Warning Signs of Violence

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have developed an early warning guide to help adults reach out to troubled children. Here are some excerpts from that report on the sorts of behavior to watch for:

  • Social withdrawal. This often stems from feelings of depression, rejection, persecution, unworthiness and lack of confidence.
  • Feelings of isolation and being alone. This is sometimes characteristic of children, but in some cases feelings of isolation and not having friends are associated with children who behave aggressively and violently.
  • Excessive feelings of rejection. Children who are victims of violence are sometimes at risk themselves of becoming violent; rejected by non-aggressive peers, they seek out aggressive friends who, in turn, reinforce peer violent tendencies.
  • Being a victim of violence. Children who are victims of violence are sometimes at risk themselves of becoming violent
  • Feelings of being picked on and persecuted. The youth who feels constantly picked on, teased, bullied, singled out for ridicule and humiliated at home or at school may initially withdraw socially.
  • Low school interest and poor academic performance. It is important to consider whether there is a drastic change in performance.
  • Expression of violence in writings and drawings. Many children produce work about violent themes that for the most part is harmless when taken in context. However, violence in writings and drawings that is directed at specific individuals may signal emotional problems and the potential for violence.
  • Uncontrolled anger. Anger that is expressed frequently and intensely in response to minor irritant may signal potential violent behavior.
  • Patterns of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating and bullying behavior, if left unattended, might later escalate into more serious behaviors.
    History of discipline problems may suggest that underlying emotional needs are not being met and may set the stage for the child to defy authority, disengage from school and engage in aggressive behaviors.
  • History of violent and aggressive behavior may be expressed in cruelty to animals or include fire setting. Research suggests that age of onset may be a key factor in interpreting early warning signs. For example, children who engage in aggression and drug abuse younger than 12 years of age are more likely to show violence later on.
  • Intolerance for differences and prejudicial attitudes. All children have likes and dislikes. However, an intense prejudice toward others based on racial, ethnic, religious, language, gender, sexual orientation, ability and physical appearance may lead to violent assaults.
  • Drug use and alcohol use. Drugs and alcohol reduce self-control and expose children and youth to violence.
  • Affiliation with gangs. Youth who are influenced by these groups may adopt these values and act in violent and aggressive ways.
  • Inappropriate access to, possession of, and use of firearms. Children who have a history of aggression, impulsiveness or other emotional problems should not have access to firearms and other weapons.
  • Serious threats of violence. Threats to commit violence against oneself or others should be taken very seriously.
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