Recognizing and Preventing Violent Risk-Taking

September 22nd, 2009
  1. All teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up. Risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity.
  2. Healthy adolescent risk-taking behaviors which tend to have a positive impact on an adolescent’s development can include participation in sports, the development of artistic and creative abilities, volunteer activities, travel, running for school office, making new friends, constructive contributions to the family or community, and others.
  3. Negative risk-taking behaviors which can be dangerous for adolescents include drinking, smoking, drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sexual activity, disordered eating, self-mutilation, running away, stealing, gang activity and violence.
  4. Parents and teachers need to be aware of the signals along the pathway to violence. Often unrecognized in its early forms, such behavior can easily switch over, such as when an assertive child becomes an aggressive child. Violence assessment and prevention programs need to start early in the schools.
  5. More than half of our middle school- and high school-aged children tell us that they could access a gun in less than an hour. The best way to protect children against gun violence is to remove all guns from the home.
  6. Listen to and spend time with your children. A lack of parental supervision and time is one of the best predictors of children committing violent acts. Since teens need to take risks, help them find healthy alternatives.
  7. There are “red flags” which help parents and teachers identify a child or teen at high risk to commit acts of violence: threats of violence toward oneself or others; psychological problems such as persistent depression or anxiety; problems at school; engaging in illegal activities; clusters of unhealthy risk-taking (e.g., drinking, reckless driving); frequent loss of temper; bullying behavior; cruelty to animals; a history of violent behavior; social isolation; fire-setting; and a recent experience of humiliation or shame.
  8. Violent behavior is not unstoppable. It can be decreased or even prevented entirely if the risk factors are reduced or eliminated. Parents need to address this behavior at home and work collaboratively with schools. Assessments by trained mental health professionals need to take place in schools.
  9. Violence in the media plays an important role. Children and adults alike are flooded with violent images. Parents need to watch and listen to the media messages their children are receiving, and monitor and discuss them with the children, recognizing when children are over-stimulated.
  10. Violence in communities where children and adolescents grow up is everyone’s problem. The solution lies in committed individuals, parents, teachers, and children themselves working together as a team.