Risk Factors Associated With Teen Violence

There are many factors that increase the chances a teen will become violent.
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Unfortunately, on any given day in places all around the world, you’re likely to find at least one story in the news about a teen behaving violently. Whether it's a gang fight or a violent act against a stranger, the reasons behind the violence vary. 

Quite often, there are a variety of factors that come together to increase the likelihood that a teen will become violent. 

Individual Risk Factors

  • A history of abuse, neglect, and trauma play a significant role in increasing aggressive or violent behavior.
  • Being exposed to or witnessing violence increases risk. Research suggests that ongoing exposure to violence in the home and community normalizes the experience of violence.
  • A history of aggressive behavior increases a teen’s risk of behaving violently.
  • Teens with low IQ, cognitive deficits, or learning disorders are more likely to behave violently. Attention deficit and hyperactivity are also risk factors.
  • Mental health issues and emotional distress play a role in violent behavior. But it's important to note that most teens with mental illness do not become violent.
  • Antisocial beliefs and involvement in illegal activity—such as using drugs and alcohol—also increase the chances a teen will become physically aggressive.
  • Historically, males are more likely to engage in physical altercations. However, in recent years, violence perpetrated by females is on the rise.

Educational Risk Factors

  • Statistics show that urban schools report higher rates of student victimization compared to rural schools. However, it is important to note that these disparities are influenced by higher population density, increased socioeconomic inequalities, and heavier policing present in urban areas.
  • During the 2015-2016 school year, 79% of schools reported at least one incident of violence, theft, or other crimes.
  • School departments who report gang and drug activity have higher rates of violence.
  • Students who perform poorly during elementary school are at an increased risk for violent behavior during high school.
  • Teens who drop out of school are more likely to commit acts of violence and to become victims of violence.

Community Risk Factors

  • Communities with substandard housing and economic decline can contribute to teens feeling like society does not care about them and sometimes they express their anger through violence.
  • High transient rates and low community involvement also contribute to a lack of sense of belonging for teens and can lead to increased crime and violence. When teens witness violence in their neighborhoods or they become victims of violent crimes, they’re much more likely to become offenders.

Family Risk Factors

  • Inconsistent discipline, including overly harsh and overly permissive discipline, can cause teens to act out. A lack of supervision also gives teens opportunities to join gangs, use drugs, and engage in antisocial behavior.
  • A lack of emotional attachment to parents or caregivers increases the likelihood that teens will disregard authority.
  • Untreated parental mental illness contributes to unstable home life and the parent-teen relationship which can increase a teen’s risk of aggression.
  • Parents with a lower income and less education are more likely to have teens who engage in violent behavior. Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol also increase a teen’s risk of behaving violently.
  • Childhood abuse and neglect increase the chances that a teen will commit a violent crime.
  • Stressful family environments, such as a lack of a father in the home, conflict in the home, or parental role modeling of inappropriate behavior contribute to a teen’s sense of worthlessness which can lead to violent behavior.

Social Risk Factors

  • When teens have easy access to guns, they are more likely to engage in violence. Guns also increase the chances that violent acts will be fatal.
  • Associating with delinquent peers can increase a teen’s risk of becoming involved in illegal and violent activity.
  • Low involvement in structured activities, like clubs or sports, can play a role in violent behavior.
  • Media portrayals of illegal behavior can desensitize teens to violence. News coverage can lead to teens to feel afraid for their safety, which can encourage them to carry weapons. 

Getting Help for a Violent Teen

If you see signs of violence, it's important to seek immediate help for your teen. Even milder acts of aggression, such as hitting a younger sibling or destroying property on purpose, shouldn't be ignored. Violence can get worse over time if left unaddressed.

Talk to your teen's doctor if you have concerns. Your teen's doctor may recommend treatment with a mental health professional. Treating the behavior now can reduce the chances a troubled teen will become a violent adult. 

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Risk and protective factors.

  2. Quinn K, Pacella ML, Dickson-Gomez J, Nydegger LA. Childhood adversity and the continued exposure to trauma and violence among adolescent gang membersAm J Community Psychol. 2017;59(1-2):36-49. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12123

  3. National Center for Education Statistics. Indicators of school crime and safety: 2017.

  4. National Center for Education Statistics. Fast facts: school crime.

  5. Fernández-Suárez A, Herrero J, Pérez B, Juarros-Basterretxea J, Rodríguez-Díaz FJ. Risk factors for school dropout in a sample of juvenile offendersFront Psychol. 2016;7:1993. Published 2016 Dec 26. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01993

  6. Milaniak I, Widom CS. Does child abuse and neglect increase risk for perpetration of violence inside and outside the home?Psychol Violence. 2015;5(3):246-255. doi:10.1037/a0037956

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing youth violence.

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.