Psychological Consequences of Exposure to Gang Violence

Kelly, S. (2010). The psychological consequences to adolescents of exposure to gang violence in the community: An integrative review of the literature. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(2), 61-73.

Gang and community violence is a significant public health risk, with adolescents more likely to be the victims of violence than adults. Kelly (2010) conducted an extensive literature review to investigate the psychological consequences to adolescents of exposure to gang and community violence. She reviewed 103 studies on this topic that were published in peer-reviewed journals between 1990 and 2008. Her findings indicate that both externalizing behaviors and internalizing symptoms are associated with gang and community violence. Externalizing behaviors include use of violence, intent to use violence, aggression, rule breaking, use of alcohol, and interest or participation in gangs. Internalizing symptoms include anxiety, depression, insecurity, hopelessness, and post-traumatic stress reactions. Externalizing behaviors and internalizing symptoms were eased somewhat by parental support. Unfortunately, Kelly also found that this literature was plagued by serious methodological problems. These include a tendency toward small samples, convenience samples, self-reports, and failure to demonstrate causal links between variables. The author emphasized the need for more methodologically rigorous research in the future in order to better understand and minimize the deleterious psychological consequences of exposure to gang and community violence.

Making Connections

Correlation and causation
Social support

Media Supplement

Criminologist David M. Kennedy discusses his innovative approach to reducing gang violence in this NPR podcast. (31 min 14 sec)