Adolescent Violence: The Protective Effects of Youth Assets

Article excerpt

There is no doubt that violence, especially among youth, is a problem in the United States today. Since 1993, the United States has had the highest rate of childhood homicide, suicide, and firearms-related deaths of any of the world s 26 wealthiest nations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1993). For example, nearly 75% of murders of children in the industrialized world occur in our country (Communities in Schools, 1997). For schools, the problem of violence was made particularly manifest in the 1997-1998 school year and continued with violence in Littleton, Colorado, and Conyers, Georgia, at the end of the 1999 school year. Dwyer, Osher, and Warger (1998) described the fear of many communities: "One after the other, school communities across the country--from Oregon to Virginia from Arkansas to Pennsylvania, from Mississippi to Kentucky--have been forced to face the fact that violence can happen to them" (Dwyer et al., 1998, p. 6). Despite the publicity and elevated parental concern surrounding school violence, most schools are safe havens for children in that less than 1% of violent deaths in children occur on school grounds (Dwyer et al., 1998). However, the risk for sudden, violent behavior exists in all schools just as it does in all communities, but for some communities (and schools) that risk is much higher than for others (Schwartz, 19963.

Antecedents to school violence offer insight into individual risk factors as well as family and community contributions to the problem. For example, in each of the well-publicized school violence incidents listed earlier, the event was preceded by occasions in which the perpetrators were bullied, teased, isolated, or ostracized by those who became their targets (Sandhu & Aspy, 2000; Steinberg, 2001; Youth Violence, 2001). Bullying must, therefore, be considered a marker for more violent behavior (Nansel, Overpeck, Haynie, Ruan, & Scheidt, 2003).

Other risk factors for youth violence include juvenile delinquency risk factors. In a study of 202 male juvenile offenders, results suggested that offenders were more likely to come from a single-parent household headed by the mother; have siblings or parents who had been involved with the criminal justice system; report use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana at an early age; earn money selling crack cocaine; have a friend who sells drugs; have high achievement in mathematics, but not reading; have high rates of suspension and expulsion; report early sexual activity and numerous sex partners; and exhibit no aspiration for higher education (Daley & Onwuegbuzie, 1995). Previous studies have also found that participation in one risk behavior puts youth at peril for participation in other risk behaviors (Flisher & Kramer, 2000) and that carrying a weapon was predictive of involvement in violence (Resnick et al., 1997).

Many of these risk factors are related to the economic resources available to the family. Family income has been shown to be protective in that youth from wealthier families are less likely to be involved in weapon carrying (Blum et al., 2000). Although the number of children below the poverty line is on the decline overall, there remain racial/ethnic differences in family structure and poverty. In homes headed only by a woman, 27% of White families compared with 44% of Black families were classified as poor (Famighetti, 1998). This lack of resources means that these children may not receive good health care; may have lower reading skills; may live in higher crime areas; and may experience more anxiety due to the likelihood of a more chaotic environment, more responsibility for self-care, and limited adult contact (Aspy & Sandhu, 1999). An additional risk for single-parent homes is that the parent may be or may have been a teen mother, and children of teen mothers are at a significantly greater risk for violence, among other risk behaviors (Levine, Pollack, & Comfort, 2000). …