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What role can parents play in preventing youth violence?

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 5 students reported being bullied on school property in the last year. Additionally, approximately 14 young people die each day from homicide and another 1,400 are treated in emergency departments for non-fatal assault related injuries.

Homicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24. Local data from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey indicates that 72 percent of Centre County sixth- through 12th graders were bullied at school.

Youth violence is defined as the intentional use of physical force or power to threaten or harm others by young people ages 10-24. Violence can come in forms such as fights, bullying, threats or threats with weapons. Youth violence often starts early and there are multiple factors that can put a youth at risk for perpetrating violence. These factors include poor impulse control and problem-solving skills, family conflict and limited parental supervision, poverty, academic difficulties and exposure to community violence. Even in Happy Valley we have experienced the traumatic effects of youth violence, including death and serious, permanent injury. Youth violence affects the entire community, with medical and lost productivity costs reaching $21 billion annually. Such traumatic experiences in youth have consequences that span the life course, including depression, smoking, substance use, obesity, school dropout and suicide.

Youth violence is preventable and since it touches all of us, we can all have a role in prevention. Parents, caregivers and others who work with youth are in a position to positively and profoundly impact youth:

  • Be a good role model by showing youth how to stay calm in a situation where there is conflict. Help youth see you making good choices in dealing with conflict.
  • Set age appropriate expectations for youth behavior and have clear and nonviolent consequences when youth don’t meet those expectations.
  • Connect youth to caring adults and activities like mentoring and after-school programs where they can learn pro-social skills that will help them navigate tough situations.
  • Provide early education to youth, particularly opportunities that promote family engagement. Read to toddlers and pre-schoolers, which increases bonding as well as prepares youth for academic success.
  • Know where your kids are, who they are with, and what they are doing, both physically and online.

Community members, too, can help by volunteering with youth programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Scouting, or 4-H. Let youth know that violence is not OK, both through your own actions and your words. Teach them how to respond appropriately to conflict and let them know that it’s OK to ask for help. There are lots of good resources and information available about effective prevention strategies. Visit www.cde.gov/violenceprevention for more information.

Denise Herr McCann is the associate director of the Centre County Youth Service Bureau.
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