Many children and adolescents occasionally have physical confrontations with others, but most children and adolescents do not continue violent behavior or engage in violent crime. However, children who become violent before puberty may be at higher risk of committing crimes.
There is little evidence that violent behavior is caused by genetic defects or chromosomal abnormalities. Known risk factors for violence include the following:
Violent video games and media desensitize children to violence. Although experts do not think they actually cause children to become violent, children exposed to them are more used to violence being part of life.
Participation in youth gangs has been linked with violent behavior (see Sidebar 1: Gang Membership and Violence), often involving firearms. Members are typically ages 13 to 24. Gangs usually adopt a name and identifying symbols, such as a particular style of clothing, the use of certain hand signs, tattoos, or graffiti. Some gangs require prospective members to perform random acts of violence before membership is granted. Increasing youth gang violence has been blamed at least in part on gang involvement in drug distribution and drug use, particularly methamphetamines and heroin.
Bullying is intentional infliction of psychologic or physical damage on less powerful children (see Sidebar 2: What Is Bullying?). Up to one third of children may be involved in bullying as bullies, victims, or both.
Bullying can take several forms, including
Victims often tell no one about being bullied because they are ashamed, because they feel that nothing will be done, or because they fear the bully will retaliate.
Both bullies and their victims are at risk of poor outcomes. Victims are at risk of physical injury, poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and school absence. Many victims of bullying become bullies themselves. Bullies are more likely to be imprisoned in later life. Bullies are less likely to remain in school, be employed, or have stable relationships as adults.
Violence prevention should begin in early childhood. Strategies include the following:
Last full review/revision February 2014 by Stephen Brian Sulkes, MD