Troubled Teen Issues

Teen Vandalism

Teen Vandalism

Although sometimes viewed as juvenile pranks, teen vandalism is actually criminal. To find out more about teen vandalism, continue this article.

Definition of Vandalism

The official definition of vandalism is given by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It says that vandalism is “willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of any public or private property, real or personal, without the consent of the owner or persons having custody or control” as stated in the most recent Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Fact Sheet on Juvenile Vandalism, issued in July 2000.

Vandalism includes a wide variety of acts such as:

  • posting graffiti in public places
  • breaking or throwing items out of windows
  • smashing mailboxes
  • stealing
  • trashing unguarded property, often empty buildings and/or lots and public or semi-public toilet facilities; school property is often a target
  • setting fires
  • tampering with equipment, such as vending machines and pay telephones
  • setting false fire alarms
  • damaging parked cars
  • damaging trees 

Understanding Teen Vandalism

Some of the behaviors and situations that are linked to teen vandalism include:

  • binge drinking
  • seeking money to buy drugs
  • peer pressure
  • feeling hostile towards the property owner 

In the case of graffiti, however, there may be other factors at works. At least some graffiti vandals (as the New York Police Department chooses to refer to them) consider themselves “graffiti artists” or “street artists.” It seems that these individuals view their efforts to be towards ornamenting or enhancing coupled with self expression. The international fame of Banksy, the English graffiti artist, and other graffiti artists has likely contributed to teen confusion about whether graffiti vandalism should be considered criminal.

And, in fact, teen’s graffiti creations-while not in sanctioned places-may have artistic merit. This possibility places this type of teen vandalism in contrast to types of vandalism in which items are devalued through being smashed or broken. That is, smashing property is wrong because it damages property. Graffiti is wrong because it is created in the “wrong” place. While addressing teen vandalism often involves reparation and repair of damaged property, addressing teen vandalism involving graffiti may also involve providing the individual with a sanctioned place in which to perform his or her “art” and opportunities to put the talent to a positive use.

Consequences of Teen Vandalism

Besides repairing damage to structures, covering graffiti, replacing ruined property, there are other high costs to teen vandalism. Publicly viewable vandalism changes the atmosphere of a place. It may give the impression that the people in the area do not value their space and that the area is not well-protected and perhaps unsafe. This may result in reduced use of the area in and around the damaged property. Property, such as subway cars, that has to be removed from service in order to be cleaned of graffiti or repaired also can cause disruption of service.

Addressing Teen Vandalism

Different approaches are taken to teen vandalism. Education is one approach. Making sure that teens can distinguish pranks from vandalism is one issue addressed. Repairing and restoring property, which has been found to ease public concerns as well, is another. Reparation is often part of the restitution if a teen vandal is caught.

A third approach to preventing teen vandalism is prevention. One way of preventing vandalism is providing alternative activities for teens. Teen centers, schools, and community groups may sponsor alcohol-free activities, for example. Patrols in areas that are susceptible to vandalism may also help discourage teen vandals from harming it.


National Criminal Justice Reference Service
The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention

Troubled Teen Issues

Teen Truancy

Teen Truancy

Compulsory education is mandated by law in all 50 of the United States. In general, an unexcused absence from school is an instance of truancy. But to be branded as a truant, a student must intentionally miss school with absences that are unexcused at an age at which education is compulsory in the state in which the student resides. Teen truancy is of particular importance and interest because of truancy’s link to other problems, the most obvious of these being failure to complete one’s education. To understand more about the issues of teen truancy, read on.

Because state laws differ, a student who is considered truant in one state may not be truant in another state. For example, in states for which the upper limit of compulsory attendance age is 16, a teen of that age may drop-out of high school without legal issues, whereas in a neighboring state with an upper age limit of 18, that adolescent would be a teen truant.

Understanding Teen Truancy

Because national figures on truancy have been collected from state data which do not use identical categories, it is difficult to build a precise picture of the teen truancy situation in the United States. Issues such as how to count teens who earn a GED, teens who run away, or teens whose whereabouts are not known have muddied the picture. Although the legislation referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) instituted a requirement for states to create a shared definition of truancy and a school level data collection based on this definition, the fruits of this mandate have not yet been seen.

Causes of Youth Truancy

One thing that is important to understand is that students are truant for different reasons. Not all students who fail to go to school are up to no good on the one hand or irresponsible on the other. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has reported that in 2003, 5.4 percent of high school students skipped a minimum of one day of school because they were concerned for their personal safety.

Negative factors contributing to teen truancy are considered as originating in three areas: the teen’s personal character and psychology, the teen’s family and community environment, and the school.

Personal factors include poor academic performance; mental health issues; substance abuse; the demands of pregnancy or parenting; and lack of understanding about the importance of education. Home and community factors include family situations that lead the teen to choose to work rather than attend school; a situation of abuse or neglect; parental substance abuse; negative role models; and disdain for education among role models.

School factors that can contribute to teen truancy include poorly designed and implemented attendance policies; policies that remove the student from school as punishment; poor instruction; poorly maintained facilities; an unsafe environment; and lack of quality special education for students in need.

Guilt by Association

What is known about teen truancy is the strong links with other problems. Truancy is, unsurprisingly, considered an indicator for poor academic performance, for example, on standardized tests, as well as dropping out of high school. But beyond an incomplete education, one of the greatest concerns raised by teen truancy stems from the fact that it is a risk factor for other problematic behaviors and outcomes, including:

  • social isolation
  • low self-esteem
  • feeling of rejection from parents
  • juvenile delinquency
  • substance abuse
  • teen pregnancy
  • unemployment
  • significantly lower earnings than high school graduates
  • adult criminality 

Addressing Truancy

There are a variety of programs in place to address truancy. They may be instituted within the school itself, in the community, or arise in the courts. These programs have different approaches and goals. Some focus on middle schoolers, hoping to address truancy before it becomes a high school problem. Others focus on making high school graduation possible for teens at risk.

Some programs work to make the consequences of their behavior more salient to teens. For example, as of 2004, 17 states linked school attendance and grade point average (GPA) to the right to have a driver’s license.

Truancy Sources

National Center for School Engagement
Federal Probation Newsletter, December, 2004

Troubled Teen Issues

Teen Gambling

Teen Gambling

Research from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Annenberg Public Policy Center seems to indicate a nearly 600% increase in gambling in post-secondary institutions between 2001 and 2005, with over 15% of students engaging in gambling each week in 2005. Although most of the gamblers are over 21, most first and many second year college students are still teens, and even if they are not active participants, this is part of the situation in which they are living. To understand more about teens and gambling, keep reading.

Understanding Teen Gambling

One of the problems with gambling is that it can start off with innocent competition, for example, two teens tossing a football or Frisbee and one says, “I bet I can throw it farther than you” or “I bet I can hit that tree over there,” or something of the sort. This might end with a throw and nothing more. Or it may turn into a situation in which money, property, services, and the teens’ futures are staked on the outcome of this single action.

In the situation proposed, there is nothing wrong with the action itself. Throwing a football or Frisbee is not illegal or immoral. And some gambling is based on such everyday actions. Other teen gambling can take on a different dimension because it is based on illegal actions.

The legalization of casino gambling and the draw of Internet gambling are two factors contributing to the increase. In addition, in many states, gambling is legal at age 18, and even if they are not allowed to participate in all forms of gambling, older teens can gamble without breaking the law.

Gambling has been glamorized and popularized with the World Series of Poker being televised (including reruns!), Poker is the type of gambling that has experienced the greatest increase in the twenty-first century. The popular Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen movies have also contributed to bringing gambling into the public eye.

Gambling online has introduced a new twist – instead of having to put up cash to gamble, one can gamble with credit chards. In addition, one doesn’t have to wait to find a group of people who are awake and willing-it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Another issue may be the broadcast government-sponsored encouragements to gamble in state-run lotteries. Purchasing lottery tickets and betting on sports are the road in to a serious gambling problem for many.

Because gambling had not been a major problem, it has not been a part of regular health surveys, and the true extent of teen gambling may not yet be known. As it becomes apparent that gambling is an important issue-one estimate suggests that 80% of teens have gamble at least one time per year and in November of 2007, a survey in New York estimated that 10 percent of the state’s teens have a gambling problem-anti-gambling education is being considered, and campus policies regarding sanctioned “casino nights” and other school-sponsored gambling is under scrutiny.

Causes and Consequences of Teen Gambling

As a result of teen gambling, there are more teens with debt that they cannot hope to pay back, and a link to stealing and lying. Gambling is an addiction, and gamblers may spend more and more time on that activity, and less on schoolwork and relationships with family and friends.

Gambling is linked to other behaviors and factors such as poor academic performance, less well-educated parents, alcohol and drug abuse, binge drinking, and attending school in a state in which at least two kinds of gambling are legal. Because compulsive gamblers are risk takers gone awry and often among the brightest students-the one’s who can do the math to figure the odds-they are usually highly engaged with at least part of the world, and their behavior may not be as easy to spot as that of a seriously depressed and withdrawn teen.

Gambling Sources

National Criminal Justice Reference Service
Studying Teen Gambling – And Adding to It – The New York Times online
The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention

Troubled Teen Issues

Gang Statistics

After nearly five years of decline from 1996 to 2001, gang problems seem to be on the rise again. This article talks about the statistical findings leading to this conclusions and some statistically sound approaches to gang involvement.

The Decade of Teen Gang Decrease

In 1995, the year that The National Youth Gang Center (NYGC) instituted the annual National Youth Gang Survey (NYGY), the percentage of respondents who report gang problems has been falling in every area type. The four area types are:

  • Larger cities (those with a population greater than 50,000)
  • Suburban counties
  • Smaller cities (those with a population of between 2,500 people and 49,999 people)
  • Rural counties 

In the first three years of the survey, gang problems were experienced more in more populous areas and less in less populous areas, with Rural counties having less than half the reports of gang problems as experienced in suburban counties, and a bit more than a third of the gang problems reported in Larger cities. The figures were from largest to smallest, 85.6%, 56.0%, 36.5%, and 24.3%.

By the period 1999-2001, those figures had fallen, in some cases, dramatically. Gang problems in rural counties were nearly cut in half (13.5%), while smaller cities saw their gang problems drop by nearly a third (25.9%). Suburban counties had a drop in gang problems of more than a quarter (40.8%). And Larger cities saw a reduction of about a tenth (77.6%).

By 2002, teen gang problems were back on the rise, particularly in the larger areas, and the most recent figures, from 2006, show a continuation of that trend. From 1999-2001 to 2006, Rural counties saw an increase of 1.5% to 14.9%. Smaller cities reported an increase of 6.7% to 32.6%. Suburban counties, though, had an increase of 10.2% for a total of 51%. And Larger cities rose 8.8% to 86.4%.

These gang statistics, however, do not tell the whole story. It is interesting to note that the majority of reports from smaller cities and rural counties, even with the increasing numbers of gangs, had no gang-related homicides, i.e., no homicides in which either a victim or a perpetrator was a gang member. Cities having populations of over 100,000 people, by contrast, tended to have at least one gang-related homicide.

While homicide was not closely associated with teen gang activity in all cases, other crimes carried a more significant link. In 2006, areas that reported an increase of gang-related crime found that it occurred in these areas, and in this order of frequency:

  • aggravated assault
  • drug sales
  • robbery
  • larceny/theft
  • burglary
  • auto theft 

The factors that were indicated as most important in increasing the level of gang-related violence were, in order of reporting:

  • conflicts between gangs
  • factors related to drugs
  • migration of gang members within the United States
  • the rise of newly formed gangs
  • the return to the area of gang members who had been incarcerated
  • conflicts within gangs
  • migration of gang members from outside of the United States 

Statistically Likely Signs of Teen Gang Involvement

Teens who exhibit multiple instances of the following signs may be involved in gang activity. These signs do not guarantee gang involvement, and especially when considered alone, may be representative of something entirely different.

  • knowingly associates with gang members
  • uses secret codes or signals to communicate with associates
  • fixates on particular colors of clothing or a particular logo used on clothing and to decorate other items: this may include posters, tattoos, jewelry, etc.
  • has unexplained physical injuries that seem related to fighting
  • has more cash or more valuable possessions than one might reasonably expect
  • shows particular interest in gang activities, gang-related media and entertainment, etc.
  • raises police interest
  • withdraws from family, school, and community activities
  • breaks his/her curfew and other rules
  • is determinedly secretive
  • exhibits declines in school performance
Troubled Teen Issues

Teen Violence

Occurrence of Teen Violence and Consequences of Teen Violence
In 2002, more than 877,700 young people ages 10 to 24 were injured from violent acts. Approximately 1 in 13 required hospitalization (CDC 2004).

Teen Violence causes, incidence, and risk factors.
Homicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 overall. In this age group, it is the leading cause of death for African-Americans, the second leading cause of death for Hispanics, and the third leading cause of death for American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Asian Pacific Islanders (Anderson and Smith 2003).

In 2001, 5,486 young people ages 10 to 24 were murdered, an average of 15 each day (CDC 2004).

In 2001, 79% of homicide victims ages 10 to 24 were killed with firearms (CDC 2004).

In a nationwide survey, 17% of students reported carrying a weapon (e.g., gun, knife, or club) on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the survey (Grunbaum et al. 2004).

Among students nationwide, 33% reported being in a physical fight one or more times in the 12 months preceding the survey (Grunbaum et al. 2004).

Nationwide, 9% of students reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months prior to being surveyed (Grunbaum et al. 2004).

Groups at Risk of Teen Violence
Of the 5,486 homicides reported in the 10 to 24 age group in 2001, 85% (4,659) were males and 15% (827) were females (CDC 2004).
A nationwide survey found male students (41%) more likely to have been involved in a physical fight than female students (25%) in the 12 months preceding the survey (Grunbaum et al. 2004).
A nationwide survey found female students (12%) more likely than male students (6%) to have been forced to have sexual intercourse (Grunbaum et al. 2004).

Risk Factors for Teen Violence
Individual Factors in Teen Violence:
Attention deficits/hyperactivity
Antisocial beliefs and attitudes
History of early aggressive behavior
Involvement with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco
Early involvement in general offenses
Low IQ
Poor behavioral control
Social cognitive or information-processing deficits

Family Factors in Youth Violence:
Authoritarian childrearing attitudes
Exposure to violence and family conflict
Harsh, lax, or inconsistent disciplinary practices
Lack of involvement in the child’s life
Low emotional attachment to parents or caregivers
Low parental education and income
Parental substance abuse and criminality
Poor family functioning
Poor monitoring and supervision of children

Protective Factors for Teen Violence Prevention
Individual Protective Factors:
Intolerant attitude toward deviance
High IQ
Positive social orientation
Peer/School Protective Factors:
Commitment to school
Involvement in social activities

Troubled Teen Issues

Behavior Problems

Not everything that can happen will happen. This is a good thing to keep in mind when considering the range of issues that can afflict adolescents. It is also important to remember that because of chemical and hormonal imbalances, the difficulties of creating an identity, the sensitivities of adolescents, and the tensions between being cool to peers and respectful to parents, all teens are likely to—at least occasionally—behave in a way that their parents deem unacceptable.

But here, we’re not discussing a child who occasionally swears, breaks curfew, takes more ice cream than you said he or she could, or argues heatedly for more time with the family car. This article focuses on and provides an overview of the more concerning behavior problems that can afflict a teen.

What Is a Behavior Problem?

Although some people may casually lump all issues when teens act in a problematic way as “behavior problems,” it is actually useful to distinguish behavior problems from other types of issues. For example, a mental health issue may lead to problematic behaviors, but a mood disorder, like bipolar disorder, is not a “behavior problem” per se.

In addition, what appears to be a behavior problem may be caused by a different type of underlying issue—for example, substance abuse that arises out of an attempt to deal with a major depression. If this is the case, treating the behavior in isolation from its root cause will not be successful: the substance abuse and depression need to be addressed in tandem.

The role of an apparent behavior problem in signaling other issues may be more evident in a teen than in an adult. For example, an adult who can’t afford to lose his or her job may have the maturity, experience, and self-preservation instincts to hide his or her feelings about some practice or situation that seems entirely unfair in the workplace. A teen faced with the same situation or practice at school or at work and not having the same level of maturity may manifest his or her contempt or righteous indignation by his or her behavior, whether words or actions or facial expressions.

In addition, some types of problem seem to defy clear categorization. When one person does physical harm to another person or property, is it even without some other type of mental health issue? It’s difficult to say. Even the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (ICD-10) groups “Mental and behavioral disorders” as a group. For these reasons, the list below does not attempt to be complete or to sort out all the issues of what is a behavior problem and what would be better classified in another way.

Some Behavior Problems that May Afflict Adolescents and Require Expert Help

• Teenagers are curious, and they may try substances that are illegal period or illegal for them to use at their age. If there is no other underlying cause, then substance abuse is a behavior problem.

• There are several behavior problems that the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision) classifies under the heading Attention-deficit and disruptive behavior disorders. These include the following:

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), which has four subtypes
  • Conduct Disorder, which has three subtypes
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Disruptive Behavior Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)

• The DSM-IV-TR also includes Antisocial behavior with two subtypes

• The ICD-10 classifies a group of “Behavioral syndromes,” that lists eating disorders—including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, overeating, and vomiting—are often linked to adolescence.

• The ICD-10 also lists “Behavioral and emotional disorders with onset usually occurring in childhood and adolescence.” The ones most closely tied to behavior include:

  • Hyperkinetic disorders, of which Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a subgroup
  • Conduct disorders, which in the ICD-10 includes Oppositional defiant disorder
Troubled Teen Issues

Teen Pregnancy

Teen Pregnancy Statistics and Teen Pregnancy Facts

The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western industrialized world. Teen pregnancy costs the United States at least $7 billion annually.

Thirty-four percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20 — about 820,000 a year. Eight in ten of these teen pregnancies are unintended and 79 percent are to unmarried teens.

The teen birth rate has declined slowly but steadily from 1991 to 2002 with an overall decline of 30 percent for those aged 15 to 19. These recent declines reverse the 23-percent rise in the teenage birth rate from 1986 to 1991. The largest decline since 1991 by race was for black women. The birth rate for black teens aged 15 to 19 fell 42 percent between 1991 to 2002. Hispanic teen birth rates declined 20 percent between 1991 and 2002. The rates of both Hispanics and blacks, however, remain higher than for other groups. Hispanic teens now have the highest teenage birth rates. Most teenagers giving birth before 1980 were married whereas most teens giving birth today are unmarried.

The younger a teenaged girl is when she has sex for the first time, the more likely she is to have had unwanted or non-voluntary sex. Close to four in ten girls who had first intercourse at 13 or 14 report it was either non-voluntary or unwanted.

Teenage Pregnancy Consequences
Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school (only one-third receive a high school diploma) and only 1.5% have a college degree by age 30. Teen mothers are more likely to end up on welfare (nearly 80 percent of unmarried teen mothers end up on welfare).

The children of teenage mothers have lower birth weights, are more likely to perform poorly in school, and are at greater risk of abuse and neglect.

The sons of teen mothers are 13 percent more likely to end up in prison while teen daughters are 22 percent more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention
The primary reason that teenage girls who have never had intercourse give for abstaining from sex is that having sex would be against their religious or moral values. Other reasons cited include desire to avoid pregnancy, fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and not having met the appropriate partner. Three of four girls and over half of boys report that girls who have sex do so because their boyfriends want them to.

Teenagers who have strong emotional attachments to their parents are much less likely to become sexually active at an early age and less likely to have a teen pregnancy.

Most people say teens should remain abstinent but should have access to contraception. Ninety-four percent of adults in the United States-and 91 percent of teenagers-think it important that school-aged children and teenagers be given a strong message from society that they should abstain from sex until they are out of high school. Seventy-eight percent of adults also think that sexually active teenagers should have access to contraception to prevent teen pregnancy.

Contraceptive use among sexually active teens has increased but remains inconsistent. Three-quarters of teens use some method of contraception (usually a condom) the first time they have sex. A sexually active teen who does not use contraception has a 90 percent chance of teen pregnancy within one year.

Parents rate high among many adolescents as trustworthy and preferred information sources on birth control. One in two teens say they “trust” their parents most for reliable and complete information about birth control, only 12 percent say a friend.

Teens who have been raised by both parents (biological or adoptive) from birth, have lower probabilities of having sex than youths who grew up in any other family situation. At age 16, 22 percent of girls from intact families and 44 percent of other girls have had sex at least once. Similarly, teens from intact, two-parent families are less likely to give birth in their teens than girls from other family backgrounds.

Teen Pregnancy information obtained from The National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy