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Violent Behavior in Children and Teens

Violent Behavior in Children and Teens


What is violent behavior in children and teens?

Violent behavior includes fighting, bullying, and using a weapon to threaten or hurt others. Most violent behavior occurs between friends or acquaintances or within families.

There's no one reason for violent behavior. Many things put children and teens at risk. The more these things are present in their lives, the more likely they will do something violent. Violent behavior may be aimed at parents, other children, friends, or other family members.

What are the warning signs for violent behavior?

Children and teens usually give hints that they are thinking about being violent toward others.

Watch for behavior changes in your child or teen. For instance, your child or teen may:

  • Talk, write, draw, or post on social media about death and violence, especially violence toward specific people or groups of people. These include student groups or places such as schools, churches, or government buildings.
  • Spend a lot of time listening to music about violence or watching violent shows on TV, videos, or online.
  • Have unexplained mood changes or intense anger, or lose their temper every day.
  • Withdraw from friends, family, and activities that they used to enjoy.
  • Act aggressively toward others. This may include:
    • Hurting animals.
    • Teasing or taunting others by calling them names, making fun of them, or threatening them.
    • Making threatening phone calls.
    • Damaging or vandalizing another person's property.
    • Fighting often.
  • Follow or stalk another person.
  • Have frequent problems with figures of authority.
  • Take risks, such as speeding, drinking and driving, or having unprotected sex.
  • Carry or talk about a weapon, especially a firearm.
  • Buy or talk about using other ways, such as poisons, to kill or harm others.
  • Not take responsibility for their actions. Or your child may say that the actions are correct because of how they have been treated.

What makes violent behavior more likely?

Certain things make violent behavior in children or teens more likely. These are called risk factors. They can include any or a combination of these things:

  • Experiencing or being exposed to violence in the home, school, or community.
  • Constantly being bullied.
  • Having less parental or adult involvement.
  • Using drugs or alcohol.
  • Being a member of a gang or having a strong desire to become part of a gang.
  • Having access to or a fascination with guns or other violent weapons.
  • Feeling rejected, alone, or disrespected.
  • Having poor school performance or attendance.

How can you protect children or teens from becoming violent?

Parents can help protect their child or teen from being violent. When kids feel loved and safe, they are more likely to deal with situations without using violence. Here are some things you can try.

  • Set rules and limits so that your child knows what's expected.
  • Be involved in your child's life.
  • Know what your child enjoys and how they spend free time.
  • Be aware of what your child is doing online.
  • Remove guns and other weapons from your home.

    Locking a gun in a place away from the ammunition may help. But there is still a risk.

  • Know who your child spends time with.
    • Explore ways that your child can avoid situations that aren't safe. Also look for ways your child can avoid hanging out with those who might encourage violent behavior.
    • Talk to your teen about the effect a group can have on their life. Peers have a strong impact on the way a teen acts.
  • Protect your child from violence in media as much as you can.

    Children who watch a lot of this violence may start to believe that such actions are okay. This can make them more likely to be violent themselves.

  • Be a positive role model.

    Help your child find ways to resolve conflict without using violence. All other adults in the home and other family members can be good role models too.

    • Role-play conflict. Let your child decide which style fits them best. Role-play ways to help your child walk away from fights.
    • Use nonviolent ways to resolve conflict in your home. Let your child see how you discuss issues without physically or verbally attacking the other person. People who witness violence in their home or community are more likely to choose violence to resolve conflict.
    • React to hard situations in a calm, relaxed way. Don't yell or call people names.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in sports, music, or other activities.
    • Taking part in activities gives children and teens a sense of skill success and helps build a positive self-image.
    • Playing sports or exercising can be a way to release energy.
    • Organized sports and other recreational and service activities can provide good role models.
  • Talk to your teen about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

    Dating abuse is common among teens. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, or physical. It can happen in person, over the computer, and over the phone. Explain that this is not acceptable. Tell your teen that a caring partner would not do something to someone that causes fear, lowers self-esteem, or causes injury. Talk with your teen about how to leave a relationship that isn't healthy.

  • Discourage alcohol and drug use.

    Teens who use alcohol or drugs are more likely to be in violent situations.

    • Talk with your teen about what to do if they're in a situation where alcohol or drugs are being used.
    • Be aware of your own alcohol or drug use. Don't give your teen the idea that you need to have a drink in order to enjoy yourself. Never drink and drive.
  • Get help.

    Talk with a health professional or licensed counselor if you think that your child may need help dealing with conflict. For example, if you've been told your child has been bullying others, take this seriously and seek help.

For teens: How can you manage anger?

Here are ways to manage your anger so you don't become violent.

  • Talk to someone.

    You may want to talk to a trusted friend about what you're going through. Or you could join a support group.

  • Try to stay calm.

    Try to express criticism, disappointment, anger, or displeasure without losing your temper or fighting. Ask yourself whether your response is safe and reasonable.

  • Listen.

    Try to listen and respond without getting upset when someone tells you something you may not want to hear. Try not to overreact. Try to see the other person's point of view.

  • Seek solutions.

    Find a counselor you like and trust. Talk openly and honestly about your problems. Work together to find solutions.

For teens: How can you stay safe when another teen might become violent?

When you recognize warning signs of violent behavior in someone else, there are steps you can take. Don't assume that someone else will deal with the situation. Taking action and telling someone who can help can prevent harm to yourself and others. It also will protect a teen with potentially violent behavior from making a mistake that will affect the rest of their life.

Here are actions to take if you are worried about violent behavior in another teen.

  • Don't spend time with people who show warning signs.

    Tell someone you trust and respect, such as a family member, counselor, or teacher, about your concerns and ask for help.

  • Ask a person in authority to help you if you are worried about someone being violent toward you.
  • Do not resort to violence or use a weapon to protect yourself.
  • Don't try to deal with the situation by yourself. Ask for help.
  • Develop a safety plan to help you if you are in a potentially dangerous situation.

    If you need help right away, call 911.


Current as of: June 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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