Most violent behavior begins in the second decade of life. Adolescence is a time of great change and vulnerability, which can include an increase in the frequency and means of expression of violence and other risky behaviors. Serious violence begins mostly between the ages of 12 and 20. The peak age of onset is 16. Violent youths commit a remarkably high number of crimes. These young people (both male and female) average 15.6 rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, or some combination of these crimes over a 16-year period.
Serious violence is accompanied by a wide range of other problem behaviors, including property crime, substance abuse, gun ownership, dropping out of school, early sexual activity, and reckless driving. Substance abuse is a central feature of a violent lifestyle.1
The contribution of mental disorders to overall violence in the U.S. is very small. In fact, public fear is out of proportion to the actual risk of violence, which contributes to the stigmatizing of people with severe mental disorders.
The first decade of life encompasses a vast period of human development. Infants form attachments to parents or other loving adults and begin to become aware of themselves as separate beings. Exposure to or involvement in violence can disrupt normal development of both children and adolescents with profound effects on their mental, physical, and emotional health.4
Harsh, lax or inconsistent discipline is somewhat predictive of later violence.5 Children need reasonable, consistent discipline to establish the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Children who are treated harshly may view rough treatment as acceptable, those who are given no guidance may engage in whatever behavior gets them what they want, and children who receive mixed signals are completely at sea regarding appropriate behavior. Other family conditions, such as high stress, large size, and marital discord, also exert a small effect on later violence.
1 “Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General,” 2001.
3 Lauritsen, J.L., Sampson, R.J., & Laub, J.H. (1991). The Link Between Offending and Victimization Among Adolescents. Criminology, 29, 265-292.
4 Marans, S., & Adelman, A. (1997). Experiencing Violence in a Developmental Context in J.D. Osofsky (Ed.), Children in a violent society (pp. 202-222). New York: Guilford Press.
5 Hawkins, J.D., Herrenkohl, T.L., Farrington, D.P., Brewer, D., Catalano, R.F., & Harachi, T.W. (1998c). A review of predictors of youth violence. In R. Loeber & D.P. Farrington (Eds.).