Violence and Minority Youth: The Effects of Risk and Asset Factors on Fighting among African American Children and Adolescents

Article excerpt

In response to social, psychological, and physiological challenges of childhood and adolescence, youth often experience increased stress and become involved in dysfunctional behavior, which increases health and safety risks. Fighting is one of the most common of a wide array of dysfunctional behaviors. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 33% of youth aged 10 to 19 years had been involved in a physical altercation in the prior 12 months, resulting in many injuries and disabilities (Miller, Cohen, & Wiersema, 1996).

Studies reveal that certain minority youth are at greater risk for violent behaviors (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004; Fitzpatrick & LaGory, 2000). Specifically, Black adolescents are more likely than White, Hispanic, or Asian youth to instigate physical fighting and weapon-related violence and to suffer both fatal and nonfatal injuries from physical assaults. Not only are minority youth at greater risk for victimization by aggressive peers, they are more likely to perpetrate violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004).

For this reason, an analytic strategy of adolescent health and behavior research should involve testing the strength of associations between select explanatory variables and fighting behaviors for at-risk minority groups. Inquiry should be focused on how to mitigate risk factors and promote protective factors in the local environment for healthy pursuits and effective coping strategies rather than violent activities as a means of relieving stress and resolving conflict. Analysis of risk and asset factors will help clarify their roles in the etiology of behavior relevant to the population under study, which, in this paper, are African American children and adolescents.

Hypothesized risk factors for this analysis include variables from school, family, and peer relationships. For school-related risk, lower academic achievement is predicted to be associated with greater fighting. For family-related risk, non-intact family structures are thought to be less able to invest resources in social and intellectual development, making risk behavior more likely (Baumrind, 1991; Biblarz & Raftery, 1993; Coleman, 1988; Conger et al., 1994). Also, for family, victimization, either through witnessing or experiencing family violence, will positively correlate with the frequency of violent youth behavior (Farrell & Bruce, 1997; Fitzpatrick, 1997). Finally, negative peer attitudes and actions will be associated with greater fighting. Knowing peers affiliated with gangs is predictive of increased risk (Borduin & Schaeffer, 1998).

Youth with greater personal and social assets are thought to resist tendencies toward unhealthy behaviors. For personal assets, high self-esteem is predicted to be associated with lower frequency of fighting. In addition to individual assets such as self-esteem, perceived positive familial and school environments characterized by cohesiveness and involvement are instrumental in mitigating fighting among children and adolescents. The home environment plays a key role in shaping health and behavioral outcomes for adolescents. For example, parental availability is hypothesized to be associated with less fighting. Youths having regular and consistent access to their parents, such as eating dinner as a family and talking with parents, will report less frequent risk behaviors. This association extends to parental supervision in the form of monitoring friends and activities of the adolescent. Finally, school-related assets such as positive perceptions of and involvement in school are predicted to be associated with less fighting. This includes connectedness to school, as reflected in club and sports membership and perceptions of belonging, as evidenced by teacher attentiveness and feelings of happiness with school.

The fact that disadvantaged subsets of the base population such as poor African American children and adolescents are more likely to be exposed to stressful life events (violence and victimization) and chronic strains (economic hardship, academic dissatisfaction, and frustrated aspirations) reflects a need for sociocultural definition of risk (Brunstein, 1993; Clausen, 1991; Wilson, 1991). …