Preventing Violence Among Adolescents and Young Adults

By Robert Kinscherff, PhD, JD, Associate Vice President for Community Engagement October 05, 2015

Mental Health Tips from William James College Faculty: Preventing Violence Among Adolescents and Young Adults by Robert Kinscherff, PhD, JD, Associate Vice President for Community Engagement.

Violent acts committed by youth are complex and often misunderstood phenomena. For example, many believe that rates of violent crime committed by youth and young adults have been steadily increasing in recent years but in fact, they have declined substantially since peaking in the 1990’s and are now at rates last seen in the 1970’s. Rates of suicide by persons 14 – 24 are approximately half the rates of adults 45 – 64 years old who along with elders over age 85 have the highest rates of suicide.

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death (about 50%) among young people. However, although homicide among youth has declined significantly over the past 20 years, it still remains the second leading cause of death (13%) among youth 10 – 24. Suicide also remains a leading cause of death (11% of deaths) in that age range. Guns are involved in most homicides and suicides. Additionally, violent deaths occur disproportionately across populations: homicides occur most frequently among young urban males of color, suicides are highest among Native American/Alaskan Native youth, young males are four times more likely to suicide, and young females are much more likely to be victims of dating/partner violence. 

The overall decline of violence among adolescents and young adults over the past 20 years and its disproportionate occurrence across different populations indicates that the emergence of violence is shaped by different factors—and is therefore preventable. 

Steps that families can take to prevent violence

  • Active caring engagement with children and adequate supervision of them 
  • Teaching and modeling non-violent conflict resolution 
  • Countering mass media glorifications of violence 
  • Involving children in positive community activities. 

Since a firearm in a home is more likely to result in the intentional or accidental death/injury of a family member than to be used to fend off an intruder, parents should carefully consider the risks of having a firearm and—if choosing to own a firearm—follow rigorous gun safety practices regarding accessibility and use (e.g., locked storage, trigger locks).

Steps that schools and communities can take to prevent violence

  • Attending to social-emotional learning needs as well as academic needs 
  • Preventing and assertively responding to bullying 
  • Providing opportunities for positive community engagement and activities 
  • Responding to conflicts between youth or groups of youth 
  • Responding effectively to persons in severe emotional crisis 
  • Gun safety regulations 
  • Professional and public education regarding topics such as suicide, dating and intimate partner violence, community safety, and hate crimes. 

We all have a part to play in our own families and communities to prevent violence--what we cannot achieve alone we can achieve together.