Parental Involvement, Social Understanding, Protect Teens From Violence
In some urban neighborhoods, teenagers witness an alarming amount of violence, including watching someone being attacked, wounded or killed. Studies find that witnessing such events can increase the likelihood that teens will engage in violent behavior themselves, thereby continuing "the cycle of violence" in their communities.
However, as researchers from Georgia State and Yale universities report in the July/August 2005 issue of the journal Child Development, parental involvement and social understanding (the tendency to think about social interactions in a non-hostile way), can protect teenagers from violent behavior, even if they witness violence. These teenagers are referred to as resilient because they succeed in avoiding violent behavior despite living in a dangerous neighborhood.
The researchers gave 1,599 sixth and eighth graders in a large northeastern urban public school system serving mostly low-income and minority families the Social and Health Assessment (SAHA) survey. This survey measures parent support through teenagers' feelings about their parents' involvement and supervision, and social understanding by asking teens to react to hypothetical social scenarios. Overall, the researchers found:
- Boys who witnessed violence were at greater risk for violent behavior if they also had non-supportive or uninvolved parents.
- Boys who witnessed violence were less likely to engage in violent behavior if they had either average or highly supportive and involved parents.
- Girls who witnessed violence were at greater risk for violent behavior, even if they had average levels of social understanding.
- Girls who witnessed violence were less likely to engage in violent behavior if they also had high levels of social understanding.
- Supportive and involved parenting did not protect girls from the effects of witnessing violence, and social understanding did not protect boys from the effects of witnessing violence.
"This study suggests that processes of protection may work differently for boys and girls," says lead researcher Kathryn A. Brookmeyer, a doctoral student at Georgia State University. "Also, it may be particularly vital for interventions to focus on improving the quality of the parent-adolescent relationship, especially for male teenagers living in violent neighborhoods."
Finally, she notes, intervention efforts that teach social understanding may reduce violence in girls. "Such efforts to strengthen teenagers' resources may contribute to the reduction of neighborhood violence and create safer places for teenagers to grow and thrive," Brookmeyer concludes.
Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 76, Issue 4, Adolescents Who Witness Community Violence: Can Parent Support and Prosocial Cognitions Protect Them from Committing Violence? By Brookmeyer KA and Henrich CC (Georgia State University) and Schwab-Stone M (Yale University). Copyright 2005 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.