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Violent Adolescents and Their Educational Environment: A Multilevel Analysis

Thurnherr, Judit MD; Berchtold, André PhD; Michaud, Pierre-André MD; Akre, Christina MA; Suris, Joan-Carles MD, PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: October 2008 - Volume 29 - Issue 5 - p 351-359
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e318175330d
Original Article

Objective: This study examined the respective roles of personal and environmental factors in youth violence in a nationally representative sample of 7548 postmandatory school students and apprentices ages 16–20 years in Switzerland.

Methods: Youth violence was defined as having committed at least one of the following in the previous 12 months: attacking an adult, snatching something, carrying a weapon, or using a weapon in a fight.

Different ecological levels were tested, resulting in a three-level model only in males (individual, classroom, and school) as the low prevalence of female violence did not allow for a multilevel analysis. Dependent variables were attributed to each level. For males, the classroom level (10%) and the school level (24%) accounted for more than one third in interindividual variance.

Results: Factors associated with violence perpetration in females were being a victim of physical violence and sensation seeking at the individual level. In males, practicing unsafe sex, sensation seeking, being a victim of physical violence, having a poor relationship with parents, being depressed, and living in a single-parent household at the individual level; violence and antisocial acts at the classroom level; and being in a vocational school at the school level showed a correlation with violence perpetration.

Conclusion: Interventions at the classroom level as well as an explicit school policy on violence and other risk behaviors should be considered a priority when dealing with the problem of youth violence. Furthermore, prevention should take into account gender differences.

From the Research Group on Adolescent Health, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, and University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Received July 2007; accepted March 2008.

Address correspondence to: Joan-Carles Suris, MD, PhD, Research Group on Adolescent Health, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Bugnon 17, 1005 Lausanne, Switzerland; E-mail:

This survey was carried out with the financial support of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (contract 00.001721 / 2.24.02.-81) and the participating cantons.

The survey was run within a multicenter multidisciplinary group from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Lausanne, Switzerland (Véronique Addor, Chantal Diserens, André Jeannin, Guy van Melle, Pierre-André Michaud, Joan-Carles Suris); Institute for Psychology, Psychology of Development and Developmental Disorders, University of Berne, Switzerland (Françoise Alsaker, Andrea Bütikofer, Françoise Narring, Annemarie Tschumper); and the Sezione Sanitaria, Dipartimento della Sanità e della Socialità, Canton Ticino, Switzerland (Laura Inderwildi Bonivento).

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.