Teen Violence – How To Understand It and How To Help Prevent It

    Teen violence leads to jail terms

    Recently a small Iowa town was sent into shock when two teenagers were charged with murdering their female Spanish teacher. Rumors are that they had both used drugs. Although violent crimes are not uncommon in the United States, they seem more disturbing when they are conducted by adolescents. This blog looks at possible causes of teen violence.

    Is violence because of mental illness?

    Although research has been conducted on teen violence and violence in general – the findings seem a bit inconclusive. The American Psychiatric Organization1 disputed the claim by many politicians that the increase in gun violence is purely a mental health problem. They said “It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are not violent and far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of violence. Rhetoric that argues otherwise will further stigmatize and interfere with people accessing needed treatment. Individuals can also be emboldened to act violently by the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

    Although these teens didn’t use guns, it is still relevant. But if mental health isn’t always to blame, what is? The American Psychological Association2 said, “There is never a simple answer to that question. But people often commit violence because of one or more of the following:

    • Expression. Some people use violence to release feelings of anger or frustration. They think there are no answers to their problems and turn to violence to express their out-of-control emotions.
    • Manipulation. Violence is used as a way to control others or get something they want.
    • Retaliation. Violence is used to retaliate against those who have hurt them or someone they care about.
    • Violence is a learned behavior. Like all learned behaviors, it can be changed. This isn’t easy, though. Since there is no single cause of violence, there is no one simple solution. The best you can do is learn to recognize the warning signs of violence and to get help when you see them in your friends or yourself.”

    They also discuss the signs to look out for in determining if a teen is likely to commit a violent act.

    What causes teen violence?

    One research study3 on violence showed “that shame is the deadliest emotion and that inmates of maximum-security prisons and criminally insane men in mental hospitals were often victims of physical or mental child abuse or sexual abuse.” This shame also led to self-loathing.

    Another research group4 are exploring whether being violent can be addictive because it increases feelings of power and dominance.

    “So aggression can feel good. And that pleasure — and the associated, what we call hedonic reward — is a really potent motivating force.” “So aggression isn’t just about ‘I’m angry and I want to hit someone,’” Chester said. “It’s also about how it feels good sometimes to get revenge on someone who has wronged you or who you perceive as having wronged you.”

    So teen violence might be like the way they often turn to drugs. It is a reflection of sickness of our society that people are doing this. What are they lacking so much that they turn to drugs and to violence to help them feel good? Unfortunately there are no direct answers to these questions.

    The teen brain is not as developed

    Research5 has shown that, “The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.”

    It has also been found that6, “Adolescents are more likely to be influenced by peers, engage in risky and impulsive behaviors, experience mood swings, or have reactions that are stronger or weaker than a situation warrants.” And even the Supreme Court has “acknowledged the differences in youth brain development and culpability in several recent decisions that strike down extreme sentencing for court-involved youth.” But some smaller courts are not aware of this. I hope that the courts involved in the case mentioned above are made aware of this.

    How can you help prevent violence?

    If someone close to you changes their behavior and you suspect it could lead them to be violent, it is always a good idea to refer them to see a counselor. The counselor can help them work on shame issues and so on and help them find things that can make them happier so they won’t need to resort to drugs or teen violence to feel greater inner power and self-esteem.

    References:

    1 https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/apa-condemns-loss-of-life-from-gun-violence-disputes-link-to-mental-illness

    2 https://www.apa.org/topics/physical-abuse-violence/youth-warning-signs

    3 https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/violence-our-deadly-epidemic-and-its-causes

    4 https://news.vcu.edu/article/What_is_the_psychology_behind_violence_and_aggression_A_new_VCU

    5 https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=understanding-the-teen-brain-1-3051

    6 https://www.juvjustice.org/our-work/safety-opportunity-and-success-project/national-standards/section-i-principles-respondin-10