The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines youth violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power to threaten or harm others by young people ages 10-24.” The CDC also states that youth violence is a public health problem that is preventable

Youth violence is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) with long-term effects on a young person’s well-being, whether that person is an offender, a victim, or a witness. The World Health Organization (WHO) echoes this concern, stating that youth violence has serious impacts on a young person’s physical, social, and psychological functioning.

It also increases the risk for future violence victimization and perpetration, substance use, high-risk sexual behavior, smoking, depression, obesity, dropping out of school, suicide, and academic difficulties.

On a community-wide level, youth violence also decreases property value, has negative impacts on school attendance, and increases healthcare costs. In addition, this violence can strain access to community support services and limit the resources communities have to address other issues.

National and School Violence Statistics

Just how big of a problem is youth violence?

  • Homicide is the 3rd-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24
  • Every day in the U.S., more than 1,000 youth are treated in the emergency department for injuries related to physical assault
  • The estimated cost of youth violence is $21 billion each year

These national statistics only show a glimpse of the issue. Some of the most startling school violence statistics include:

For each young person who dies from violence, several others sustain injuries, both mental and physical. Youth violence contributes to impaired decision-making, decreased connections to adults and peers, difficulty coping with stress, and it also can harm a child’s development. 

What Are the Causes of Youth Violence?

The WHO has identified several risk factors to help answer the question, “What are the causes of youth violence?” 

Risk factors associated with school violence include factors within the young person, within close relationships, and within the community.

Risk Factors Within the Young Person

These risk factors are internal threats to a young person’s self-concept. They include:

  • Unemployment
  • Exposure to family violence
  • Early involvement with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco
  • Involvement in crime
  • Low intelligence
  • Poor educational environment
  • School failure
  • Behavioral disorders

Other risk factors of this type include low self-esteem, poor self-awareness, and a low level of empathy toward others.

Risk Factors Within Close Relationships

The risk factors within close relationships include those involving friends, family members, schoolmates, romantic partners, co-workers, and other peers. Risk factors in this category include:

  • Low family income
  • Parental depression
  • Associating with delinquent peers
  • A low level of attachment to parents
  • Overly harsh or overly lax parental discipline
  • Poor supervision by parents
  • Unemployment in the family
  • Parent criminality
  • Parent substance use

Risk factors also exist beyond the young person and their inner circles, extending from wider society.

Risk Factors Within Wider Society

Risk factors within wider society include a youth’s neighborhood, their more widespread community, and even their state and country.

  • High-income inequality
  • Local supplies of illicit drugs
  • Misuse of and access to firearms
  • Access to and misuse of alcohol
  • Impoverished community
  • Gang involvement
  • The effectiveness and enforcement of laws and policies

The CDC, the WHO, and other partners aim to decrease youth violence through a variety of youth violence prevention programs, which identify and respond to the root causes of this violence. One of these youth violence prevention programs is Rachel’s Challenge.

Preventing Youth Violence

Preventing youth violence is possible! Young people must have access and exposure to positive strategies and tools they can use to build healthy relationships and cope with stressful situations they may encounter.

Two Schools of Thought for Preventing Youth Violence

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to preventing youth violence:

  1. Treating the symptoms – i.e. “Hardening the target” by installing bullet-proof glass, metal detectors, etc
  2. Finding a cure – i.e. stop youth violence before it starts by helping youth develop the skills they need, and developing communities that protect and support young people. 

While “treating the symptoms” is important and may reduce incidences of violence, it does not address the risk factors previously mentioned. Preventing violence before it begins i.e. “finding a cure” is the most effective way to address the risk factors of youth violence. which also works to have a positive effect on the mindset of young people.

Rachel’s Challenge and Youth Violence Prevention

The CDC identifies the following prevention strategies for youth violence: 

  • Promote family environments that support healthy development
  • Provide quality education early in life
  • Strengthen youth’s skills
  • Connect youth to caring adults and activities
  • Create protective community environments
  • Intervene to lessen harm and prevent future risk

Rachel’s Challenge is a proactive intervention that focuses on the prevention of violence in schools. Rachel’s Challenge programs treat the causes of youth violence by helping to connect young people with each other, with caring adults in their schools and communities, creating positive and proactive school environments through FOR Clubs, and strengthening SEL skills in students.

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is at the core of preventing youth violence. SEL programs, such as Rachel’s Challenge, equip youth with the self-awareness, social skills, responsible awareness, emotional management, relationship and leadership skills they need to succeed in various areas of life. Teaching youth SEL techniques reduces their risk of becoming involved in youth violence.

In addition, SEL equips children with skills they will use for the rest of their lives, including:

  • Healthy coping strategies
  • Empathy development
  • Thoughtfulness and compassion
  • Well-balanced attitudes
  • Complex identities

Rachel’s Challenge is a social-emotional learning program that helps students in schools establish and maintain healthy relationships. With Rachel’s Challenge, students learn how to become more aware of their emotions and actions, connect with others, remain calm in high-stress situations, and support each other.

While other groups lobby for tighter gun control and metal detector installation, Rachel’s Challenge engages youth directly in schools with live youth violence prevention programs, digital online programs, and more. With an overwhelmingly positive track record of at least 8 school shootings prevented and hundreds of youth suicides prevented annually, Rachel’s Challenge is making a true difference in youth violence prevention. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Rachel’s Challenge or would like to bring the program to your school, contact us today.