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Violent Behavior in Children and Teens - Topic Overview

Violence causes more injury and death in children, teenagers, and young adults than infectious disease, cancer, or birth defects.

There is no single explanation for the violence caused by youth. Many different factors cause violent behavior in teens. The more these factors are present in a child's life, the more likely he or she is to commit an act of violence. Behavior will change depending on a child's age and gender. Violent behavior may be targeted at parents, other teens, friends, or other family members.

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Violent crimes include assault, rape, and robbery. Most violent crimes occur between friends or acquaintances or within families.

What are the warning signs for violent behavior?

It's important to be alert to behavior changes. People usually give hints that they are considering violence toward other people, such as:

  • Talking about violence, especially violence directed toward specific people or groups of people, such as student groups, or places, such as schools, churches, or government buildings.
  • Talking, writing, or drawing about death and violence.
  • Having unexplained mood changes.
  • Having intense anger or losing his or her temper every day.
  • Fighting often.
  • Acting aggressively toward others. This may include:
    • Hurting animals.
    • Teasing or taunting others by calling them names, making fun of them, or threatening them.
    • Making threatening phone calls.
  • Following or stalking another person.
  • Damaging or vandalizing another person's property.
  • Using alcohol, drugs, or tobacco.
  • Having risk-taking behavior, such as speeding, drinking and driving, or high-risk sexual behaviors.
  • Carrying or talking about a weapon, especially a firearm. Having access to a gun increases the likelihood of teen homicide 3 times and teen suicide 5 times.
  • Buying or talking about other means, such as poisons, that could kill or harm others.
  • Not taking responsibility for his or her actions or saying that the actions are justified because of how he or she has been treated.

The possibility of teen violence also increases when the following factors are present in a teen's behavior over several weeks or months:

  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Spending more time listening to music about violence or watching violent shows on TV, videos, or the internet
  • Gang membership or having a strong desire to become part of a gang
  • Access to or a fascination with guns or other violent weapons
  • Threatening other people regularly
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and usually pleasurable activities
  • Fear of other people (paranoia)
  • Feeling rejected, alone, or disrespected
  • Being a constant victim of bullying
  • Poor school performance or attendance
  • Frequent problems with figures of authority

What can you do if you are worried about someone's behavior?

When you recognize warning signs of violent behavior in someone else, there are steps you can take. Don't count on someone else to deal with the situation. Taking action and telling someone who can help can prevent harm to yourself and others. It also will protect another teen with potentially violent behavior from making a mistake that will affect the rest of his or her life.

  • Don't spend time with people who show warning signs. Tell someone you trust and respect, such as a family member, counselor, or teacher, about your concerns and ask for help.
  • If you are worried about being a victim of violence, ask someone in authority to help you.
    • Do not resort to violence or use a weapon to protect yourself.
    • Don't try to deal with situation by yourself. Ask for help.
    • Develop a safety plan to help you if you are in a potentially dangerous situation.
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