Purpose: To replicate earlier research findings on risk factors for youth violence and to explore the effects on violent behavior of constructs shown to increase risk for other problem behaviors, within a developmental frame.
Methods: Data were from the Seattle Social Development Project (SSDP), a prospective study involving a panel of youths followed since 1985. Potential risk factors for violence at age 18 years were measured at ages 10, 14, and 16 years. Bivariate relationships involving risk factor constructs in the individual, family, school, peer and community domains and violence were examined at each age to assess changes in their strength of prediction over time. Attention was also given to the additive strength of increasing numbers of risk factors in the prediction of violence at age 18 years. A final set of analyses explored the extent to which youths were correctly classified as having committed a violent act (or not) at age 18 years on the basis of their overall level of risk at ages 10, 14, and 16 years.
Results: At each age, risk factors strongly related to later violence were distributed among the five domains. Ten of 15 risk factors constructs measured at age 10 years were significantly predictive of violence at age 18 years. Twenty of 25 constructs measured at age 14 years and 19 of 21 constructs measured at age 16 years were significantly predictive of later violence. Many constructs predicted violence from more than one developmental point. Hyperactivity (parent rating), low academic performance, peer delinquency, and availability of drugs in the neighborhood predicted violence from ages 10, 14, and 16 years. Analyses of the additive effects of risk factors revealed that youths exposed to multiple risks were notably more likely than others to engage in later violence. The odds for violence of youths exposed to more than five risk factors compared to the odds for violence of youths exposed to fewer than two risk factors at each age were seven times greater at age 10 years, 10 times greater at age 14 years, and nearly 11 times greater at age 16 years. However, despite information gained from all significant risk factors, the overall accuracy in predicting youths who would go on to commit violent acts was limited.
Conclusions: Findings from the study have important implications for preventive intervention programs. Prevention efforts must be comprehensive and developmentally sensitive, responding to large groups or populations exposed to multiple risks.