Risk and Protective Factors

Key points

  • Many factors can increase or decrease the likelihood of someone experiencing or perpetrating violence.
  • Risk factors can increase the risk of experiencing or perpetrating violence and protective factors can reduce the risk.
  • Preventing youth violence requires understanding and addressing risk and protective factors.

What are risk and protective factors?

Youth violence is not often caused by a single factor. Instead, a combination of factors at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels can increase or decrease the risk of violence.

Risk factors are characteristics that may increase the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating youth violence. However, they may or may not be direct causes.

Protective factors are characteristics that may decrease the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating youth violence.

Understanding and addressing risk and protective factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

Watch the Moving Forward video 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

Individual risk factors

  • History of violent victimization.1
  • Attention deficits, hyperactivity, or learning disorders.12
  • Involvement with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.1
  • Poor behavioral control.2
  • Deficits in social cognitive or information-processing abilities.2
  • High emotional distress.1
  • History of treatment for emotional problems.1
  • Antisocial beliefs and attitudes.2
  • Exposure to violence and conflict in the family.2

Relationship risk factors

  • Authoritarian child rearing attitudes.2
  • Harsh, lax, or inconsistent disciplinary practices.2
  • Low parental education and income.2
  • Parental substance abuse or criminality.2
  • Poor family functioning.2
  • Poor monitoring and supervision of children.2
  • Association with delinquent peers.2
  • Involvement in gangs.2
  • Social rejection by peers.2
  • Poor academic performance.2
  • Low commitment to school and school failure.12

Community risk factors

  • Communities with high rates of violence and crime.12
  • Communities with diminished economic opportunities.2
  • Communities with high unemployment rates.2
  • Communities with high concentrations of poor residents.2
  • Communities with unstable housing and where residents move frequently.2
  • Communities with few community activities for young people.23
  • Low levels of community participation.2
  • Socially disorganized neighborhoods.23

Protective factors for perpetration

Individual protective factors

  • High IQ.4
  • High grade point average (as an indicator of high academic achievement).14
  • High educational aspirations.24
  • Highly developed social skills/competencies.4
  • Religious beliefs.1

Relationship protective factors

  • Connectedness to family or adults outside the family.14
  • Ability to discuss problems with parents.1
  • Perceived parental expectations about school performance are high.14
  • Frequent shared activities with parents.1
  • 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.1
  • Possession of affective relationships with those at school that are strong, close, and prosocially oriented.1
  • Exposure to school climates with intensive supervision, clear behavior rules, firm disciplinary methods, and engagement of parents and teachers.2
  1. Resnick, M. D., Ireland, M., & Borowsky, I. (2004). Youth violence perpetration: What protects? What predicts? Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(5), 424.e1-424.e10.
  2. Dahlberg, L. L., & Simon, T. R. (2006). Predicting and preventing youth violence: Developmental pathways and risk. In J. R. Lutzker (Ed.), Preventing violence: Research and evidence-based intervention strategies (pp. 97-124). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  3. Sampson, R. J., Morenoff, J. D., & Gannon-Rowley, T. (2002). Assessing "neighborhood effects": Social processes and new directions in research. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 443-478.
  4. Ttofi, M. M., Farrington, D. P., Piquero, A. R., & DeLisi, M. (2016). Protective factors against offending and violence: Results from prospective longitudinal studies. Journal of Criminal Justice, 45, 1-3.