Study finds predictors for youth violence and drugs

In predicting violent behavior among teenagers, cliques and high school social sets do matter, finds a new, large-scale study, the first to examine this factor in a systematic manner. So does marijuana use (but not 'harder' drugs), being male, and feeling vulnerable to violence or having been victimized by violence among other factors.

The research, done long before the Columbine shootings by a group at the USC medical school's Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR), followed groups of at-risk high school students who had completed detailed questionnaires asking questions about a wide spectrum of behavior and attitudes, looking for variables that predicted violent behavior or drug taking in the subsequent year. The results appear in forthcoming papers in two journals.

The racially mixed group of students studied, boys (55 percent) and girls between the ages of 15 and 19, were all from Southern California "continuation" high schools - special schools for youth with discipline or academic problems. Unlike ordinary high school populations in which violence is a rare exception, for these students it was a rule: fully 70 percent reported having been involved in violence against either persons or property in their first interview.

In a set of initial questionnaires, researchers asked questions about a wide range of behavior, attitudes and activities. In the follow-up interviews a year later, the same students were asked about their experience with violent episodes since the initial interview. The student's original responses were then tabulated to see which were associated, within the sample, with renewed violence.

Since the group was one in which violence had previously been common, statistical tests were applied to cancel out what Steve Sussman, associate professor at the IPR and lead author on both papers refers as the high "baseline" violence of the sample, to see which variables could be viewed as predictors of contin

Contact: Eric Mankin
University of Southern California

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