Understanding Youth Violence
It’s no secret that violence in a community is toxic to everyone, but one group is particularly vulnerable to its effects—young people. In fact, children living in high-poverty urban communities experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder alarmingly similar to those of children living in war zones. The effects of violence are more than just physical—they’re emotional, behavioral, and psychological as well.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides some context for the problem of youth violence in the United States and why intervention is so important. The term youth violence refers to incidents in which people between 10 and 24 years old use physical force to harm or threaten others. And it’s clear it’s happening on an alarming scale. As the report explains, one in every four high school students was in at least one physical fight in the last year, and, tragically, the number of youth homicide victims would fill 87 school buses. In Chicago alone, shootings are up 88% this year; many of those involved in that violence are young people.
A variety of factors can put young people at risk, including past exposure to violence, problems in school, and having friends who get into trouble. Community-wide factors also come into play, such as housing instability, poverty, and gang activity. It’s impossible to blame violence on any one thing, and, with so many risk factors, giving youth a strong support system is crucial.
The good news is that violence can be prevented, and many different programs and services can help starting at an early age. Early childhood education is a crucial first step to put kids on the right track for a violence-free future. For older kids, caring adults like tutors and mentors are especially important. This month’s spotlight program, the Youth Summer Jobs program at Holy Cross Parish in Chicago, is one of many tCI youth programs that engages in the work of violence prevention by engaging young people in the community in positive ways.
To be effective at preventing violence, youth programs should educate youth on nonviolence and engage them in discussion on the topic in order to help them understand the issues they face and how to respond responsibly. For those youth who are especially at risk, outreach programs can connect them with services and change their beliefs about the place of violence in their lives. And of course, having a strong family and community network helps kids avoid violence at every stage of life.
Violence prevention is at the heart of many of tCI’s programs. Please consider making a donation to the youth program of your choice to help kids overcome the threat of violence. The need is urgent; violence is rising even as funding for youth programs is being cut from state budgets. You can help today!