Early Predictors of Adolescent Violence

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 90, no. 4, Apr. 2000, p. 566-572

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1999

by Phyllis L. Ellickson, Kimberly A. McGuigan

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Objectives: This study sought to identify early predictors of adolescent violence and to assess whether they vary by sex and across different types and levels of violence. Methods: Data from a 5-year longitudinal self-report survey of more than 4,300 high school seniors and dropouts from California and Oregon were used to regress measures of relational, predatory, and overall violence on predictors measured 5 years earlier. Results: Deviant behavior in grade 7, poor grades, and weak bonds with middle school predicted violent behavior 5 years later. Attending a middle school with comparatively high levels of cigarette and marijuana use was also linked with subsequent violence. Early drug use and peer drug use predicted increased levels of predatory violence but not its simple occurrence. Girls with low self-esteem during early adolescence were more likely to hit others later on; boys who attended multiple elementary schools were also more like to engage in relational violence. Conclusions: Violence prevention programs for younger adolescents should include efforts to prevent or reduce troublesome behavior in school and poor academic performance. Adolescent girls may also profit from efforts to raise self-esteem; adolescent boys may need extra training in resisting influences that encourage deviant behavior. Programs aimed at preventing drug use may yield an added violence-reduction bonus.

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