Nearly fourteen years ago, I was sitting in my senior classroom when the principle came over the loudspeaker and told every teacher to turn on the TV. A mass shooting was in progress at a high school in Colorado. My classmates and I watched the news coverage in horror, most of us in tears.
This was the Columbine High School Massacre, which remains the deadliest shooting on a high school campus in United States history.
The shootings were terrifying, in part because they weren’t entirely surprising. You may remember Kip Kinkel, the student in Oregon who killed his parents and then shot his classmates. That happened the year before, in Springfield, an hour from my school.
When we think about teen violence, these horrific school shootings (especially the most recent one at Sandy Hook Elementary) are what come to mind. But youth violence is about more than school shootings. When you include fights, gang violence and suicide under the umbrella term of “youth violence,” the statistics are frightening. Believe it or not, violence is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Statistics like these leave us asking questions: “Why is this happening?” and “How can we stop it?” These are hard questions. And there’s no greater reflex than the instinct to protect our children—which makes us feel desperate to find the answers right now.
How to Prevent Youth Violence
Because of the many factors that contribute to violent attitudes and behaviors, there is not one approach or one group that can effectively stop the violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are a few proven strategies that help:
- Get involved in parent- and family-based programs. In these programs, parents receive training on child development and learn skills for talking with their kids about solving problems in nonviolent ways. (Find free educational courses online at Veto Violence, or search online for “parenting courses” in your community.)
- Teaching non-violent communication. Teach children how to handle tough social situations, and how to resolve problems without using violence.
- Take advantages of mentoring programs. Mentoring programs pair a young person with an adult who serves as a positive role model and helps guide behavior.
- Support environmental changes. Changes to the physical and social environment can address some base causes of violence. Youth violence is a particular concern for low-income, minority communities, where poverty, family instability, and unemployment provide a fertile context for gangs and illicit drug markets. Addressing these issues is key.
Programs That Help Young People
There are many great nonprofit organizations working on a grassroots level to help educate parents, teachers and kids about youth violence. Check out these six charities, each of which take a different approach:
National Campaign to Stop Youth Violence helps individual students make a lasting commitment to take responsibility for ending violence in their lives, homes and communities.
Afterschool Alliance provides afterschool programs for children across the country. Afterschool programs are critical for kids who have working parents, helping keep them out of trouble and learn important skills.
STRYVE (Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere), a program run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has a threefold mission: 1) increase awareness about youth violence, 2) promote prevention approaches based on the best available evidence, and 3) provide guidance to communities on how to prevent youth violence.
Big Brothers, Big Sisters improves children’s lives by pairing kids aged 6 to 18 (“Littles”) with adult mentors (“Bigs”). The results? Higher aspirations, greater confidence, better relationships, avoidance of risky behaviors, and educational success.
Second Growth counsels adolescents and young adults on drug, alcohol, and recovery issues, and violence prevention. They provide Student Assistance Programs to middle and high schools, and train others to replicate their programs.
Alternatives to Violence USA is an association of community- and prison- based groups offering workshops in personal growth and creative conflict management. They empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, community building, cooperation, and trust.
The best news is that Youth Violence is now top-of-mind, and we’re having real, constructive conversations to solve the underlying issues.
Let’s hope that Sandy Hook is the last of these tragic massacres. Donate now and get involved to help stop youth violence.
—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager