Why do kids in certain communities commit violent acts? If a new, five-year, richly funded study spearheaded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the issue of youth violence are any indication, the answer to this question is mostly early exposure to drugs and violence and a difficult or unstable home life. These are the risk factors, it seems, for violent behavior among early teens, and kids even younger it seems.

The study was part of a larger research project by the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence designed to identify the risk factors and root causes of adolescent violence in Denver’s Montebello neighborhood which has long struggled with gang violence and individual acts of violence for years. The information uncovered by the study provided community leaders and parents a way forward in dealing with the problem of violence among the youth in their neighborhoods. The study sets out to effect concrete, statistically observable changes regarding the occurrence of youth violence in the Montebello neighborhood and in doing so set the paradigm for dealing with adolescent violence in general.

Violence information that the study is based on was provided by a series of more than 800 surveys conducted in-person at people’s homes in the neighborhood, and on over 2,000 interviews conducted with students between grades 4-12. The interviews and surveys were conducted by community members who were already deeply involved in the problem of adolescent violence in their neighborhood, and as such, they were also able to contribute their personal experiences to the study, to survey and interview themselves as it were. The study reported that 23 percent of kids interviewed had committed a violent act when they were only 10 or 11. 6 percent of the youths interviewed or surveyed said they had taken drugs when they were as young as 10.

Gang activity, according to the study, is a not too uncommon or unfamiliar occurrence in the lives of the youth interviewed: 28 percent of high-school age youth and 17 percent of middle school age youth reported knowing other kids and classmates who belonged to gangs. Violence causal factors for these statistics and the behaviors they represent are multifaceted and complex, according to the study violence bad family situations and conflicts and chaotic household dynamics, early manifestation of negative or violent behaviors, and drug use or exposure to people using drugs, are all risk factors that can and do work in combination with each other.

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