A single approach to preventing youth violence is not sufficient. A youth is affected many things in his/her environment and prevention must address those multiple factors.
Reducing Exposure to Violence. As a society, we are much better at protecting partners from a violent significant other today than 30 years ago.
We must now move ahead and protect children from the devastating effects of exposure to domestic violence (DV). DV traumatizes young people and sends them the wrong message about how to engage in interpersonal relationships. Every DV case that comes to the Courts should have a caseworker assigned to assess the well-being of the children in the family.
Excessive use of violent games and movies desensitizes our most vulnerable youth to the horror of violence, making it easier to commit violence. We should limit youth exposure to violent media just a surely as we limit their access to alcohol and tobacco. Community efforts to reduce neighborhood violence, such as neighborhood watch, can be very effective, as well.
School Success. We all need to experience success. A youth’s main job is school and he needs to feel successful there. Programs such as Positive Behavioral Incentive System (PBIS), school based mental health, involvement in positive school activities, IEP’s, and additional services for learning problems have proven that they can improve many children and teens feelings of accomplishment in school, thus reducing the likelihood that school frustration can contribute to future acts of violence by students.
Skill Building. Many “at risk” youth need help to build the coping skills they need to resist the “pull” of gangs and engage in healthy activities. (When is the last time you engaged in healthy exercise or eating without encouragement?) Youth need mentors that will help them with problem solving, anger management and dealing with the neighborhood bully. Many of us can take 5 or 6 hours out of our week to include a youth in our activities. Additionally, there are many skill building programs that can be used after and during school to teach skills and values and respect for others.
Trauma Therapy. Many youth who are at risk for violent behaviors have been traumatized at some time in their lives. They repeat the trauma they have experienced, sometimes violently, until they resolve it emotionally and cognitively. This can be done more effectively in therapy without the risk that a youth will act out his aggression on others.
Family Supports. Most parents want to be good parents. However, some lack skills and strengths they need to be effective parents. Some are willing to learn new skills, give up addictions, get treatment for a mental illness, get treatment for anger management or domestic violence, go to parenting classes, or enter family therapy for the sake of their children. When parents are willing to do these things, we must provide the supports necessary for them to be successful.
Reduce Bullying. Schools need to have a zero tolerance for bullying. They should to be teaching respect instead of accepting bullying as a normal thing kids do. There are anti-bullying programs that can be used school-wide. Programs like Olweus, “Character Counts,” and “Don’t Laugh at Me” have materials that can be used throughout a school to build an atmosphere of respect for others.
Put Your Best Foot Forward. In order to be successful, youth need to feel competent and confident. They need to hear praise for what they do well every day. What you pay attention to, will increase. Catch them being good and praise them to the rooftops. Show the goal, the way to go, and praise every step in the right direction. Youth can change their behavior, but they need encouragement to do so.
These are just a few ideas. There are many more. Think about what made you feel good about yourself as a child. These are the experiences that all youth need, especially “at risk/promise” young people. Each of us can play a part. It takes a community to stop violence.
Dr. Kathryn Seifert is a psychotherapist with over 30 years experience in mental health, addictions, and criminal justice work. Dr. Seifert has authored the CARE 2 and “How Children Become Violent, Professional Version.” The parent version of How Children Become Violent will be released this fall. She speaks nationally on mental health related topics and youth violence. She is an expert witness in the areas of youth and adult violence and sexual offending. http://www.drkathyseifert.com
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