Families and Neighborhoods can Reduce Teen Violence   
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
Often, behind a violent child, there is a troubled family and a chaotic and  disorganized neighborhood.  The family and the neighborhood play an important role in shaping up a child's behavior.  In this article, we will look at the big picture rather than isolated incidents such as when a child shows up in the school with a gun.  

Research has shown that in neighborhoods where there is high rate of divorce,   residential turnover, transient people with no roots in the community, single parent families and poverty, the incidence of juvenile violence and crimes is high.  

Poverty alone is not the key factor in violence; rather, it is the lack of a relationship among neighbors.   Whether rich or poor, if people do not have good relationship with one another, juvenile violence is expected to be high.  We know that weak neighborhood ties, fewer resources, and stressful day to day interactions are associated with domestic violence and child abuse which contribute to juvenile violence. 

Disordered neighborhoods encourage disordered behaviors.  Public drunkenness, street harassment, drug involvement and fear of victimization are associated with poor emotional health.  Stress and anxiety resulting from persistent fear may contribute to deviant behaviors, sometimes leading to desperate and violent acts.

"Sick neighborhoods" may promote violence, depression, anxiety, and stress-related physical problems.  All of these factors are interconnected.  For example, noisy neighborhoods and noisy classrooms affect children's academic performance.  People living in homes along busy streets tend to avoid other people, use their private yards less often and have less social interaction among themselves.  

Students who live in crowded neighborhoods exhibit more behavioral problems, more anxiety and hyperactivity, and lower scores on vocabulary and reading comprehension tests, which in turn are related to violence.  When children are exposed to chronic violence, they are more anxious and fearful of being left alone, play more aggressively, and have more difficulty in concentrating and remembering the learned material.  On the other hand, supportive relationships with church leaders, teachers or other adult role-models promote more socially responsible behavior in children.  
The most important factor in violence prevention is the connection between a child and caring and loving adults.  Such a relationship results in the child experiencing a safe setting in which he or she begins to care enough to grow in a positive direction.  Such a connection also reduces the chances of a child constantly brooding and ruminating over punishing others and seeking revenge.  

Exposure to healthy role models in schools and  churches who have "made it" may direct a child in a positive direction.  Boys and Girls Clubs, Little Leagues, Big Brothers and Sisters can link children with caring adults in cases where parental supervision and closeness is scarce.      
A strong social network in which adults are connected to each other is the second key to reducing teen violence.  Good social networks help to prevent child abuse even in areas of concentrated poverty.  The willingness of residents to intervene for the common good reduces violence.  Strong adult friendship networks, as well as adult monitoring and supervision of children, cuts down on children's delinquency.  The fact is that youth are mentally and physically healthier where adults talk to one another.  

Where members of a community assume responsibility to maintain the environment, prevent uncivil or criminal activity in the neighborhood and to help one another, that community exhibits less violence among adults or children.  

In summary, we cannot root out teen violence merely by punishing a violent offender or putting a safety lock on guns at home.  These measures can help in the short run, but the long-term solution to violence requires a substantial change in the behavior of adults.  The key to reducing teen violence lies in the following:

Parents need to provide more supervision and emotional closeness to their children
Adults in the community need to connect more with children, be their mentors, and constantly support them. 
Adults in the community should interact more and truly connect with one another.

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