Community violence and its emotional, behavioral and academic consequences in Uruguayan adolescents


01/11/2015 - 01/11/2018

National Agency for Research and Innovation of Uruguay

Cindy Mels

With the relationship between exposure to violent events and psychological distress being well-established on an international level, a need arises to study the extent in which Latin American youths are affected by community violence. While Latin America – based on its staggering homicide rates – has been identified as the most violent region worldwide (UNDOC, 2014), little is known on the prevalence of community violence exposure in adolescents, nor on the specific consequences for their emotional and behavioral development.

Furthermore, although research has evidenced a persistent link between community violence exposure and poor academic outcomes, studies on the mediating role of emotional and behavioral problems caused by violence exposure are scarce. Nonetheless, this line of research has the potential of generating insights that could effectively inform school-based prevention programs to reduce academic failure and promote mental health in violence-affected youths.

The goal of this project is to advance our knowledge on the prevalence of community violence exposure in Uruguayan youths, its long-term emotional, behavioral and academic outcomes, and the underlying role of self-regulation. The data gathered in this study will nurture the community-based participatory development of a school-based prevention curriculum, which in turn will be evaluated using quantitative and qualitative data.


Despite the country’s promising development indicators, cumulating social segregation has become one of the main challenges in contemporary Uruguayan society during the past decade. In the capital Montevideo, the growing contrast between rich and poor is furthered by the social groups’ geographic segregation, pushing low-income families to the city’s periphery in search for affordable housing, often informal settlements or ‘asentamientos’. On top of the precarious economic conditions that households in these areas face, its youths are further disfavored by the unequally higher rates of community violence in the neighborhoods.

The effects of social-economic segregation are particularly salient in the area of education: in contrast with their economically advantaged peers, adolescents from low-income families are less likely to complete primary and secondary school studies, and obtain remarkably lower averages in student assessment programs such as PISA or TERCE. According to these evaluation systems, Uruguay is among the countries with the highest educational inequity rates, in a region that by itself is considered as a landmark of social inequality.


The aims of this project are the following:
1) Explore the type and prevalence of community violence exposure in adolescents living in low-income neighborhoods in Montevideo
2) Investigate emotional and behavioral outcomes (depression, anxiety, PTSD, conduct problems), self-regulation and academic outcomes (grade, school assistance and promotion) of community violence exposure in adolescents through longitudinal follow-up.
3) Investigate associations between emotional and behavioral problems and academic outcomes, and the mediating role of self-regulation.
4) Develop – following community-based participatory research methodology – and evaluate the effect of a school-based prevention curriculum on the prevalence of emotional, behavioral and academic outcomes of participating adolescents.


A first qualitative study aims to understand 1) the nature of violence exposure suffered by adolescents and the perceived emotional, behavioral and academic consequences; 2) identification of individual, social and educational resources; the identification of possible interventions; 3) evaluation of intervention proposals. Each of these themes are discussed in focus group sessions with adolescents and their teachers. This study takes place in two public secondary schools located in the periphery of Montevideo.

A second quantitative and longitudinal study investigates the prevalence of community violence exposure in adolescents, internalizing and externalizing problems, PTSD symptoms, emotional self-regulation, academic self-regulation and motivation, and academic achievement. It aims to increase understanding of the longitudinal relationship between the variables involved, and the mediating role of self-regulation in violence exposure outcomes. The sample will consists of 500 first grade secondary school students of 4 public schools in the periphery of Montevideo. The will be evaluated at three points: at the beginning of the academic year, 6 months later, and ultimately at 12 months.

A third study evaluates the intervention curriculum developed throughout study one, using a mixed method design. The quantitative data produced in study 2 will allow us to analyze the longitudinal effect of the intervention, comparing participants against a control group. Additionally, interviews will be conducted with adolescent participants and teachers that have implemented the curriculum in order to evaluate qualitatively processes underlying the intervention.