Which 'Broken Windows' Matter? School, Neighborhood, and Family Characteristics Associated with Youth's Feelings of Unsafety

Journal of Urban Health, Volume 80, Number 3, pages 400-415.
Mijanovich, T. & Weitzman, B.C.

Young people’s fears of victimization and feelings of unsafety constitute a serious and pervasive public health problem and appear to be associated with different factors than actual victimization. Our analysis of a population-based telephone survey of youths aged 10–18 years in five economically distressed cities and their suburbs reveals that a substantial minority of youths feel unsafe on any given day, and that an even greater number feel unsafe in school. While some traditional predictors of victimization (such as low socioeconomic status) were associated with feeling unsafe, perceived school disorder was the major factor associated with such feelings. Disorderliness may thus be the school’s version of “broken windows,” which serve to signal to students a lack of consistent adult concern and oversight that can leave them feeling unsafe. We suggest that fixing the broken windows of school disorderliness may have a significant, positive impact on adolescents’ feelings of safety.

Wagner Faculty