Risk Factors Associated with Teen Violence

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Unfortunately, on any given day in cities around the world, you’re likely to find at least one story in the news about a teen behaving violently. Hearing such stories leads people to wonder what would make a teen commit such acts of violence against other people. There isn’t just one single answer. Instead, there are many risk factors that increase the likelihood that a teen will behave violently.

Individual Risk Factors

  • Teens with a low IQ, cognitive deficits, or learning disorders are more likely to behave violently. Attention deficits and hyperactivity are also risk factors.
  • A history of abuse and a history of aggressive behavior increase a teen’s risk of behaving violently.
  • Mental health issues and emotional distress play a role in violent behavior.
  • Antisocial beliefs and involvement in illegal activity – such as using drugs and alcohol- also increase the chances a teen will become physically aggressive.
  • Historically, males are more likely to engage in physical altercations. However, in recent years, violence perpetrated by females is on the rise.

Educational Risk Factors

  • Statistics show that urban schools are twice as likely to report violent crime compared to rural schools.
  • About one-third of schools with over 1,000 students report at least one violent crime annually while less than one-tenth of smaller schools report acts of violence.
  • School departments who report gang and drug activity have higher rates of violence.
  • Students who perform poorly during elementary school are at an increased risk for violent behavior during high school.
  • Teens who drop out of school prior to the age of 15 are more likely to commit acts of violence.

Community Risk Factors

  • Communities with substandard housing and economic decline can contribute to teens feeling like society does not care about them and sometimes they express their anger through violence.
  • High transient rates and low community involvement also contribute to a lack of sense of belonging for teens and can lead to increased crime and violence. When teens witness violence in their neighborhoods, or they become victims of violent crimes, they’re much more likely to become offenders.

Family Risk Factors

  • Inconsistent discipline – whether it is overly harsh or overly permissive – can cause teens to act out. A lack of supervision also gives teens opportunities to join gangs, use drugs, and engage in antisocial behavior.
  • A lack of emotional attachment to parents or caregivers increases the likelihood that teens will disregard authority.
  • Untreated parental mental illness contributes to an unstable home life and the parent-teen relationship which can increase a teen’s risk of aggression.
  • Parents with a lower income and less education are more likely to have teens who engage in violent behavior. Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol also increase a teen’s risk of behaving violently.
  • Childhood abuse and neglect increases the chances that a teen will commit a violent crime by 38%.
  • Stressful family environments, such as a lack of a father in the home, conflict in the home, or parental role modeling of inappropriate behavior contribute to a teen’s sense of worthlessness which can lead to violent behavior.

Social Risk Factors

  • When teens have easy access to guns, they are more likely to engage in violence. Guns also increase the chances that violent acts will be fatal.
  • Associating with delinquent peers can increase a teen’s risk of becoming involved in illegal and violent activity.
  • Low involvement in structured activities, like clubs or sports, can play a role in violent behavior.
  • Media portrayals of illegal behavior can desensitize teens to violence. News coverage can lead to teens to feel afraid for their safety, which can encourage them to carry weapons. 

Related Articles: Study Reveals Conflict with Teachers is a Risk Factor in School Shootings

How to Talk to Teens About School Shootings


Department of Health and Human Services (2001). Youth violence: a report of the Surgeon General

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Youth Violence 

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