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Psychiatrists Focus on Teen Violence

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Busch has found that a teen-ager's risk of becoming a killer is doubled if he comes from a violent family, grew up being physically abused, is a gang member, or abuses alcohol or illegal drugs.

Even more telling, he has found that a child's risk is four times greater if he also has access to weapons or has had a prior arrest, a neurological problem, and/or severe educational difficulties that led to constant skipping of classes, failing grades, and suspensions/expulsions from school.

Stephen Thomas, PhD, a professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Atlanta's Emory University, notes that there is also computer software that can do FBI-like profiling of students who might be prone to violence. But he believes that identifying them as troublemakers is the wrong way to deal with these children, since so many of them have witnessed violence and abuse or have been victims of it.

Thomas advocates an approach in which young therapists are sent into schools before violence occurs to try to connect with teens who are having problems. Thomas, who is also director of Emory's Institute of Minority Health Research, did not attend the APA meeting.

Fink tells WebMD that most of the solutions put forth for youth violence focus on punishing the children who commit these crimes -- and this is because such approaches have a strong public appeal. Punishment may feel good to the general public, but unfortunately, he says, it doesn't work well in preventing violence. A better approach is to design methods to help keep kids from becoming violent.

For example, he says, it's been shown that kids who skip school are more likely to be murdered or to murder someone else. So it came as no surprise to him that efforts to enforce school attendance in Philadelphia have had the added benefit of reducing youth violence in that city.

Members of the APA panel point out that the psychiatric community cannot act alone, and stress the need for increased resources in schools and in the wider public arena.

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