Chapter 2: What Causes Youth Violence?
The Causes of Youth Violence: An Overview
Over the past several decades, and especially since the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act passed in 1974, extensive research has identified the common characteristics of chronic offenders, the conditions— personal, familial, societal, or educational—that seem to contribute to delinquent behavior, and the factors that seem to prevent repeat offenders from “growing out of it” and returning to the straight-and-narrow, like the majority of other youths who get into trouble.
Perhaps most striking is the finding that the pathways toward crime are wellmarked. Across subcultures, over time, the behavior patterns leading to chronic criminal behavior are distinct—and they almost always involve serious behavior problems in early childhood.
“In early childhood, some boys and girls begin to show patterns of aggressive behavior in their family, in their schools, in their interaction with peers, or in their activities in the community. They pick fights with their brothers and sisters, scream at their parents, verbally attack their teachers, bully their peers, and intimidate younger children in the neighborhood,” writes Ronald Slaby, a crime prevention expert at the Education Development Center and Harvard University. This behavior is “the best predictor of chronic delinquent offending and violence in adolescence.”
A Common Progression of Problems
Most children who display antisocial tendencies...
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A Lack of Moral Values Causes Youth Violence
Thinking about the three Norwegian children who killed a classmate, a question I was asked at the close of a college speech came to mind.
In the chilly cradle of social democracy, little Silje Marie Redergard, a 5-yearold girl, was kicked, stoned and left to freeze to death by three boys, ages 5 and 6. Norway’s prime minister blamed Silje’s death on “free market” violence, specifically those combative capitalists, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Terrible as it is, the Scandinavian tragedy is child’s play next to the everyday horrors enacted in America’s cities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that while the overall homicide rate remained fairly steady between 1985 and 1991, the murder rate for 15- to 19-year-olds jumped 154 percent.
The cultural elite has its usual unedifying explanations. Interviewed on CBS This Morning, CDC director Dr. David Satcher noted, “Easy access to guns for teen-agers is certain[ly] a major factor.”
Were guns less prevalent in our society in 1985? Did teens of the mid-’80s not know where to obtain firearms or how to use them? Satcher’s analysis confuses cause and effect. A teen-ager who picks up a gun does so volitionally. The question Satcher begs is why more teens are grabbing guns today.
Equally predictable is an article in the Oct. 21–23, 1994, USA...
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Illegitimacy Contributes to Youth Violence
Those, such as Attorney General Janet Reno, who repeatedly speak of the “root causes” of crime rather than the need to remove offenders from society, rarely confront the nation’s skyrocketing illegitimacy rate—which is clearly a basic cause of crime, family dissolution, and social disarray.
From 1960 to 1988 the rate of children born to unmarried women soared from 5 percent to 26 percent. For blacks it is approximately 70 percent. The divorce rate has more than doubled in a generation. At any given moment, about a quarter of American children are living in a single-parent family. In 1975, among married couples with children, 41 percent of the mothers worked; in 1991 the figure was 64 percent.
Children with absent fathers and working mothers get little attention. They also commit more crime and are more likely to be victimized by crime. The arrest rate for teenagers ages 14–17 in 1960 was 47 per thousand. In 1991, it was 132. The “victimization” rate of males ages 16–19 was an incredible 121 percent, up from 89 percent as recently as 1988.
Crime Stems from Single-Parent Families
David L. Levy, president of the Children’s Rights Council and author of the book The Best Parent Is Both Parents, reports that new research indicates that neither poverty nor race but the fragile structure of the American family is the primary cause of crime. Douglas A. Smith and G. Roger Jarjoura published...
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The Lack of a Structured Family Life Causes Youth Violence
In today’s rapidly changing world, people frequently move in and out of local communities. What was once a homogeneous rural village becomes a “boomtown,” attracting people with different lifestyles and placing difficult demands on existing values, norms, institutions and services. Generational and demographic changes affect many rural areas. Young people depart for the cities, leaving their elders behind. In cities, young adults may move out of the neighborhood to another one, and their aging parents cannot follow them. They face the challenge of having to accept, respect, and interact with newcomers who are frequently from a different race, ethnicity, or religion.
In both the rural and urban situations, conflict and anomie may fester as established folkways and mores confront the challenge of a multiplicity of lifestyles, values, and norms. There is no question that in today’s world, more than ever before, the stability of many communities and their support functions are challenged by vast population migrations, political upheavals, shifts in economic power and productivity, and dramatic improvements in the ease of travel.
The Importance of Community
Weak connections to the larger environment, or its failure to provide needed resources to a community, may entrap the members and begin a negative process fueled by the community’s disempowerment. The more a community is denied resources and services, and the more its...
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Gangs Perpetuate Youth Violence
In December 1996, Los Angeles police arrested a 14-year-old gang member on charges of dousing two 11-year-olds with alcohol and setting them on fire.
Time was, juvenile offenses consisted of truancy, shoplifting, “drag” racing, petty vandalism, or underaged drinking and smoking. Occasionally, a fist-fighting “rumble” made the news if one gang member pulled a switchblade knife on another. But killings were rare, and drugs were virtually unknown. Jump ahead to today’s generation of adolescents, whom Princeton scholar John J. DiIulio, Jr. characterizes as “fatherless, godless and jobless.”
As a result, says criminologist James Alan Fox, we are seeing a veritable “epidemic” of criminal violence by juveniles, especially the “superpredators”— who “kill and maim on impulse, without any intelligible motive.” They are kids whose faces are empty and hard, their eyes reflecting anger and hurt. “Bonded to no one, with no hope for the future, no fear of justice and absolutely no respect for human life,” writes Arianna Huffington, chairman of the Center for Effective Compassion. They are teens like the gang who, in 1989, savagely beat, then repeatedly stabbed and raped a jogger in New York’s Central Park— leaving her for dead. Later, one of the attackers told prosecutors, “It was fun.” In 1994 alone, the FBI says, more than 114,000 persons under 18 were charged with rape, robbery, and...
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Television Violence May Cause Youth Violence
With an average national TV viewing time of 71/4 hours daily, the prevalence of violence in broadcasts is a serious concern. Television programming in the United States is considered the most violent in advanced industrialized nations. Violence is common in TV entertainment—the dramas that portray stories about crime, psychotic murderers, police cases, emergency services, international terrorism, and war. The dramas are played out in highly realistic scenes of violent attacks accompanied by music and other sounds that churn up emotions.
As the realism and gore in the screen images of TV entertainment have intensified, local news cameras have also increasingly focused directly on the bloody violence done to individuals in drive-by shootings, gang attacks, and domestic beatings. Why must these visual details be presented in the news? Why does a typical television evening include so many beatings, shootings, stabbings, and rapes in dramas designed for “entertainment”?
Producers of programming ascertain that scenes of violent action with accompanying fear-striking music can be counted on to hold viewers’ attention, keep them awake and watching, and make them less likely to switch channels. The purpose is to gain and maintain a large number of viewers—the factor that appeals to advertisers. The generations of younger adults who have grown up with daily viewing of violence in entertainment are considered to be...
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Many Factors Can Cause Youth Violence
Editor’s note: The names of the children interviewed for this article have been changed to protect their privacy.
Shakeela is six years old, and what she remembers most about walking into the room where her dead aunt’s body lay was the blood.
“When I went in the house and I saw my Aunt Julie, I saw the blood dryin’ up,” she says, looking down at her small hands clasped on the table in front of her and describing what she knows about her aunt’s murder by her uncle last year. “He was tryin’ to scare her, but he killed her.”
Sadness and fear are in Shakeela’s voice, but not surprise. The violence that punctuated her aunt and uncle’s relations was not news to her. “My mom and I used to go to her house when my uncle was shoppin’,” she says. “We’d pack up to take her to my house. But he come home and he said, ‘Freeze! Where are you goin’?’ He didn’t like her goin’ out.”
The pixie-faced first-grader is sitting in a blue vinyl chair at a long table in a narrow white room in the Spelman Building in southeast Philadelphia. On this rainswept night, she is sharing memories about her aunt’s death with two other children who have also experienced the violent death of family members. The group, facilitated by two students from the University of Pennsylvania, is a component of the city’s Grief Assistance Program. Usually there are at least twice this many children, but the fierce...
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