Violence prevention initiatives have gained great popularity for several reasons. First, the prevalence of violence suggests that public health approaches (including widespread education and prevention) are more effective than relying on treatment of youth deemed to be violent. Second, the consequences of violence are such that any efforts that reduce violence will result in less pain and suffering for victims. Third, successful violence prevention initiatives have a double impact— they can prevent current violence (such as bullying in schools), but also interrupt trajectories of aggression and prevent future violence (such as domestic violence among adults). Most violence prevention programs focus on relational aggression (such as bullying, peer violence, and dating violence) because the vast majority of interpersonal violence occurs in relationships (as opposed to stranger violence).
Role Of Schools In Preventing Violence
Schools are an optimal setting for the delivery of prevention programs. They have access to virtually all children and the structured environment that allows for integrated and cohesive programming, and there is not the stigma of being selected to attend a special program, as all children and youth participate in the prevention program. School-based programs are also important because school is where much relational aggression occurs. In addition, violence in schools has a profound negative impact on youths’ ability to learn.
Ineffective Prevention Programs
Some prevention programs have gained considerable popularity because they sound good and promise a quick fix to youth violence (such as juvenile awareness programs that take youth to correctional facilities and boot camps). Some characteristics of ineffective programs include insufficient duration, lack of developmentally appropriate focus, and mismatch with accepted theories of the development of violent behavior. Furthermore, zero tolerance programs have not been found to be effective. Programs that offer a quick fix should be viewed with skepticism. Violence is a complex phenomenon with many different contributors, and effective programs address these multiple factors.
Best Practice Principles
Effective violence prevention programs are based on theoretically sound principles and research findings. Based on the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report in 2000 and the Blueprints Violence Prevention Initiative, successful programs:
(a) Are comprehensive in nature. Effective programs target multiple levels of influence, such as individuals, parents, school climate, and teacher training. They can also be comprehensive with respect to addressing overlapping risk behaviors (such as the Life Skills Training program, which concurrently addresses substance use and violence). By definition, a comprehensive approach suggests a reasonable duration and cannot be achieved through single activities such as a guest speaker or assembly alone.
(b) Focus on skills. Most typically communication and problem-solving skills are taught in effective programs. These programs use interactive, skill-based strategies (such as role-play), and do not rely on information and didactic approaches to transfer skills.
(c) Pick appropriate targets for change. Effective programs target factors known to be related to the problem behavior. Attitudes and skills, school connectedness, and coping skills are examples of appropriate prevention targets because they are all implicated in the development and use of violence. Bystander involvement is another excellent target because of the role played by bystanders in violence (particularly bullying).
(d) Use peers in the delivery of the program. Effective programs may include peer facilitators, a peer mentoring component, or youth committee. The use of peers increases the salience of the material as youth identify more readily with these role models.
(e) Include parents. Although the extent and nature of appropriate parental involvement depends on the developmental stage of the youth, some parental involvement is regarded as a critical component for effective prevention programs.
(f) Attempt to change the larger environment. Effective programs recognize the complex ecology of youths’ lives and work to change these environments. For example, in school based programming, attempts to change the environment may include altering norms about help-seeking and building the capacity of teachers and administrators to respond to violence.
(g) Attend to implementation issues. Effective programs understand that implementation issues are as critical as the program materials themselves. In the school setting, providing adequate resources for teacher training is essential. Furthermore, training needs to be ongoing rather than a one-time event to address teacher turnover and to prevent program drift.
Effectiveness Of School-Based Prevention Programs
Bullying programs have had the most evaluation research to date. Results of these evaluations show that comprehensive programs that follow best practice principles are effective in reducing school-based violence. Longitudinal follow-up data suggest that these effects last well beyond the intervention. Dating violence prevention programs have mostly been evaluated with self-report attitudinal data. These studies suggest that changing attitudes is possible; however, the extent to which these attitudinal changes translate to behavioral change is less clear. Interested readers are directed to the Blueprints project of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence for a list of the most rigorously evaluated and successful programs.
There are several trends emerging for future school based violence prevention programs and research. Integration into school curriculum has been heralded as an important shift away from “add-on” programs. Programs are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that allows flexibility for unique cultural and geographic considerations. Programs with developmentally appropriate components for each grade level are replacing programs that are implemented only during one grade. Finally, research for dating violence prevention programs specifically requires outcome measures beyond self-reported attitudes.
- Elliott, D. S. (1997–2004). Blueprints for violence prevention. Boulder, CO: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
- Mihalic, S. F., Fagan, A., Irwin, K., Ballard, D., & Elliott, D. (2004). Blueprints for violence prevention. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
- S. Public Health Service & Office of the Surgeon General. (2000). Youth violence: A report of the Surgeon General. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services.
- Wolfe, D. A., Jaffe, P. G., & Crooks, C. V. (2006). Adolescent risk behaviors: Why teens experiment and strategies to keep them safe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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