Unfortunately, violence is everywhere! It's in our own homes, in our neighborhoods, in the news, on television and in movies. It is important that you talk with your teen about violence, not only what it is, but also how to prevent it. Although adolescents can be victims of violent crimes, they also are at high risk of having violent behavior.
Violence is "physical force used to injure" and obviously includes hitting, kicking, knocking someone down, or using a gun, knife or other weapon against someone. Your teen needs to know that verbal abuse and sexual abuse also are forms of violence that can be just as damaging as physical abuse, and actually often happen between people who know each other. For example, "date rape" refers to a person being forced to have sex while on a date with someone. Violence occurs in the home as well, between adults or between an adult and a child. Even if not directed at your teen, simply witnessing violent behavior at home can be harmful to him.
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What are the risk factors for violence?
Although violent behaviors can be seen in people from all walks of life, there are factors that increase or decrease the risk of violence, such as age, sex, race and wealth (socioeconomic status). For example, being a teen-ager, a male, an African-American, or being poor all increase the risk of committing murder (homicide) or intentional injury. Someone who uses alcohol or drugs is strongly associated with violence. In fact, most murders and many serious attacks or rapes are committed by someone who is using alcohol or drugs.
People who use drugs are four times more likely to become victims of violence than those who have never used drugs. Owning a handgun also places you at risk of serious injury. Although many people think that having a gun at home protects them from crime, studies show that owners of handguns are actually at higher risk of being killed at home. Carrying a handgun for protection doubles the risk of being killed during an attempted robbery.
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What can you do to reduce your teen's risk of violence?
Since just being a teen-ager is a risk factor, it is important for you to talk with your teen about violence.
- Make sure your teen knows that violence hurts other people and is never acceptable.
- Be a positive role model for your teen and show that you can get what you want without teasing, threatening or attacking.
- Help your teen develop constructive strategies for getting what he wants. Teach and practice negotiating skills and nonviolent problem-solving.
- Encourage your teen to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports or music, as socially acceptable ways to use up his excess energy or aggressive behavior.
- Talk with your teen about drugs and alcohol. He should not use drugs or alcohol and should not hang out with kids who use drugs or alcohol.
- Do not have guns in your home. If it is absolutely necessary to have a gun in your home (for example, because of your job), you must keep it unloaded, locked up and out of reach of children. The bullets should always be locked up in a separate place.
- Make sure your teen knows that if he sees a gun at a friend's house, he should never, ever, under any circumstances, pick it up or play with it.
- Limit your teen's exposure to violence in the media (television, movies, computers, music, video games). Media violence may make some teens less sensitive to violence and increase their aggressive behavior. Recent studies suggest that middle-school-aged children who watch R-rated movies are more likely to try smoking or drinking, increasing their risk of violent behavior.
- Make sure your teen knows that friends should always treat each other with respect. It is not OK for someone to repeatedly yell at him, call him names or put him down.
- Talk with your teen about date rape. It is never OK to force a person (with verbal threats or physical force) to have sex. Forcing anyone to have sex is rape, a serious crime that can have long-lasting physical, emotional and legal consequences. Even if two people have had sex before, they each still have the right to say no.
Teens who are involved with violent behavior may skip school, have to stay after school for detention, or act aggressively toward parents, siblings and teachers. If your teen is accused of violent behavior or you think that he may be hurting other people, take it seriously. At first you may be defensive and want to deny the problem, but violent behavior does happen and definitely can have serious consequences for your teen and his victim. It is critical that you get involved! Talk with your teen right away and find out what has happened. Get help for your teen before he hurts himself or someone else.
A teen who is a victim of violent crime often does not talk about it because he is afraid or embarrassed; especially when he knows the person who hurt him. They may have unexplained bruises or injuries, may seem anxious or depressed, or may skip school to avoid being hurt again. If you think your teen is the victim of violence, it is important that you talk with him right away. Find out what has happened and whether your teen thinks it may happen again. Get help from his pediatrician, school or local authorities.
Although violence is everywhere, you can take steps to make your teen's life safer. Most important, talk with your teen about violence. Ask about violence in every part of your teen's life — in school, with friends and in your neighborhood. Watch for signs that your teen could either be participating in violent crimes or has been the victim of violence. If your teen is in even the slightest bit of trouble, get help immediately. Small problems with violence can quickly turn into big problems, if not taken care of properly.