Purpose Community violence exposure (CVE) places youth at risk for developing aggressive/externalising behaviour, perpetuating the cycle of violence. One pathway may occur through the adoption of normative beliefs accepting of violence ‘“ a malleable, feasible intervention target for preventing community violence. This pathway is not well understood among Latino adolescents, despite their elevated CVE rates. This study examined whether positive attitudes toward violence mediates the link between CVE and externalising behaviours among Latino youth.
Methods This sample comprised 193 low-income Latino adolescents (Mage=15.5, 53% female), primarily Mexican-American (81%), living in urban neighbourhoods; 90% received free/reduced lunch. Youth completed survey measures of past-year CVE (adapted Things I Have Seen and Heard scale), attitudes toward violence (Youth Attitudes toward Guns and Violence Questionnaire), and externalising behaviours (Youth Self Report).
Results Hierarchical OLS regressions indicated that both community violence victimisation (ÃŸ=0.30) and witnessing (ÃŸ=0.28) was associated with positive attitudes about the use of violence (p<0.001), controlling for demographic covariates (sex, age, SES, grade retention). Further, CVE positively predicted externalising problems (ÃŸvictimization=0.26; ÃŸwitnessing=0.28; p<0.001), and the relations were partially mediated by positive attitudes about violence (ÃŸ=0.32, p<0.001). These results extended to specific beliefs that retaliatory aggression is necessary to protect one’s pride or family.
Conclusions Latino youth with high levels of CVE tend to endorse positive attitudes about the use of violence, which in turn predicts externalising behaviours. A cycle of violence may explain these findings, with CVE leading youth to value violence as normative and acceptable, prompting their own aggression. Longitudinal data collection is pending to more rigorously test this potential mechanism.
Significance/contributions to injury/violence prevention science Violence prevention interventions should target youths’ malleable attitudes toward violence that have developed to normalise their violence exposure in high-crime neighbourhoods. Such interventions would offer low-cost, feasible, and potentially high-impact solutions for preventing community violence.
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