The study included nearly 900 boys in poor areas of Pittsburgh, aged 13 to 19, who took part in a sexual violence prevention trial.
The researchers looked at 40 risk behaviors in categories such as youth violence, bullying, sexual and/or dating violence, exposure to violence and adversities, as well as substance use.
The study participants were asked to rate their level of adult social support. The findings showed that boys with high adult social support engaged in about eight of the 40 risk behaviors, compared with about 10 among those with low social support.
Those with high social support also had more goals for the future, such as careers, and were less likely to report all types of violent behavior, the investigators found.
Among boys with low social support, feeling happy at a school that promoted diversity was strongly associated with lower rates of dating abuse and physical and sexual partner violence, according to the study published online Sept. 13 in JAMA Network Open.
The researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, also found links between violent behaviors. The strongest links were between different types of sexual violence. For example, boys who endorsed posting sexual pictures of partners were 14 times more likely to say they'd coerced someone who they were going out with to have sex.
Gang involvement was not strongly associated with violence, but was more common among boys who'd been exposed to sexual violence, bullying or substance use, the study authors noted.
"Teen boys in urban neighborhoods are disproportionately exposed to violence and consequently are at higher risk of violence perpetration and victimization," said the study's senior author, Dr. Alison Culyba, an assistant professor of pediatrics.
"Historically, research often has focused on a single type of violence, but our study shows that there are complex co-occurring behavior patterns and shared protective factors that we need to pay attention to," she said in a university news release.
Creating programs that help parents and mentors support teen boys may help reduce multiple types of violence at the same time, Culyba said.
She noted that the findings align with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's violence prevention program, Connecting the Dots.