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Keywords:

  • violence;
  • community health;
  • child and adolescent health

BACKGROUND: To understand how neighborhoods influence the development of youth violence, we investigated intrapersonal mediators of the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and youth violence trajectories between ages 11 and 18. The hypothesized mediators included indicators of social bonding (belief in conventional values, involvement in school activities, religious engagement, and commitment to traditional goals) and psychological distress.

METHODS: The sample (N = 5118) was 50% female and 52% Caucasian. Data from a 5-wave panel study spanning ages 11 to 18 were analyzed using sex-stratified multilevel growth curves.

RESULTS: Neighborhood disadvantage was associated with higher levels of violence perpetrated by girls, lower belief in conventional values for both girls and boys, less commitment to traditional goals by girls, and higher levels of psychological distress reported by girls. Sobel tests identified 3 significant mediators of the effects of neighborhood disadvantage on girls' violence trajectories: belief in conventional values, commitment to traditional goals, and psychological distress. The only significant mediator of the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and boys' violence trajectories was belief in conventional values. The effects of neighborhood disadvantage on violence trajectories were not fully mediated; in fact, results suggested that suppression effects, or inconsistent mediation, may exist.

CONCLUSIONS: The results emphasize the importance of both contextual and intrapersonal attributes in understanding the development of violence among school-aged youth. Early school-based and community-level prevention initiatives that promote social bonding and address mental health needs may help reduce the impact of youth violence, particularly for girls.