Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development

According to Ervin Staub (1996, in press), the conditions and experience that create youth violence are the opposite of those that generate caring, helping, and altruism. They frustrate, of fail to fulfill, adolescents basic needs for security, a positive connections to other people, and comprehension of reality. The origins of aggression on socialization and experience include neglect, rejection, harsh treatment, and lack of nurturance (Dodge, 1993). Such practices create a need for self-defense. Permissiveness in the form of a lack of rules or lack of their enforcement contributes to aggression.

Aggression is reinforced when members of coercive families use force to exert influence or to stop others’ undesired actions. Prejudice and discrimination against ethnic minority youth also factor in violence (Staub & Rosenthal, 1994). And the strongest predictor of violence is poverty (Hill & others, 1994). Gangs are a major source of violence. Youth who encounter the socialization factors just mentioned often turn to and associate with other socially and educationally successful youth. Gangs can satisfy their unfulfilled basic needs, such as needs for a positive identity, connection to peers, and feelings of effectiveness and control.

However, gangs also often promote power, violence toward out-groups, and violent action. Violence in gangs often revolvers around of territory, honor, and drugs (Crowley & others, 1997). Intervening with children before they develop in-grained antisocial behaviors is an important dimension of reducing violence in youth. Slogan campaigns and scare tactics do not work. In one successful intervention, positive Adolescents Choices Training (PACT), African American 12- to 15-year-olds learn to manage their anger and resolves conflicts peacefully (Hammond, 1993).

Through the use of culturally sensitive videotapes, students learn to give and receive feedback, control their anger, and negotiate and compromise. The videotapes show peer role models demonstrating these skills, along with adult role models who encourage the participants to practice the techniques. Over the past 3 years, students in the program have spent less time in juvenile court for violence-related offense than have nonparticipants in a control group. The program students also have shown a drop in violence-related school suspensions and have improved their social and conflict-resolution skills.

The Safe Schools Act can help to foster programs such as PACT. Under the bill, schools can receive grants up to $3 million a year over 2 years to develop their own violence prevention programs. The initiatives could include comprehensive school safety strategies, coordination with community programs and agencies, and improved security to keep weapons out of the schools. To ensure that programs focus on prevention more than on enforcement, the grants allow only 33 percent of the funds to be used for metal detectors and security guards.

Interventions can reduce or prevent youth violence (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1995; Goldstein & Conoley, 1997). Effective prevention factors include developmentally appropriate schools, supportive families, and youth and community organizations. One promising specific strategy for preventing youth violence is the teaching of conflict management as part of health education in elementary and middle schools. To build resources for such programs, the Carnegie Foundation is supporting a national network of violence prevention practitioners. Let’s now examine prevention and intervention further.