How living in violent communities can affect children’s antisocial behaviour

Community violence refers to deliberate acts of interpersonal violence committed in a neighbourhood. It might involve a chase, a physical attack or a verbal threat. It can be experienced directly by the victim, or indirectly – through witnessing an incident happening to someone else.

Exposure to community violence is known to be related to a range of mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also associated with an increased risk of developing antisocial behaviour and delinquency. So it seems likely that children and adolescents with “conduct disorder” are a group who are more likely than their peers to have been exposed to community violence.

Conduct disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis defined by aggressive and antisocial behaviour that harms or violates the rights of others. It has a highly negative effect on the young person – frequently leading to school dropout and educational failure – as well as on their families, teachers, and society.

To date, most research has included a mixture of healthy and clinically impaired children and adolescents when examining links between community violence and antisocial behaviour. So we don’t know what the strength of the association would look like if healthy children and adolescents were investigated separately from youths with conduct disorder.

Would we find similar effects of community violence on antisocial behaviour in a group with no pre-existing problems and in one that shows clinically significant levels of antisocial behaviour?

We tried to answer this question by investigating the impact of community violence exposure on antisocial behaviour in a large sample of children and adolescents – with and without conduct disorder.

In total, 1,178 children and young people were included across eight European countries. Importantly, the study included children living in relatively wealthy countries, such as Switzerland or the UK, as well as less wealthy ones, such as Hungary or Greece.

Our findings showed that children and adolescents who experience community violence show higher levels of antisocial behaviour than young people who are not exposed to community violence. More importantly, this was true for young people with conduct disorder –but also for healthy children and adolescents.

So it’s not just as simple as putting conduct disorder down to the sort of neighbourhoods children are brought up in.

We also found that many European children and adolescents are exposed to high levels of community violence. These findings should strengthen efforts to prevent this from happening.

From The Conversation. Read the full article.

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