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Stages of Puberty and the Risk of Violent Teens
Violence by teenagers impacts individuals, groups, and society as a whole. The threat or experience of bodily harm and property damage make individuals and communities feel unsafe. Legal and social repercussions of violence may change an adolescent's educational, vocational, and social trajectories and lead to a less successful adult life.
Teen violence takes two forms: aggressive and/or violent behavior during which a victim is attacked with the intent of causing physical injury; and social/relational aggression which is aimed at affecting peer status by excluding the victim from a group or circulating hurtful or lies or rumors about the victim.
Violence can be triggered when an adolescent misreads or misinterprets social situations and sees them as more malicious or threatening than they actually are and then overreacting. It can also be proactive in that the violent individual expects a positive outcome to result from their aggressive actions.(1)
The key to decreasing the toll of teen violence lies in understanding its causes and designing interventions that are aimed at eliminating or modifying risk factors.
Teen violence has been attributed to multiple causes including poor social attachments from earliest childhood, underlying psychiatric disorders, too much or too little family discipline, peer group influence, and the relative ease of accessing firearms in some communities. A recently published study looked at the association between a teen's stage of puberty and the likelihood of his/her engaging in violent behavior.(1)
A Vulnerable Time
Puberty is usually divided into five stages that are defined by specific physical changes. The physical development, which includes changes in size and appearance of breasts and sexual organs, bodily hair and other physical characteristics, reflect the internal hormonal changes that culminate in sexual maturation. Puberty can also be divided into early, middle and late stages and each is characterized by physiological, emotional, and social challenges.(2) Most teens experience the stages of puberty at about the same age. If a teen is at a different stage of puberty than his/her same-aged peers, he/she may be experiencing a premature or delayed sexual development.
There are some potential reasons why puberty may be a time when violent behavior becomes more likely and more troublesome. Puberty is characterized by increase in body size, which can make violent teens more dangerous. It is also characterized by parent-child conflict that can elevate the importance and influence of the peer group in a teen's life and decreases the opportunity for teens to learn from parental feedback.
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