How teenagers envision their futures may have a big influence on whether they threaten or injure someone with a weapon, according to a new research in JAMA Pediatrics. The findings have implications for the health of teens in places struggling to prevent youth violence.
The research began with an observation by Dr. Alison Culyba, an adolescent medicine physician and epidemiologist at the UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh. She’d seen studies on the risk factors that lead to a kid experiencing violence and later, poor health.
"Both witnessing and directly experiencing violence can result in poor mental health, substance use, poor school performance, and challenges managing chronic illness," says Culyba.
But Culyba had also cared for patients who had survived serious violence and went on to achieve good health and impressive accolades. She wanted to know more about the things that protected these kids and kept them from becoming violent.
So she and her colleagues surveyed more than 800 teen boys in low-income neighborhoods and asked them if they agreed or disagreed with some broad statements about their futures.
"Statements such as: ‘I expect good things to happen to me,’ and, ‘my life will make a difference in the world,’" says Culyba.
What they found is that the teenagers who envisioned a bright future for themselves were about a third less likely than their peers to also report threatening or injuring someone with a weapon.
"I think what the takeaway is here is that it might not be the specifics of those goals. But rather, just having them and having something that you're really working towards, have a powerfully protective role in changing the risks that people are willing to engage in right now—because they're really focused on getting to some point in the future," says Culyba.
The connection is relevant to communities like many in South Florida that are struggling to prevent youth violence. Culyba says the findings are an argument to support community projects that give teens a safe space and career opportunities.
"I think in doing so we can help all teens move towards a more positive and peaceful future," says Culyba.
You can find more on the research in JAMA Pediatrics here.