How a Positive Outlook on the Future May Protect Teens from Violence

youth violence: Soulful-looking young man in graduation gown, mortarboard with beard and mustache looks off to left

Georgia State University, CC BY-SA

Hope and goals for the future, such as graduating from college, can help protect teens from turning to violence.

The Conversation

Youth violence is pervasive and has serious consequences for teens’ health and well-being. Based on a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of ninth to 12th graders in the U.S., 1 in 6 youth report carrying a weapon in the past 30 days, and 1 in 4 report being in a physical fight in the past year. Each year, more than 200,000 youth seek care in emergency departments across the U.S. for assault-related injuries. Male teens in lower-resource urban settings bear the highest burden of exposure to violence.

As an adolescent medicine doctor and researcher, I study how we can protect teens from violence. Most research has focused on factors that increase risks for violence, yet we know much less about factors that protect teens. According to new research my colleagues and I published in JAMA Pediatrics, having a positive outlook on the future may protect male teens from violence perpetration.

Future orientation and violence

youth violence: Wholesome-looking young man wearing red polo shirt, blue backpack stands in front of schoolbus

Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

Teens who have hope and a future goal, such as going to college or being involved in their communities, are less likely to commit violence, a study suggests.

Teens who have hope and a future goal, such as going to college or being involved in their communities, are less likely to commit violence, a study suggests. Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock.com

Positive future orientation means having high hopes and plans for the future. This could include a broad range of ideas, such as plans to go to college, to pursue a certain career path, to excel in extracurricular activities or to be engaged in improving one’s community. Previous studies have linked positive future orientation to many important positive outcomes for youth, including doing well in school, avoiding illicit substances and being less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. This motivated our team to ask, “Can a positive outlook on the future protect teens from violence?”

youth violence: Alison Culyba (headshot), assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Pittsburgh, smiling woman with brown hair, wearing green and black

Alison Culyba

To study links between future orientation and violence perpetration, we surveyed 866 male teens between the ages of 13 and 19 in lower-resource neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. All the teens were part of a community-based sexual violence prevention study. We asked them a series of questions before they started the intervention program about their aspirations, goals and contributions, as well as about their involvement in violence. For example, teens answered, “I trust my future will turn out well” and “It is important to me that I reach my goals.”

In the past nine months, two-thirds, or 66 percent, had been in a fight. More than one-fourth, or 29 percent, had threatened someone with a weapon, and 1 in 7, or 15 percent, had injured someone with a weapon.

Just over half, or 58 percent, of teens in the study had positive future orientation based on their answers to seven survey items. They answered that survey items such as, “My life will make a positive difference in the world” were “a lot like me” or “exactly like me.”

We found that youth with positive future orientation were significantly less likely to report threatening someone with a weapon or injuring someone with a weapon in the past nine months. Teens with positive future orientation were 0.7 times less likely to report threatening someone with a weapon and 0.6 times less likely to report injuring someone with a weapon.

What do the findings mean?

Future orientation may help protect male teens in lower-resource urban neighborhoods from violence. Many excellent programs, such as Youth Empowerment Solutions, are already working with youth in lower-resource communities to reduce violence. Expanding programs that foster positive future orientation may be an important part of comprehensive youth violence prevention interventions.

It is important to consider how we can help youth develop positive future orientation and provide skills and opportunities for them to achieve their goals. Family members and mentors are likely to play key roles in supporting positive future orientation and reducing violence involvement.

A public health approach to youth violence prevention requires thoughtful and sustained investment in communities and community-based interventions that recognize and support existing strengths. Investing in community infrastructure, building safe spaces where teens can spend time together and creating career opportunities go hand in hand with promoting future orientation. I believe our findings, together with the work of other researchers and practitioners, show that it is essential to combine interventions that strengthen future orientation with meaningful opportunities for youth to engage in their communities and achieve their identified goals. In doing so, we can provide all teens with the opportunity to thrive.

Dr. Alison Culyba is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh. Her  research seeks to understand factors that protect youth from violence using novel methodological approaches.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation


Youth Today is the only independent, internationally distributed digital media publication that is read by thousands of professionals in the youth service field.

Youth Today adheres to high-quality journalistic standards, providing readers with professional news coverage dedicated to examining a wide spectrum of complex issues in the youth services industry from legislation to community-based youth work.


Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue.


We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Donors may be quoted, mentioned or featured in our stories. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions…(read more)

Youth Today's ISSN: 10896724
Our XML website site map:

Recent Comments



Logo Grant professional Association Business Alliance
LOGO Institute for Nonprofit News 3 turquoise boxes stacked in "J" shape

Copyright © 2019 Youth Today and MVP Themes --- Published by Center for Sustainable Journalism,
1200 Chastain Rd, MD 00310, Chastain Pointe Bldg 300, Suite 310, Kennesaw, GA 30144-5591

To Top