In this module, you will be introduced to the topic of violence prevention. Adolescents and young adults have exhibited higher rates than young children or adults for both minor and serious forms of violence. For this reason, the information provided in this module focuses on youth violence, with specific attention given to violence prevention in schools and communities. You will find statistics on youth violence, definitions describing what behaviors constitute youth violence, risk factors to be aware of, warning signs, violence management and prevention strategies, and a plentitude of information about community, state and national resources aimed at reducing the rates of youth violence.
As a Masters student in Counseling, it is very important for you to have an appreciation for and an understanding of the types of violence that your clients are likely to present to you in your professional setting. Learning about types of violence, rates of occurrence and what you can do to prevent violence as a counselor will help you get more comfortable with the topic and your ability to handle the situations you will be confronted with.
Why is violence an issue that counselors need to be concerned with? Do you know how frequently violence occurs in our country? Are you aware of frequently violence occurs in schools? Do you know what constitutes violent behavior? Do you know how students feel about their personal safety? This kind of information will affect the content of the developmental curricula you develop and institute in your career as a counselor.
Since the 1980s, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has focused on violence prevention. The CDC views violence as a threat to the health and well-being of children and has given an increasing amount of attention to the topic. When their efforts first started, they focused on the prevention of youth violence and suicide attempts. More recently, the Division of Violence Prevention, which is part of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, designated the following areas as priorities in preventing violence. Follow the links below to learn about the four categories of violence as defined by the CDC. Youth violence is the focus of this module, but the information available in links to the three other violence categories is also of great value and worth exploring.
As new counselors, it is often difficult to discern truly violent behaviors in youth, unless these behaviors are extreme, overtly dangerous and unmistakable. You may encounter children who are aggressive in their play, belligerent or passive-aggressive in their interactions with teachers or peers, but you may not feel convinced that their behavior constitutes violent behavior. The following list of behaviors gives you an idea of what kinds of violent behavior you will likely see in working with youth, and the different levels of severity.
Harassment and Bullying are two problems that schools and community youth agencies are making concerted efforts to curb through preventative, developmental programs.
Children learn early on in their development that there are values to being perceived as aggressive. When they are young, the “roughhousing” one might see on a playground or in a backyard allows children to develop affiliations with others, helps them select their friends, establishes their place in the natural dominance hierarchy and helps them develop what are often very useful fighting skills. This does not mean that children who engage in this behavior, whether it is physically or verbally aggressive, intend to carry out any “threats” they may make in this process of identity development. It is only when this “rough and tumble” behavior persists in pursuit of outright domination that it becomes a problem.
As children mature, their behavior becomes more intentional. Exposure to social diversity, coupled with the overwhelming need to be respected and to feel a sense of belonging in a peer group increases the intensity of rough or aggressive interaction. The competition for status that young people engage in can become increasingly vicious. The insistence on being dominant turns into bullying, which can, in turn, develop into antisocial and/or aggressive behavior. If a youth does not find an alternative means of establishing his or her social position (such as success in school, music, sports, etc.), it is more likely that he or she will continue to use the means that have worked up to this point–aggressive behavior.
Dr. Arnold Goldstein, a leading practitioner, educator and researcher in the field of aggression management/replacement training and pro-social skills development, published some excellent books that explore the development of aggression in young people and ways in which aggressive behaviors can be managed and replaced with more functional behaviors. When looking at where aggressive behaviors stem from, Dr. Goldstein and his coauthors posit that aggression is primarily learned behavior; learned by observation, imitation, direct experience and rehearsal. Coercive parenting characterized by irritability and inconsistency is blamed for producing “temperamental” children who throw tantrums to get what they want. You’ll usually see this at ages 2-3, also known as the “terrible twos”. Children learn to be aggressive by watching what happens in the home and discovering that aggressive behavior can get them what they want. Once they get a couple of years older and are on the playground with their friends, they revert to what they know and use aggressive behaviors to get the toys they want and dominate their peers. Now these children begin to be labeled as “oppositional” or “problem children”. Other kids who have not learned these aggressive behaviors shy away from befriending those who are bullying them, and the aggressive children find one another. They form a peer group that encourages this behavior and normalizes aggressive behavior as an acceptable way to gain attention. As the years go by, these aggressive behaviors become more intense, more frequent, and lead to children having “conduct disorders” and becoming “juvenile delinquents”. (This is just a thumbnail sketch of the process that Dr. Goldstein describes in his book, Aggression Replacement Training.)
In addition to the home, schools and the media also have significant effects on aggressive behavior. Children may have direct learning experiences, during which they themselves are involved in aggressive behavior (as a victim or perpetrator), or vicarious learning experiences, where they watch aggressive interactions of others. The mass media has had a truly profound effect on children. Dr. Goldstein highlights three different consequences that children face after significant exposure to violent media such as television, movies, magazines, comic books and video games:
To learn more about the effects that the media has had on aggressive behavior in children, check out:
The most recent and comprehensive legislation regarding youth violence is the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act, which went into effect on November 1, 2000. Commonly referred to as Project SAVE, this act aims to protect students and staff and ensure a safe climate for learning. It includes new initiatives with regard to student codes of conduct, student suspensions and school safety plans.
Here are some of the main points from the Project SAVE legislation that you, as counselors, need to be aware of:
As new counselors, you will be required to complete a two-hour training workshop in the identification, reporting and prevention of school violence in order to receive your School Counselor Certification. These workshops are offered through state approved teacher and counselor preparation programs and are also available through regional certification organizations such as BOCES, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services.
It is very important for you as a counseling professional to be familiar with your school’s “plan”, and with your role in that plan. Project Save has outlined a number of criteria that school districts must meet in order to effectively provide safe school environments and adequate emergency responses. Each school has it’s own variation on Project SAVE’s mandates. It is critical that you are aware of these plans and policies.
When you are completing your practicum and/or internship, you host school or agency may offer you the opportunity to participate in violence prevention workshops offered through their organization. Make every effort to attend and collect information on the topic. The same holds true for you when you are employed full-time as a counselor. It is critical that you educate yourself on the topic continuously so that your understanding of the problem and related legislation remains current and applicable!
Let it first be said that most threats by youths are never actually carried out. But in this day and age of rising youth violence rates, it is imperative that counselors in all areas of the profession be aware of the warning signs that can help you distinguish between a true threat and an empty one. In determining the legitimacy of a threat, as with anything else, you must consider the threat in the context of the person’s past behavior, personality, and the current stressors leading to the threat. There are three main threats that should cause you to worry:
If a person falls under any of the above, you need to assess your next move by considering how serious the person appears to be, along with everything you know about the person who made the threat. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you assess how seriously you should take the threat of violence:
You do not have to be blind sided by a violent incident in your school. There are risk factors that you can be aware of and be on the lookout for so that you are better able to recognize potentially violent situations and clients.
To stop violence before it occurs, it is critical that you know what the early warning signs of violent behavior are. Read on to learn about behaviors that can signal potentially violent behaviors:
If you are seeing the following behaviors in your students or clients, it is very likely that a violent incident occurring is only a matter of time.
If you are convinced that violent behavior is about to occur, there are a number of things that you can do as a counselor. Before all else, remain as calm as possible. You will be looked to for information and instruction by administrators, parents, the community and other youth in the event that a potentially violent act is initiated. By preparing yourself now for this kind of event, you are taking steps toward being calm in what can be an extremely stressful situation. Remember to do the following things:
Now that we know that youth violence is a significant social problem, we know some of the root causes of aggressive and violent behaviors, and we have a clear picture of what to do when confronted with threats of violence, it is time to focus on what we as counselors can and should be doing to prevent violence in the first place. There are a number of elements that are key to effective violence prevention. Children MUST have competent skill bases in the following areas:
An effective program will prevent or reduce substance abuse or violent and disruptive behavior, will begin to change the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs that lead to substance abuse and violent behavior, and promote and strengthen positive behaviors and skills. As a counselor seeking to reduce the likelihood of violence, you want to create motivation for learning pro-social skills, demonstrate those skills, have students practice those skills and then implement them into real life situations.
Mentoring can be a very powerful tool to help children who may feel otherwise disconnected from school and society to gain a sense of belonging. The sites listed below provide a lot of information about setting up your own mentoring program and utilizing the mentoring resources that are currently available.
Conflict resolution and peer mediation have gained widespread popularity as methods of deterring violence. When children (and adults) learn the skills to handle disagreements respectfully and calmly, it is less likely that violence will occur.
As was mentioned previously, if you are giving children one message at school and they are receiving a different message at home, you will have a very difficult time preventing violent behavior. It is extremely important to let parents know what you are trying to do, and to encourage them to support your violence prevention curriculum at home. You can do this by including them in activities you plan as part of your program, and educating them about what your goals are. There are many sites devoted to helping parents deal with aggressive children, as well as helping them play a part in the prevention of violence among children.
Helping children develop social skills and life skills enables them to interact in healthy, productive ways with those around them. This training pays attention to the development of health and assertiveness skills, promotes responsibility for self, and respect for self and others. It also gives children the tools they need to develop positive relationships with others, thereby diminishing the likelihood of drug use or violence. Children gain personal, social, cognitive and environmental skills necessary for peaceful interactions.
As the rate of youth violence has climbed in the past decades, so has the number of programs developed to combat this problem. Many schools will design their own violence prevention program by taking bits and pieces of the “characteristics of effective prevention programs” and incorporating them into the existing school/counseling curriculum. There are formally designed, comprehensive violence prevention programs that have been implemented and evaluated at schools around the world, and more and more research is surfacing that can point professionals in the direction of those programs that are truly successful in reducing the incidents of youth violence in educational settings. To find information on the content and implementation of some violence prevention programs that have been shown, thus far, to be effective, explore the following sites: