Why is My Teen Violent?

As children become teens, they spend a lot of time at conflict with themselves and others. Because they are experiencing a newfound sense of independence as they transition into adulthood, they frequently engage in power struggles with authority figures, particularly parents. While arguments and anger are normal to all teens, violence and extreme aggression are not. Many parents are ashamed to admit that their teen has a problem with violence because they feel that it reflects on their success and skill in raising them, however, they should still seek help and support.  While family and lifestyle factors can be contributors, researchers have ultimately concluded that there is not usually one single cause for why teens become violent. In fact, because of the combination of factors unique to each teen, experts prefer to identify potential causes as ‘risk factors’ rather than a conclusive reason.   

What Are The Causes Of Youth Violence?

  • Modeling Behavior – Studies conducted by the CDC determined that children who witness or experience violence or aggression at home are more likely to display the characteristics themselves. Immersion in a domestic abuse situation can lead to cognitive and emotional development impairment, which can result in violent tendencies.
  • Mental Health – Mental health issues can sometimes be the culprit behind particularly aggressive behavior. Undiagnosed disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder or Bipolar Disorder are all examples of mental conditions that include violence as a symptom. While treatment, therapy and medication can help teens with mental health issues, they should be officially assessed by a professional. Early intervention gives teens their best shot for developing the skills to cope more effectively.
  • Violent Media – Studies have identified a strong link between violent video games and movies and teen learning. Interactive video games are considered particularly damaging because they allow players to simulate violent acts and rewards the aggression without consequences. A teen, whose pre-frontal cortex is still developing, is at risk for being less able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Graphic and violent movies blur the distinction between what is right and wrong while glorifying violence.  
  • Social – Your teen’s social environment can have a large impact on his actions. Friends and peers that encourage violence or criminal activity may have more sway over your teen’s choices and decisions than you do. Violence and aggression can also be a response to being bullied or experiencing some other stress outside the home.

What Can I Do?

Some of these risk factors may apply to your teen and reducing or eliminating them when possible can be helpful. However, remember that helping your teen become less violent may not be as simple as taking away the video games. While the safety of yourself and your family should be your first priority, you can still help your teen by being consistent about rules and consequences for violent behavior. Try to keep the lines of communication open with your teen. When he is calm, discuss alternative options for handling his anger and help him implement them. If he doesn’t seem to be improving or responding to anything you try, you may consider professional help through therapy or even a full time residential facility that will help him learn to deal with his day to day challenges in a healthy and effective way.  

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