs are being developed by academians, researchers, and medical and health professionals in the hope of stemming the tide of adolescent violence. Congress recently appropriated $95 million for crime prevention programs for children at risk. Among the school-based, family-based, and community-based programs aimed at reducing violent behaviors are prevention and intervention programs focusing on anger management, confl ict resolution, interpersonal problem solving skills, dating violence, those designed to raise self-esteem, and general violence prevention curriculums (Powell & Hawkins, 1996; Haugen, 1997). Anti-social behaviors are often the result of the perceived lac k of alternatives that allow adolescents to achieve their goals through prosocial means and they may view violence as the only available means of power to which they have access. Most prevention specialists now believe a multi-leveled approach is needed that incorporates the adolescent, family, school, and community, all the social contexts within which the adolescent lives, if we are to experience a reduction in the prevalence and acceptance of violence among our nation's young people. 
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Mason, W. A. (1998). Impression management, violence, and self-esteem: A social interactionist approach to coercive action among adolescent males. Dissertation: University of Nevada, Reno. 

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Powell, K. E, & Hawkins, D. F. (1996). Youth violence prevention: Descriptions and baseline data from 13 evaluation projects. A supplement to American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 12}{(5), 1-134. 

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