A new University of Chicago study has shown that violent experiences cause teens growing up in dangerous neighbourhoods to adopt a range of coping strategies to avoid violence, with notable impact whether the violence takes place at home, among friends or during police incidents.
The responses to violence include seeking out non-violent friends, avoiding trouble, becoming resigned to the situation, striving to do well in school, or for some, retaliating physically, the authors said.
"Exposure to community violence is pervasive among youth in many urban neighborhoods. We found in one study that 76 percent of urban youth were exposed to some kind of community violence during the previous year, said Dexter Voisin, of School of Social Service Administration.
In a new study, Voisin explored how young people respond to the violence through a series of in-depth interviews with teens from a troubled area.
He and his research team recruited 32 Chicago-area boys and girls, ranging in age from 14 to 17, for the study. Most were not from low-income homes.
The youths were asked to describe their neighborhoods and their individual experiences with violence and their responses to it.
The study found that boys were much more likely to witness and be victims of community violence than girls, who frequently heard about such violence. The girls were more likely than the boys to spend their non-school time at home, he said.
"The primary forms of violence exposures were physical attacks, fighting, incidents involving police, and gun violence involving murders," Voisin said.
Teens most often coped by associating with people in their neighborhood who are not part of the violence, Voisin said.
"A second strategy was to avoid situations where violence might erupt, often by isolating themselves," he added.
Other approaches included either becoming resigned to their situation or in some cases learning to fight back or carry a gun.
For nearly a quarter of the students, however, achievement in school was their ticket to a better future.
Those youth told the research team that doing well in school could mean they would be able to get a good job and move to a safer neighborhood.
The results were published in the issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.