Teen Violence Causes

It is difficult to pinpoint teen violence causes but there are some warning signs. This article has a list of reasons teenagers may commit violent acts, explains what may cause youth to become violent, and offers risk factors for children that may become involved in teen violence.

Teen violence has become an increasing concern as more teens become victims or perpetrators of teen violence. Teen violence occurs for a number of reasons, and is usually the result of a number of factors in a teen’s life, background, and personality. There is usually not a good way to predict which teens will become violent or find specific teen violence causes, but knowing some of the causes of teen violence may help parents and other adults help teens who are at risk.

Teens may commit violent acts for many reasons:

  • Feeling frustration or anger, and not knowing how to cope
  • Thinking violence is the only answer to their problems
  • Trying to control or manipulate others or get something they want
  • To get back at someone who hurt them or hurt someone they care about

Essentially, these violent actions are a result of teens not having good ways to cope with their emotions or deal with other people. They have learned violent ways of reacting to their problems, but they can still learn better skills for coping with challenges.

There are some factors that put teens more at risk of becoming violent, but not all teens in these situations become violent, and some teens become violent without belonging to at-risk groups. This is not all the teen violence causes possible.

Teens are more likely to engage in violent behavior if they are exposed to:

  • Negative peer pressure
  • A need for respect or attention
  • Feelings of low self worth
  • Feeling rejected by peers
  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Being the victim of violence
  • Witnessing violence in their homes or community, or in the media
  • Having easy access to weapons
  • A history of aggression

The causes of teen violence often have roots in childhood and adolescence. Children and pre-teens may be exposed to situations that increase their risk of being violent or being the victim of violence as a teen. Being male is a risk factor as well, since more males than females are injured or killed in teen violence.

Those who commit violent acts as teens, were more likely as children to:

  • Have committed other crimes
  • Have engaged in drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse
  • Have parents who were violent or engaged in criminal behavior
  • Come from lower socioeconomic groups, or live in poverty
  • Have psychological problems
  • Have discipline at home that is too harsh, too lax, or inconsistent
  • Have a poor relationship with their parents
  • Have ties to gangs or other negative peer influences
  • Be exposed to violence on television
  • Do poorly in school 
  • Come from a broken home
  • Be abused or neglected
  • Be dishonest

Studies suggest that adolescents have slightly different risk factors than children that make them more likely to become involved in teen violence. In adolescence, risk factors for violence as a teen include:

  • Ties to gangs or other negative peer groups, and lacking ties to positive peer groups
  • Involvement in other criminal activity
  • Psychological conditions
  • Poor relationships with parents
  • Harsh, lax, or inconsistent discipline at home
  • Being male
  • Poor performance in school
  • Being from a neighborhood suffering from crime, drugs, and disorganization
  • Parents who are involved in criminal behaviors
  • Negative attitudes toward society
  • A broken home
  • Low income or poverty
  • Abuse or violence at home
  • Substance abuse

The more of these risk factors a young person has, the more likely they are to be violent as a teen, though individuals with multiple risk factors may still not become violent. These teen violence causes give you an idea of what to look for.

Teen violence sometimes also depends on situational factors. A situation is more likely to become violent if there is demeaning or taunting behavior or other provocations, or if a gun is present.

Teens from minority groups are at an increased risk for being the victims of teen violence. Being from a minority group does not make a person inherently more likely to be violent and it not one of the teen violence causes. Violence is often a product of living in environments with poverty, drugs, gangs, and other risk factors present, and minority groups are more likely to live in such conditions due to their socioeconomic status.

There is a great deal of debate over the influence of violent media, such as television, movies, music, video games, and the Internet, on teen violence. Studies have shown that violent media does seem to increase aggression in young people, though the long-term effects of this increased aggression are still being debated.

Pre-teens and teens who have multiple risk factors for teen violence may benefit from interventions, especially those designed to help them manage their emotions, develop good social skills, be interested and involved with school, and make plans for the future. These skills help teens avoid situations where they may become involved in teen violence.


United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Mental Health Information Center, “What you Need to Know About Youth Violence Prevention,” 2002 [available online].

American Psychological Association, APA Help Center, “Warning Signs of Youth Violence” [available online].

Related Article: Teenage Violence Prevention >>