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Teen Violence in the US


Dr. Gayani DeSilva MD


Crime and Law

Gayani DeSilva is a Child Adolescent Psychiatrist with 20 years experience. She is the author of A Psychiatrists Guide: Helping Parents Reach Their Depressed Tween, and A Psychiatrists Guide: Stop Teen Addiction Before It Starts.

In the US, youth violence is a leading cause of injury and death for young people aged 15 to 24 years. This translates into every day 13 young people in this country are murdered and an additional 1,600 visit our hospitals for non-fatal injuries. Homicide is the number one cause of death for African American youth, the second leading cause of death for Hispanic youth, and the third leading cause of death for American Indian/Alaska Native youth. Youth violence costs the United States over $17.5 billion in medical care and lost productivity each year.


Kinds of violence include: Bullying, fighting, including punching, kicking, slapping, or hitting, and the use of weapons such as guns or knives. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost triple the national average


There is not one single factor, in isolation that places young people at risk for violence—their characteristics and experiences, their relationships with friends and family, and the characteristics of the community all play a role. Having experienced trauma (physical, sexual, neglect, bullying) poor conflict resolution and emotional management defenses and abilities, a history of violence, and peer group choices all impact the potential for a teen to become violent.


Why teens are violent: i. Expression--to release feelings of anger or frustration. They think there are no answers to their problems and turn to violence to express their out of control emotions. ii. Manipulation--to control others or get something they want. iii. Retaliation-- to retaliate against those who have hurt them or someone they care about. iv. Violence is a learned behavior. Like all learned behaviors, it can be changed. Since there is no single cause of violence, there is no one simple solution.


Effective prevention strategies include school-based programs that build students’ communications skills to solve problems in non-violent ways. Other effective ways to prevent violence are family approaches that help parents and caregivers set age-appropriate rules and effectively monitor activities and relationships are also effective.


Parents have options: Learn the warning signs: Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse. Also, monitor peer group, and friendships

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