Youth Violence Warning Signs

There are common risk factors that can be youth violence warning signs. See a list of warning signs that a child may become violent, some risk factors that increase the chance a teenager may participate in violence, also warning signs your teen is a victim of violence.

Teens who commit acts of violence often display warning signs that their behavior is going to become violent. Parents, teachers, and other adults can look for these youth violence warning signs to know that a teen may need help before he or she resorts to violence.

Teens who are likely to act violently usually have trouble controlling their emotions. Some warning signs that a teen may become violent include:

  • Losing their temper
  • Threatening others
  • Vandalism or property damage
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Risky behavior, such as daredevil acts, sex at a young age, criminal activity
  • Making or talking about plans to hurt others or themselves
  • Intentionally hurting animals
  • Carrying weapons or being fascinated with weapons
  • A history of aggressive behavior or fighting
  • Belonging to a gang or wanting to belong to a gang
  • Problems with authority at school or legal problems
  • Not acknowledging other’s rights or feelings
  • Trying or wanting to control others
  • Withdrawal from others

Some risk factors and youth violence warning signs that increase the chance that a teen will become violent include:

  • Being the victim of a bully
  • Doing poorly in school or being uninterested in education
  • Exposure to violence or abuse
  • Feeling disrespected or ignored
  • Feeling alone

Not all teens who have these youth violence risk factors will become violent, and not all violent teens will have these risk factors. Because there is no single profile of a violent teen, these warning signs for teen violence can be a guide in determining if a teen needs help to prevent their involvement in teen violence, but people who know the teen should also be watchful for other behaviors that concern them.

Teens may also react with violence when exposed to violence either as a victim or as a witness. This can include exposure to violent events in the media, such as school shootings, teen suicides, or acts of terrorism. Some warning signs that a teen may be affected by violence include:

  • Loss of sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Frequently thinking about the event or having flashbacks

Seek help for teens who have been victims or witnesses of violence, especially if you notice any changes in the teen after the event.

Teen violence can also be violence against self. Some warning signs that a teen may be injuring him or herself, or contemplating suicide, include:

  • Hiding marks from teen cutting or other forms of self-injury. This may be done by wearing long sleeves or turtlenecks even when it is warm, or coming up with excuses for injuries.
  • Suicide attempts
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide
  • Withdrawal, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities
  • Getting into trouble with authorities
  • Lack of control over emotions or behavior
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Saying good-bye or talking about not being around

Always take signs of violence or suicide seriously and seek professional help for the teen displaying warning signs for teen violence. School counselors, medical professionals, and others trained in counseling can offer guidance and help you find a suitable professional to help a teen at risk for teen violence.

Teens who are at risk for violent behavior are also at risk for becoming victims of teen violence. Getting help for teens with these youth violence warning signs is essential for their own safety and the safety of others. Be especially alert after a teen has suffered a loss, such as a death or breakup, or after a tragic event in the community or world, especially suicides or other violent actions.


United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Mental Health Information Center, “Parents: Be Role Models for Your Children” [available online].

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

Related Article: Violent Children Overview >>