Curbing Youthful Violence

By: Gary R. Collins

We live in a violent culture – everybody knows that. Neighborhoods in many large cities have become urban war zones, and now violence among adolescents is on the rise in our suburbs, small towns, and rural communities.

The Blame Game

What causes all this violence? Media is near the top of most lists. Many kids spend six to seven hours a day exposed to violence in TV, video games, the Internet, and movies. They get simulation training in killing people. As a result, they learn to see violence as a game. They are trained to be angry and kill for fun with little thought of the consequences. Solid research evidence shows that media violence stimulates actual violence. But there’s another reason – guns.

We’ve got too many guns. Compare the rates of violence in American with any society where guns are restricted. It’s logical to conclude that easy access to guns has a lot to do with our violence. But tell that to members of Congress heavily influenced by the National Rifle Association, and citizens get a deaf ear. In the meantime, kids keep shooting.

What about their parents? Undoubtedly parents are partly to blame, but so may be teachers and other role model adults, including musicians who stimulate violence in their songs and concerts.

But aren’t the troubled kids also to blame? Sometimes even good families raise kids who don’t take responsibility for their actions, who learn to hate, who aren’t afraid to hurt.

It is most accurate to say that violence has multiple causes.

Can Youth Violence Be Prevented?

There is no magic formula, but there are common sense guidelines. Spend time with your kids. Don’t just talk about right and wrong; let them see moral values in your own life. Help them develop multiple interests in their lives. Be available to talk even when this is inconvenient. Expose them to positive role models. One research study showed that potential for youth violence increases when there is:

  • Child abuse. Kids who are hurt are more inclined to hurt others.
  • Gang involvement. Gang members earn acceptance from their peers by being violent.
  • Substance abuse. Youthful drinkers and drug abusers are more violent.
  • Weapons. When guns are easily available, guns are more often used.
  • Arrests. Violence and trouble with the law, of course, often go together.
  • School difficulties. Bad school experiences stimulate truancy.
  • Family breakup. Divorcing parents are often hurting and too preoccupied to watch their kids – who feel neglected and look for attention and for peers to give support.
  • Violence in the media. This clearly stimulates violence in kids who sit for hours in front of their screens.
  • Neurology. Attention Deficit Disorder and other neurological problems can be associated with violence.

When you know this list, you can often intervene. For example, talk openly with kids about their lives, don’t subject them to abuse, don’t have guns available.

Are There Warning Signs?

Parents and others should watch for several clues in kids that indicate potential violence. These include:

  • Defiance and combative attitudes. Sometimes these are spotted very early – like in kindergarten.
  • Lack of remorse or regret for what they do.
  • An intense need to win. Sometimes kids conclude the ends justify the means.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Change in friends. When there are sudden changes in friends, accompanied by secrecy, this may be reason for concern.
  • Withdrawl and isolation. Withdrawl sometimes indicates depression and reflections on violence, including suicide.

Taking Action

No parent is completely capable of raising kids, especially in this violence prone culture. We need all the help we can get, especially the help that comes from God. Pray for your kids, fervently and consistently.

Make character education a priority. Point out the consequences of selfish versus responsible behavior. Teach and model consistently biblical principles for living. Make abstinence education a priority. Make sure they know the dangers of talking about sex with strangers on the Internet. Teach them to be cautious and to learn the difference between people who are likely to be trustworthy and those who are not. If they ever see violence or suspect it, encourage them to talk about what they see. Denial can be dangerous.

Don’t be absentee parents or parents whose lives are so preoccupied with careers, hobbies, or church that kids are shunted aside. Get to know your child’s friends. If you are bothered by some of the friends, talk about your concerns with your kids. They might not agree or heed your advice, but they are more likely to be open when they know you love them.

Make friends with your child’s school and youth leaders. Find out what schools are doing to prevent violence. If you are concerned about your child, the school counselor or church youth leader may have suggestions for taking action. Talk to other parents. Often they can give a perspective on your child that you don’t see.

And don’t get too uptight. Raising kids is tough, but never forget that God is in control and with you as you parent.


This article is produced by the American Association of Christian Counselors. For more information, write AACC, PO Box 739, Forest, Virginia 24551, or call 1.800.526.8673. The information contained in this article is provided to AACC members for information purposes only. AACC assumes no responsibility for how this information is used and in no way endorses the counseling services provided by the person or counseling centers that provide this information.