Describe violence committed by children and teenagers.

Quick Answer
Some children and teenagers commit acts of violence on their families, peers, authority figures, or strangers. Such antisocial behavior may result from psychiatric disorders or social catalysts.
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Some children and teenagers prey on vulnerable people, exhibiting antisocial behavior, neurological dysfunctions, and mental illnesses. These youths may assault other children or adults for a variety of reasons, ranging from invoking fear as a form of entertainment to causing bodily harm as retribution for perceived wrongs such as social ostracism.

Youth crimes doubled during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although homicide rates for teenage perpetrators began to decline in the United States by 1997, youth violence remained an urgent issue. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, violent youths were committing callous acts at increasingly younger ages. They also behaved more extremely with regard to weapons used or number of victims attacked during violent sprees. Crimes such as school shootings targeted individuals both known and unfamiliar to perpetrators.

Who Is Violent?

Violent youths represent varying social classes and ethnicities, living in both rural and urban areas. Young males are twice as likely to act violently outside the home than are young females, but both genders are equally likely to be violent toward their families. Violent tendencies sometimes emerge when children are toddlers. Aggressive children may fight with other youngsters, act up in class, challenge authority figures, or steal. Some sadistically abuse animals. Such aberrant behaviors can intensify during adolescence.

Researchers offer contrasting theories about why some youths become violent. Violent youths may suffer from severe mental illnesses, display disruptive behavior disorders or antisocial personalities, or have experienced brain damage. Some researchers suggest that brain circuits containing the neurotransmitter serotonin have malfunctioned in violent youths. A few researchers speculate that some infants have innate repressed violent characteristics that develop when the child encounters biological or psychological triggers, such as sexual or physical abuse, illegal substances, or peer pressure.

Authorities agree that many violent children and teenagers have been exposed to violence in their homes or communities. Inadequate or abusive parenting can prevent children from learning appropriate values of right and wrong. Neglected or abused children can feel emotionally abandoned and become self-centered. Egocentric youths are more likely to lack consciences and to be incapable of feeling empathy or compassion for others. Emotions such as depression, frustration, rage, and shame can intensify a child’s perceived inadequacies. Many violent youths are alienated from emotional support systems and feel isolated and discriminated against. They may become desensitized to violence or emotionally numb and seek excitement through violence. Some are suicidal and resigned to accepting and participating in violence.

How Violence Is Committed

Youth violence can be categorized into four major types. Situational violence, one of the most common types of violence committed by children and teenagers, is sparked by an event that upsets or enrages the victimizer. For example, a student might assault a teacher who gave a failing grade. Relational violence occurs when a child or teenager is violent toward a relative or friend with whom he or she has a personal dispute. Dating violence is one of the most prevalent forms of this type of violence, as when a teenage boy attacks a girl who terminates their relationship. Predatory violence describes thefts and muggings involving violence or violent activities carried out to prove loyalty and ensure acceptance by a group. Violence connected to competition, drug dealing, riots, and gang fights and the use of concealed weapons with intent to maim or murder is considered predatory. Less than 1 percent of juvenile cases involve psychopathological violence, which involves perpetrators who probably are neurologically damaged or mentally ill and who commit extremely violent acts. These individuals require pharmaceutical and management therapy. Other violent acts that may be committed by youths include hate crimes, vandalism, bombings, or activism such as ecoterrorism. Some violent youths are attention seekers who believe that they will become celebrities through their acts.

While engaged in violent acts, youths may be dissociated from what they are doing and may feel as if they are experiencing a dreamlike or fantastical state instead of reality. Violent youths may verbally antagonize and ridicule their victims, who are often people whom the perpetrators view as weak, such as young children, the elderly, and handicapped individuals. Sometimes, groups of youths plan assaults to surround and attack one person. Preteens have raped or murdered children their own age or younger. A notorious case of youth violence occurred in England in 1993, when two ten-year-olds kidnapped and beat to death a two-year-old. Some children who commit violent acts are not sufficiently mature, intellectually and morally, to realize that their actions can hurt other people. In 2000, a six-year-old who shot a classmate at a Michigan school expressed confusion when she died.


Mental health professionals stress that children who display violent behaviors should be identified as young as possible so that intervention measures can be implemented to prevent them from harming other youths. Facilities that treat violent juvenile offenders include boot camps, detention centers, wilderness programs, and group or private psychotherapy sessions. Both public and private schools attempt to identify emotionally disturbed students who might interfere with the learning process of other students by disrupting classes and challenging faculty members.

Violent youths who are mentally ill should receive counseling and medication. Other options are available to those whose behavior has social and emotional roots. These youths may be enrolled in programs that promote self-esteem, emotional resilience, and self-control. Parents can teach their children appropriate coping techniques to prevent violence. Communities and churches can provide children with supervised recreational activities during afternoons, which are the hours when youths are most likely to act violently. Mentoring programs can demonstrate alternatives to destructive behavior. Peer counseling has been shown to be an effective deterrent to violence. Violence-prevention curricula can teach children to resolve conflicts creatively and help them develop skills to control emotional outbursts.


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