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Physical Neglect May Lead to Violent Behavior in Young Men

A lonely adolescent boy sits on a swingPrisons are filled with people facing mental health challenges, struggles with addiction, a history of trauma, or memories of childhood abuse. The rate of such challenges among prisoners is much higher than in the general population, providing strong evidence that challenging experiences can lead to criminal behavior. According to a new study, though, the single best predictor of violence among young men is physical neglect during childhood.

Physical Neglect and Violent Behavior

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse, and physical neglect includes behaviors such as not providing a child with proper medical care, providing clothing that’s not sufficiently warm, or giving a child no food.

To evaluate the relationship between physical neglect and violent behavior, researchers surveyed 85 adolescent males incarcerated in a Pennsylvania detention center. Each of the participants had committed an act of violence such as fighting with another student or using a weapon to intimidate another person.

Twenty-five participants–almost 30% of the group—reported experiencing neglect. While several study participants reported physical abuse and two reported sexual abuse, neglect was the single biggest predictor of violent behavior, even among inmates who had experienced multiple types of abuse.

Preventing Child Neglect

Child neglect is a serious public health problem. In 2005, for example, it accounted for almost half of all child abuse-related fatalities. The study’s authors emphasize the need for early interventions to prevent child neglect. Since neglect is an act of omission rather than a form of deliberate abuse, some parents may neglect their children due to a poor understanding of proper parenting, poverty, stress, or mental health challenges.

If you suspect a child you know is being neglected, ask what you can do to help. You can also call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453).


  1. Child abuse and neglect frequently asked question #7. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Child neglect. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Violence in adolescent boys may be fueled by neglect during childhood. (2014, August 20). Retrieved from

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  • Landon

    August 21st, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    Child abuse and neglect are inexcusable and I think that if you loom not only at juvenile offenders but adult inmates as well, in most of their lives you will see that there has been this pattern of abuse and neglect in their lives from the very beginning.

    I think that we often lose sight of just how important that it is for us to grow up in a loving and nurturing family but for those who don’t they are always in trouble and finding new and grander ways to act out and receive that attention (good or bad) that they clearly missed out on when they were young.

  • Emery

    August 21st, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    Typically we will very much follow the behavioral patterns which have been modeled to us as we were growing up. If we witnessed a great deal of abuse and neglect in the home where we were raised, and I use that term lightly then it is likely that we will also inflict this upon others in our own lives. It is not that we are predisposed to this, but when this is all that has been shown to you then how do you know any way to act differently? We always say that the cycle of abuse needs to be broken, but that is very difficult to do when this is all that you ahve ever known in life.

  • Christina Dalpiaz

    August 22nd, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    During 2nd week of relapse prevention group, I learned two young men who were incarcerated were having a birthday. The next week I brought them a birthday cake and they initially met me with reservation and asked accusatorially why I brought them a cake. Confused by their suspicion I quizzically remarked, “I thought you said it was your birthday…everyone should have a cake on their birthday.” Both young men admitted that nobody had ever given them a cake for their birthday—EVER. From that day forward those boys not only paid attention in group they set the tone for all the others. I was golden. They listened, trusted and complied. A simple act of kindness that met a emotional need. It was that small. Maslow reported so long ago that basic needs are critical. I appreciate the ACE research for capitalizing on this. Hurt people, hurt people

  • Taki

    August 23rd, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    it’s the samll things that can actually make such a HUGE difference in the lives of children who have lived thru this pain

  • Gary c

    August 25th, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    It is so sad but it can be years before much of this comes to light and we actually gain a clear picture of how much these kids have been hurt and how much many of them suffer due to the neglect. No matter how much love they end up with in their lives it is like they are always racing to catch up on what they were missing out on as children and there is never any real catching up.

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