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Reducing severe violence among adolescents

January 03, 2017

The World Health Organization reported in 2014 that homicide was the fourth leading cause of death among 15 - 29 year olds worldwide. Severe youth violence (SYV), which can be defined as including aggravated assault, rape, murder, and robbery committed by adolescents, has been described by some public health experts as "highly contagious," referring to the way it seems to spread among people. A new Special Section of the journal Child Development, edited by Tina Malti, entitled "Severe Youth Violence: Developmental Perspectives," includes articles intended to explore how to better screen and assess SYV risk, and inform "novel, developmentally sensitive practices and policies to prevent SYV."

Severe youth violence results in billions of dollars in costs to societies annually, including criminal justice system expenses. However, in addition to the costs to society at large, both victims and agents of violent behavior experience substantial negative outcomes. Both victims and agents may experience physical and mental health consequences, as well as reduced life expectancy. Agents may also experience retaliatory cycles of violence.

Previous research has explored a dual pathways theory, suggesting that there are two groups of adolescents committing violent offenses: those who start early in life and persist into adulthood, and those who limit their offenses to adolescence. This research has shown that the group that persists in committing violent offenses into adulthood typically has a wide range of genetic, neurobiological, and/or social risk factors, such as growing up in poverty or rejecting parenting. The group that commits offenses only in adolescence, however, show the normal psychological stressors and structural and functional brain changes of adolescence.

The articles in the special section explore the developmental course of such key capacities as emotion regulation skills and judgment and decision making among youth who commit violent offenses, examining possible points of intervention. Additionally, the Special Section explores the role of gender in violence. While the majority of perpetrators of extreme violence are male, a study by Cauffman and colleagues investigates the development of female offenders.
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Selected articles in the Special Section are as follows:

  • Targeted School Violence can be Prevented by Improving School Staff's Skills to Respond Sensitively and Early to Students' Signs of Psychosocial Crises: Networks Against School Shootings (Leuschner)
  • Severe Violence During Adolescence and Early Adulthood and its Relation to Anticipated Rewards and Costs (Shulman)
  • Early Childhood Predictors of Severe Youth Violence in Low-Income Males (Sitnick)
  • Students' Reports of Severe Violence in School as a Tool for Early Detection and Prevention (Yablon)

Journalists interested in speaking with any of the authors listed above or gaining access to the complete special section of Child Development should contact Hannah Klein (hklein@srcd.org). SRCD was established in 1933 by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The Society's goals are to advance interdisciplinary research in child development and to encourage applications of research findings. Its membership of more than 5,700 scientists is representative of the various disciplines and professions that contribute to knowledge of child development. In addition to Child Development, SRCD also publishes Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Child Development Perspectives, and the SRCD Social Policy Report.

Society for Research in Child Development

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