UMN Expert: Youth violence prevention
University of Minnesota expert Iris Wagman Borowsky, a professor in the Medical School, is available to comment on the prevalency of youth violence in the United States and options for intervention to reduce and prevent young people from witnessing, experiencing, and perpetrating violence.
Iris Wagman Borowsky, MD, PhD
“Every day in America, an average of 14 children under the age of 20 dies from intentional injuries – 7 homicides and 7 suicides. Think about that. That’s a whole classroom full of children lost every two days in this country to violence. Most of these deaths involve firearms. The availability of guns heightens the lethality of youth violence because guns are more likely to kill than any other weapon used in an assault. In fact, the problem of youth violence in our country is of major health and social significance because it is a problem of gun violence.
Decades of research have revealed strategies that are effective in reducing and preventing young people from witnessing, experiencing, and perpetrating violence. Effective interventions include strategies at the individual level, such as training for students to increase their social problem-solving skills; at the family level, such as parent training programs, nurse home visitation programs, and family therapy; and at the environmental level of schools, communities, and society as a whole, such as small group classroom learning strategies, mentoring programs, proactive policing, reducing exposure to media violence, and decreasing access to guns.
Public policy is perhaps the most fertile but underutilized area for youth violence prevention. Because policy is broad-based, its potential impact is far greater than other interventions. Policy and other societal-level interventions are powerful because they can work automatically to protect children from violent injuries. Many of the interventions that operate at other levels are active strategies, requiring the action of a child, a parent, or a teacher on every occasion to work. Passive strategies, highly effective in reducing motor vehicle crash injuries and fatalities, are safety nets that work automatically to help prevent injury. Not having a gun in the environments where children live, work, and play automatically protects against injury by limiting access to means for a highly lethal form of violence. Bottom line, without systemic level policy change to reduce the availability of firearms, we will fail to protect all children from violent injuries.
The movement to adopting and sustaining approaches to youth violence prevention that are grounded in the evidence of what works requires a public health knowledge base, awareness of community and cultural contexts, and the requisite skills in advocacy and agenda building that can effectively promote the use of effective strategies. The magnitude and dire consequences of youth violence, together with the fact that it is an entirely preventable problem, compel us to tackle this public health epidemic with urgency.”
Iris Wagman Borowsky, MD, PhD, is a professor of pediatrics and the director of the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Her work as a clinician, educator, and researcher focuses on promoting healthy development among children and youth, particularly those living in high-risk environments. She studies risk and protective factors for involvement in self-directed and interpersonal violence among youth and development of effective violence prevention strategies.
Iris Wagman Borowsky