Imagine sitting in a school library. All of a sudden, you are told to move away from the windows and doors. There’s a rush of confusion and emotion. Everyone is moving all at once. There’s no direction, and nerves are peaked as the words “gunman” and “shooting” float through the air. School shootings, all the way from elementary to post-secondary institutions, account for 24.4% of 160 active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000-2013 (Blair and Schweit 13). That is 39 incidents that have occurred between those years, killing 117 and wounding 120 (Blair and Schweit 15). Youth violence, not just specific to gun-related incidents, is a major public health issue. In 2011, 32.8% of youths between ninth and twelfth grade reported being in a physical fight up to one year before taking the survey (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control). These statistics raise awareness to the issue of youth violence in America, leading to research and multiple viewpoints as to how the issue should be addressed.
David P. Farrington, author of “Predictors, Causes, and Correlates of Male Youth Violence” is an emeritus professor of Psychological Criminology at the University of Cambridge. He focuses on the causes and correlations of physical violence in males between the ages of ten and twenty-one. In the article “Predictors of Youth Violence,” David J. Hawkins, et al. explain and describes the strength and duration of the risks and key predictors of youth violence. Dr. Delbert S. Elliott, Ph.D., Director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, is the author of “Youth Violence: An Overview.” He presents his theory, based on personal and cited research, on why youth violence occurs in America, answering key questions about the issue of violence in America’s youth in the process. Dr. Todd I. Herrenkohl, Ph.D., et al. explore the reasons for increased likeliness of youth violence, focusing on a specific developmental frame in their article “Developmental risk factors for youth violence.” The above articles explore the causes of the youth violence epidemic in America. First, the diminishing importance of the family unit in American society is forcing America’s youth to grow up with more independence and less morality. Next, many individual, such as biological and psychological, characteristics predict whether or not a child will act with violent tendencies. Finally, the disorganized communities most often seen in urban areas are most often places where violent acts and active drug selling occur, further increasing a youth’s likelihood to become violent. The diminishing importance of the family unit in American society is forcing America’s youth to grow up with more independence and less morality. As children grow up, they need the family to give them ample supervision and exposure to ideas and principles that will help and not hurt them. Farrington argues that, when it comes to the family, ”the most strong predictors” of future violence in youths are “poor parental supervision; parental aggression, including harsh, punitive discipline; and parental conflict” (445). Elliot agrees that weak supervision is a leading cause, but builds upon that argument by explaining how media has replaced the parental supervision and acts as a makeshift “babysitter” (3). The absence of people in a child’s life causes them to turn to the ideas and morals shown in the media, rather than what they can learn from proper family supervision. Herrenkohl et al. add to the argument by claiming that “[e]xposure to antisocial norms and values” within the family “may also have a negative effect on children’s behavior by presenting violence as acceptable” (Journal of Adolescent Health). Without the healthy supervision needed to thrive, youth Americans will turn to violence because of this exposure to antisocial norms. However, parental supervision is not the only factor influencing a child within the family. Hawkins et al. argue that the father figure plays a huge role in the development of children, citing research evidence that in a situation where the father figure is a criminal, men from 18-23 are “3.8 times more likely to have committed violent criminal acts than those with noncriminal fathers” (3).
Many individual, such as biological and psychological, characteristics predict whether or not a child will act with violent tendencies. Herrenkohl et al. focus on the biological, rather than psychological, basis of violence in youth. Generally, males are much more likely to exhibit violent tendencies than females, while females will resort to “indirect and verbal forms of aggression” (Herrenkohl et al., Journal of Adolescent Health). Farrington adds to this argument by describing how males with “personality dimensions” such as “hyperactivity, impulsiveness, poor behavior control, and attention problems” significantly increase the male’s risk of being a violent youth (444). This explains why, biologically, males are more susceptible to violent acts than females. Males are much more likely to exhibit certain personality traits that lead to violence in youth. Hawkins et al. also agree with these personality traits being connected to the violence in youths, and looks at the opposite end of the argument. People with “[i]nternalizing disorders” such as “nervousness/withdrawal, worrying, and anxiety” are much less likely to exhibit violent tendencies, and, in fact, there is a negative correlation between these traits and violent behaviors as a youth (2). Women are more likely to exhibit these kinds of personality traits, which again supports Herrenkohl et al.’s claim that males are much more likely to exhibit violent tendencies than females. Farrington also spends a good amount of time discussing the biological factors that influence violence in youth, adding biological factors aside from gender that influence violence. The biggest factor is a low resting heart rate, which “indicates low autonomic arousal and/or fearlessness” leading to “risk taking in an attempt to increase stimulation and arousal levels” (Farrington 441). In people with a low resting heart rate, it is more likely for violent behaviors to be shown because of the need to be a risk-taker.
The disorganized communities most often seen in urban areas are most often places where violent acts and active drug selling occur, further increasing a youth’s likelihood to become violent. Although Farrington brings up the point that urban areas are much more likely to produce violent youths than rural areas (449), Hawkins et al. attempt to explain why this occurs. Community disorganization, availability of drugs and firearms, and exposure to violence and racial prejudice all occur in urban areas far more frequently than in rural areas, and this explains why the urban American youth are more likely to be violent (Hawkins et al. 5). Elliot attempts to provide an answer to the community disorganization issue seen in urban areas. He suggests cohesive neighborhood organization programs, saying this will create the “greatest payoff in reducing violence, crime and drug abuse, and facilitating a successful course of child and adolescent development” (Elliot 8). The sources all support the idea that urban areas are prominent areas of youth violence, and Elliot provides a suggestion as to how the violence could be worked out in the future. Herrenkohl et al. take a different approach to the neighborhood and community roles in developing violent kids, focusing on the access to drugs in urban areas as well as exposure to poverty (Journal of Adolescent Health). Where the other sources specifically focus on the community disorganization, Herrenkohl et al. focus on specific parts of the community that are effects of the disorganization. The prevalence of drugs in urban areas further develops unsafe communities, where violence occurs daily. Further, the overall exposure to poverty and the violence of a community living in poverty creates violence in children. Farrington not only focuses on the community’s disorder, but also on the peers a youth will be exposed to in such a community. These communities will most likely hold delinquent adolescents, and the exposure of other children to the troublemakers will affect how a child will grow up (Farrington 447). Not only does the community develop violent children, but also the people living in the community. A youth’s peers will greatly influence the way he or she acts presently and in the future.
Violence in American youth is an important issue. Because of the diminishing importance of the family, the biological and psychological issues that are not taken into account, and the issue of disorganized communities in urban areas, American youth are developing into violent adolescents. Today, kids are turning to fighting and bullying, and are even going as far as bringing weapons onto school property with the intent of hurting others. The violence in American youth is far greater than in the youth of any other country. Most sources believe the same few issues cause the violence in American youth today, however they all believe different aspects of those issues affect kids in America the greatest. However, with the main issues being agreed upon, it is easier to come up with a plan on how to stop the violence in American youth today.