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Causes Of Teen Violence

December 5, 2013, 5:55 PM by Perry Groten

Causes Of Teen Violence

This week's murder at a northwest Sioux Falls home has many people shaking their heads and wondering why teenagers would take another teen's life.

The Lennox-based Reclaiming Youth International researches causes of teen violence, as part of its work to advocate for teens. The group's research has found drugs and alcohol are often factors, along with a troubled home life in why teens act out. An immature teenage mind may also be a factor, because often teens don't think through the tragic consequences of violence, until it's too late.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the national youth murder rate is at a 30-year low.

"What's different, though, in many ways, is the availability of guns to young kids, they can get their hands on guns really quickly," Steve Van Bokern of Reclaiming Youth International said.

Steve Van Bockern says a kid with a gun will often lash-out by using the weapon when under stress.

"And much of it is out of fear. And they oftentimes will fight or flee as a way to deal with that fear," Van Bockern said.

Van Bockern often interviews teenagers accused of violent crimes to learn more about their state of mind at the time.

"In my experience, I've never met one that I'd ever end up calling a monster. I know that there are sociopaths out there, but in my experience, I've never met those kids yet. There's always some goodness there," Van Bockern said.

He says those who hurt others are often hurt themselves by abusers and bullies. Violent teen crimes rarely occur in isolation.

"Oftentimes, it's just not a singular case of a kid all on their own without any connections to others or any involvement with others will simply decide that they're going to murder or kill. There are usually some other adults that are usually connected in some ways," Van Bockern said.

Experts say stress and fear can short-circuit the rational part of a person's brain through a process they call "neural hijacking." Van Bockern says it can happen to anybody, but teens are most vulnerable because their brains don't fully develop until their 20's.

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