Risk and Protective Factors

Youth Violence Risk and Protective Factors

We must understand and address the factors that put people at risk for or protect them from violence.

Risk factors are characteristics linked with youth violence, but they are not direct causes of youth violence. A combination of individual, relationship, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of youth violence. Research on youth violence has increased our understanding of factors that make some populations more vulnerable to victimization and perpetration. Many risk factors for youth violence are linked to experiencing toxic stress, or stress that is prolonged and repeated. Toxic stress can negatively change the brain development of children and youth. Toxic stress can result from issues like living in impoverished neighborhoods, experiencing food insecurity, experiencing racism, limited access to support and medical services, and living in homes with violence, mental health problems, substance abuse, and other instability.

Watch Moving Forward to learn more about how increasing what protects people from violence and reducing what puts people at risk for it benefits everyone.

Risk Factors for Perpetration


  • History of violent victimization
  • Attention deficits, hyperactivity, or learning disorders
  • History of early aggressive behavior
  • Involvement with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco
  • Low IQ
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Deficits in social cognitive or information-processing abilities
  • High emotional distress
  • History of treatment for emotional problems
  • Antisocial beliefs and attitudes
  • Exposure to violence and conflict in the family


  • Authoritarian childrearing attitudes
  • Harsh, lax, or inconsistent disciplinary practices
  • Low parental involvement
  • Low emotional attachment to parents or caregivers
  • Low parental education and income
  • Parental substance abuse or criminality
  • Poor family functioning
  • Poor monitoring and supervision of children

Peer and Social

  • Association with delinquent peers
  • Involvement in gangs
  • Social rejection by peers
  • Lack of involvement in conventional activities
  • Poor academic performance
  • Low commitment to school and school failure


  • Diminished economic opportunities
  • High concentrations of poor residents
  • High level of transiency
  • High level of family disruption
  • Low levels of community participation
  • Socially disorganized neighborhoods
Protective Factors for Perpetration

Protective factors may lessen the likelihood of youth violence victimization or perpetration. Identifying and understanding protective factors are equally as important as researching risk factors.


  • Intolerant attitude toward deviance
  • High IQ
  • High grade point average (as an indicator of high academic achievement)
  • High educational aspirations
  • Positive social orientation
  • Popularity acknowledged by peers
  • Highly developed social skills/competencies
  • Highly developed skills for realistic planning
  • Religious beliefs


  • Connectedness to family or adults outside the family
  • Ability to discuss problems with parents
  • Perceived parental expectations about school performance are high
  • Frequent shared activities with parents
  • Consistent presence of parent during at least one of the following: when awakening, when arriving home from school, at evening mealtime, or when going to bed
  • Involvement in social activities
  • Parental/family use of constructive strategies for coping with problems (provision of models of constructive coping)

Peer and Social

  • Possession of affective relationships with those at school that are strong, close, and prosocially oriented
  • Commitment to school (an investment in school and in doing well at school)
  • Close relationships with non-deviant peers
  • Membership in peer groups that do not condone antisocial behavior
  • Involvement in prosocial activities
  • Exposure to school climates with the following characteristics:
    • Intensive supervision
    • Clear behavior rules
    • Firm disciplinary methods
    • Engagement of parents and teachers

See Youth Violence Resources for articles and publications about risk and protective factors for youth violence.