Copyright ©1997 by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
There is a great concern about the incidence of violent behavior among
children and adolescents. This complex and troubling issue needs to be
carefully understood by parents, teachers, and other adults.
Children as young as preschoolers can show violent behavior. Parents and other
adults who witness the behavior may be concerned, however, they often hope that
the young child will "grow out of it." Violent behavior in a child at any age
always needs to be taken seriously. It should not be dismissed as "just a phase
they're going through!"
Range of Violent Behavior: Violent behavior in children and adolescents
can include a wide range of behaviors: explosive temper, tantrums, physical
aggression, fighting, threats or attempts to hurt others (including homicidal
thoughts), use of weapons, cruelty toward animals, fire setting, intentional
destruction of property and vandalism.
Factors Which Increase Risk of Violent Behavior: Numerous research
studies have concluded that a complex interaction or combination of factors
leads to an increased risk of violent behavior in children and adolescents.
These factors include:
What are the "warning signs" for violent behavior in children?
- Previous aggressive or violent behavior
- Being the victim of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse
- Exposure to violence in the home and/or community
- Genetic (family heredity) factors
- Exposure to violence in media (TV, movies, etc.)
- Use of drugs and/or alcohol. Presence of firearms in home
- Combination of stressful family socioeconomic factors (poverty, severe
deprivation, marital breakup, single parenting, unemployment, loss of support
from extended family)
- Brain damage from head injury
Children who have several risk factors and show the following behaviors should
be carefully evaluated:
Parents and teachers should be careful not to minimize these behaviors in
- Intense anger
- Frequent loss of temper or blow-ups
- Extreme irritability
- Extreme impulsiveness
- Becoming easily frustrated
What can be done if a child shows violent behavior?
Whenever a parent or other adult is concerned, they should immediately arrange
for a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. Early
treatment by a professional can often help. The goals of treatment typically
focus on helping the child to: learn how to control his/her anger; express
anger and frustrations in appropriate ways; be responsible for his/her actions;
and accept consequences. In addition, family conflicts, school problems, and
community issues must be addressed.
Can anything prevent violent behavior in children?
Research studies have shown that much violent behavior can be decreased or even
prevented if the above risk factors are significantly reduced or eliminated.
Most importantly, efforts should be directed at dramatically decreasing the
exposure of children and adolescents to violence in the home, community, and
through the media. Clearly, violence leads to violence.
In addition, the following strategies can lessen or prevent violent
For additional/related information see other Facts for Families Conduct
Disorders (#33), Children & Firearms (#37), Children and TV Violence (#13).
Child Abuse (#5), Child Sexual Abuse (#9).
- Prevention of child abuse (use of programs such as parent training, family
support programs, etc.)
- Sex education and parenting programs for adolescents
- Early intervention programs for violent youngsters
- Monitoring child's viewing of violence on TV/videos/movies