CBS 17 wanted to know if there any warning signs parents can look for when it comes to teenagers and violence.
Dr. Barbara-Ann Bybel, Director and Vice-Chair of Psychiatry Services at UNC Health, says it’s important to understand why children or teens may act violently.
“Sometimes it might be expressing anger. I think that’s the first thing people go to and ask, ‘Why are they so angry?'” she said. “But it could be other things. It could be trying to gain control, manipulation, trying to get their way. It could be just a way to release stress; there’s lots of stress right now.”
Bybel says for some teens it could be a learned behavior, something they see on videogames, TV or online. It can also come from friends who act violently or something they see in their household.
A lot of teenagers are also dealing with depression and anxiety right now.
“It could be that depression or anxiety is building and without the right release or treatment, it could end up they internalize it,” Bybel said. “We’re also seeing a huge increase in suicide in youth.”
Bybel says teenagers could also externalize it by ” acting out violently to others than themselves.”
Dr. Kristen Wynns, who owns Wynns Family Psychology, a practice focused on children and teens, explained that warning signs for violence toward others and suicide can be similar.
She and Bybel both encourage parents to look for changes in mood, behavior, sleeping, eating habits or isolation.
“Bullying on either side is really a warning sign,” Wynns noted. “If your teenager has been a victim of bullying, that is really something to keep an eye on, and then if they’ve been in trouble or you’re aware that they have been the instigator when it comes to bullying those are all warning signs parents need to take seriously.”
Both suggest monitoring children’s online activities, and really connecting and talking with teenagers – even if those discussions feel awkward.
“They sit in their rooms sometimes and play videogames and we think they don’t want to be bothered,” said Wynns. “But I can’t implore parents enough to do that daily check-in, to really just sit, chat, take the dog on a walk together and say ‘How was your day? What’s on your mind; what’s bothering you?'”
Though there may be warning signs, Bybel noted that acts of violence are not necessarily planned.
“Acts of violence toward self or others usually are impulsive, and kids and teenagers tend to be more impulsive than adults, so a lot of times they’re not thinking about it. They’re upset, frustrated, whatever it is in the moment they do something without thinking,” she said. “If they’re able to carry that through and someone gets hurt that’s something that can’t be changed.”
Dr. Wynns says if there are guns in the home, it’s important that safety rules are made clear to everyone in the house including children and teens.
Dr. Bybel said she thinks guns should be kept locked and unloaded with the key hidden from children and teens.
“Preventing access to lethal means is the biggest most important prevention strategy,” she said. “Yes, they can still get mad and maybe use their fists, but that’s going to have a much less lethal effect than having access to weapons.”