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What is violence?

Violence can occur in many forms involving physical, psychological and/or emotional harm. The focus of this hot topic is physical violence. Physical violence occurs when one or more individuals deliberately inflict physical harm on at least one other person. Violence can occur in a number of settings, including:

  • School-based violence - this includes violence within the playground and classroom. Media reports have highlighted the increasing occurrence of violence against school staff by students in the classroom, as well as among peers. School-based violence can also be an extension of other forms of bullying including cyber bullying
  • Family violence - this can involve young people being the witness, victim or perpetrator of violence. Violence within the context of relationships is another setting in which young people are exposed to violence. Both males and females can be victims or perpetrators of intimate partner violence
  • Street-based violence - this is where the perpetrator is unknown to the victim such as in a licensed premises or where the violence is opportunistic. Research shows that in Australia approximately two-thirds of male and one-fifth of female assault victims were assaulted by an unknown perpetrator[1]

The implications of violence for children and young people

Violence has the potential to cause multiple types of harm to both the victim and the person who inflicts it. Some of the ways violence can cause young people harm include:

  • physical harm (disability or death)
  • mental illness
  • feelings of anxiety
  • self harm/suicide
  • substance use
  • becoming a perpetrator

Physical harm

Violence has the potential to cause a range of physical harms to the victim including permanent disability and even death. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, about 2.3% of female and 1.8% of male deaths were the result of physical assault.[2]

Mental illness and self harm/suicide

A number of psychological and emotional difficulties can arise from both experiencing and witnessing violence, for example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research has also linked being bullied at school to feelings of suicidality among victims[3] due to the intense level of distress that violence can cause.

Substance use

As a way of coping with the effects of violence, victims may turn to drug and alcohol misuse in order to feel better. Victims may also seek out other maladaptive coping strategies including deliberate self harm or engaging in risky behaviours leading to significant physical and mental health problems.[4]

Becoming a perpetrator

violenceWitnessing or experiencing violence can lead to the victim themselves engaging in violent activity later in life[5]. This can result in legal issues as physically assaulting a person is a crime. Furthermore, the perpetration of violence has been linked to involvement in further acts of violence and other criminal activity, and therefore affects the wider community in the long-term.

What are the risk factors for violence?

Numerous factors have been linked to an increased likelihood of young people engaging in violent behaviour. While these factors do not directly cause violence on their own, they appear to contribute to the overall risk. Examples include:

  • witnessing or experiencing violence in the home[6]
  • being bullied[8]
  • substance use (especially alcohol)[7]
  • poor interpersonal skills (e.g. perceiving hostile intentions) [8]
  • poor school achievement or attitude to schooling[8]
  • behavioural/emotional problems (e.g. impulsivity, antisocial behaviour)[9]
  • harsh physical discipline[6]
  • associating with offending peers, particularly belonging to a gang[8]

How can parents or carers help prevent violence among young people?

Parents and carers can help prevent violence among young people in a number of ways. For example:

  • Be a good role model to children and young people as they will notice and learn from your behaviour. Show them how to resolve conflict by using non-aggressive strategies in settling disputes you have with others, including your partner. Teach your child about relationship equality and power sharing, which can reduce the potential for intimate partner violence. Be mindful that modelling violent behaviour is likely to teach children and young people to behave in the same manner
  • Foster resilience in your child so they will be better equipped to handle difficulties, and therefore less likely to engage in violence towards others. You can do this by assisting them to work through difficulties constructively, without solving their problems for them. For further information, check out our Resilience hot topic
  • Develop open communication with your child so you can talk with them about violence and assist them in developing non-violent strategies to solve issues. This will also provide an opportunity for them to talk about any issues they may be experiencing, such as at school or in relationships
  • Work with your child's school in the development and implementation of an anti-bullying policy. Effective policies require the support of the wider school community, including parents and carers. Being involved will also help keep you informed of what avenues of assistance are available to you should you suspect that your child or a young person is the victim of bullying. If they have been bullying themselves then it is important that you work with the school to take steps to help cease the bullying
  • Watch for possible warning signs that suggest your child may be the victim or instigator of violence. Avoiding previously enjoyed activities or becoming quiet or fearful may indicate that violence has been threatened or used against them. On the other hand, aggressive behaviour or a preoccupation with such behaviour may indicate a risk of engaging in violence. When addressing such behaviour, avoid using harsh physical punishment as this will likely reinforce the belief that violence is an acceptable option
  • Encourage your child to stay in school. Higher levels of education are linked to reduced levels of violence. This is because education promotes the cognitive development needed to find effective solutions to problems, and avoid situations that are more likely to result in violence being committed against them
  • Address behavioural issues by seeking counselling early on. Some children and young people display hostile or aggressive behaviours that can develop into more violent behaviours later in life. While some behaviours are able to be treated by parents/carers in the home environment, professional assistance or school involvement may be necessary to deal with more complex behavioural issues
  • Contact Parentline for help in managing issues of violence. Counsellors are trained to provide support, advice and referrals in order to assist parents and carers. They can also suggest strategies to help stop bullying or other forms of violence
  • Encourage your child to contact Kids Helpline if they are experiencing violence-related issues. This may include dealing with violence that is being committed against them by a bully, a partner or even someone unknown
  • Encourage young victims of violence to seek assistance and support them in addressing the violence. This may involve informing the school or contacting the police depending on the specific context. Ensure that your child knows that it is not acceptable for anyone to use violence against them and that it's important to take appropriate measures to stop any future acts occurring
  • Limit access to dangerous weapons such as knives or firearms. Acts of violence can occur because dangerous weapons are available
  • Discourage your child from associating with violent peers. A child or young person's peer group is highly influential in terms of how they themselves will behave. Therefore it is important to teach them how to make appropriate choices when it comes to selecting friends
  • Teach conflict resolution skills to your child so they can find non-violent solutions to address interpersonal conflict
  • Promote tolerance and respect towards others, including tolerance of cultural and social differences between people. Violence occurs in the absence of respect for others, and by promoting tolerance and respect, your child will be less inclined to use violence. For more information, check out our Respectful Relationships hot topic
  • Address substance use issues where necessary. Substance use is linked to a greater likelihood of experiencing violence[7] as it impairs judgement and can result in poor choices in responding to conflict or avoiding potentially violent situations. Some substances may make a person more aggressive which can lead to violent behaviour. Check out our Alcohol and other Drugs hot topic for more information

Who can I contact for more information?

You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.

Find out more about Parentline in your state

Resources that may be of use


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). Australian social trends 2008. 4102.0
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). Australian social trends 2007. 41.2.8
  3. Nickerson, A., & Slater, E.. (2009). School and community violence and victimization as predictors of adolescent suicidal behavior. School Psychology Review, 38(2), 218-232.
  4. Howard, D., Wang, M., & Yan, F.. (2007). Prevalence and psychosocial correlates of forced sexual intercourse among U.S. high school adolescents. Adolescence, 42(168), 629-43.
  5. Nansel, T.R., Overpeck, M.D., Haynie, D.L., Ruan, J. & Scheidt, P.C. (2003). Relationships between bullying and violence among US youth. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 157(4), 348-53.
  6. Mitchell, S., Lewin, A., Horn, I., Rasmussen, A., Sanders-Phillips, K., Valentine, D., & Joseph, J.. (2009). Violence exposure and the association between young African American mothers' discipline and child problem Behavior. Academic Pediatrics, 9(3), 157-63.
  7. Weiner, M.D., Sussman, S., Sun, P. & Dent, C. (2005). Explaining the link between violence perpetration, victimization and drug use. Addictive Behaviors, 30(6), 1261-1266.
  8. Hann, D. M., & Borek, N. T. (2002). NIMH taking stock of risk factors for child/youth externalizing behavior problems. Bethesda, Maryland: National Institute of Mental Health, 2.
  9. Özbay, Z., & Köksoy, O.. (2009). Is low self-control associated with violence among youths in Turkey? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 53(2), 145.

Published: 11 June 2010