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I just finished putting together a curriculum on male emotional development and regulation for one of my classes and I would love it if any of you would be willing to go and check it out, let me know what works and what doesn’t, and improvements I can make.  I love the beauty of 1.0.

Naming His Feelings

Research speaks about how children and adolescents “map out” the likelihood of interactions becoming violent.  In response to their mental maps, children and adolescents respond appropriately to the perceived likelihood of threat.  According to their research, childrens’ early experiences and witnessing violence in others are two major determinants to future violent behavior.  A question the reader is left with after reading Hudley is regarding the specifics of the “age appropriate interventions” they suggest.  Although they do mention neighborhood beautification and developing local leaders as tacks to change the mental maps of adolescents (Hudley 2007), the vicarious learning that children experience that teaches them that violence is the natural and expected outgrowth of certain behaviors, would seem to intuitively suggest that the learning to change those maps would also need to be in-vivo.  Given that intuitive expectation, what would be effective and ethical ways to teach, in-vivo, that confrontation doesn’t necessarily lead to violence?

Another important insight gleaned from the article is that the combination of aggressive behavior and rejection by peers is particularly potent when it comes to the etiology of children who grow up to fall through the cracks.  It makes intuitive sense that removing a child who already demonstrates negative coping (violent behaviors, antagonizing peers, internalizing behaviors) would lead to an increase in negative coping skills, because it removes them from their peers normative and socializing influence (Hudley, 2007).  Although social consequences for anti-social behaviors is a natural and logical consequence, how can practitioners help children and adolescents who demonstrate rule-breaking and disregard for the rights of others re-engage with their social milieu?  What role can or should practitioners play in manipulating the social environment to make it more fertile for reconciliation?  The question regarding the “should” of reconciliation is a more complicated one than just one of forgiving individuals who make mistakes.  By utilizing natural and logical consequences within a structured setting, practitioners empower victims to advocate for themselves and offenders to take ownership for their behaviors, and thusly, ownership for the ability to change them.  What is appropriate given the structure of the setting?  When do violent behaviors become anti-social?  Is it useful to delineate a difference?  It may be useful to consider brain development, yet again, when considering the timeliness of various interventions.

It is during early adolescence, approximately 9-14 years of age that the adolescent brain is involved intensely in the process of pruning.  During childhood, the brain “soaks up” knowledge and builds as many connections as they have experiences.  The pruning process is the process of trimming away the underutilized connections to strengthen those most commonly used (Santrock 2007).  It may be during this period that external attempts to change behavioral patterns may be most effective.  It is important to remember, however, that the brain maintains some plasticity throughout the rest of development.  The expression, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is just that, an expression.  It is certainly not a statement of biological fact.

Hudley, C. & Novak, A. (2007) Environmental influences, the developing brain, and aggressive behavior.  Theory into Practice. 46(2).  121-129

Santrock, J. (2007). Adolescence. 12th ed.  McGraw-Hill: New York, NY

In Reclaiming Children and Youth a recent article took a look at Conduct Disorder’s etiology for youth.  The writer of the article, Robert Foltz maintains that although brain imaging techniques can see some of the signs and signals of conduct disorder in adolescents already diagnosed with the disorder, the fact that children are already diagnosed suggest that the brain changess through neuroplasticity as a result of life experiences.  He notes that in 1999 the Surgeon General noted that “no drugs have been found to consistently decrease aggression in youth.”  However, Multisystemic Therapy and Positive Peer Culture have been found to be effective.  Ecological interventions would appear to be the most effective for youth dealing with conduct disorder.

Flotz, R. (2008).  Behind the veil of conduct disorder: challenging current assumptions in search of strengths. Reclaiming Children and Youth. 16(4). 5-9

My first job out of college was working at a group home for adolescent males who were former gang members or sex offenders.  One night I was chatting with my supervisor and asked him what the average long-term outcome was for the teens we were working with.  He asked what I meant by long term.  As it turned out, most of the adolescents I was working with would be dead or in prison by age 30.  At 15, they were middle-aged.

A recent study put out by the University of Minnesota found that one in seven adolescents believe that they will die before age 35 and that belief coincides with greater risks in sexual, drug and alcohol and behavioral decision making.  How can we encourage far-reaching expectations in already at-risk adolescents?

University of Minnesota (2009, June 29). Teens Who Believe They’ll Die Young Are More Likely To Engage In Risky Behavior. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 4, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/06/090629081124.htm

A recent study put out by the Brown School at Washington University – Saint Louise, MO found that one on one tutoring offered to early elementary school students through Experience Corps improved reading skills for students involved across the board by 60%.  (“Across the board” here is not a generalization; the over 800 students studied varied in ethnicity, geographical location, income, gender, grade, behavioral issues, and English proficiency.)  It also improved volunteer well-being and teacher effectiveness.  Giving a student access to a one on one tutor was found to be as effective as decreasing class size by 40% for that student.  Experience Corp tutors, in particular, were found to improve reading comprehension, a skill that other studies of one on one tutoring in general has not seen replicated.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Experience Corp, I suggest that you check out their webpage.  They are adults 55+ who have a desire to help improve the world around them.  If you are not experienced enough to qualify chronologically for the Experience Corp, I suggest VolunteerMatch.com.  They will match you up with a volunteer experience in your community based on your interests.  There are a lot of studies out supporting the role volunteering can play in good health and well-being.  But don’t take the studies’ words for it.  Discover it for yourself.

Washington University in St. Louis (2009, April 8). Study Finds Students With Experience Corps Tutors Make 60 Percent More Progress In Critical Reading Skills. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 9, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/04/090408140212.htm

A recent study put out by the the University of Essex’s Center for Environment and Society found that giving adolescent offenders an opportunity to participate in wilderness experiences seems to decrease substance abuse and anti-social behaviors (running away, criminal activity, verbal and physical fighting).  It also seems to increase self confidence, feelings of belongingness and connection to nature.

The study took a group of offenders from the area and enrolled them in a nine-month project consisting of weekly life coaching, monthly workshops and two wilderness trips, occurring at the beginning and end of the program.  The sharpest increase in self esteem was seen after the first wilderness trip at the beginning of the program. By the end of the program, participants were able to self report feeling a greater sense of efficacy, and that observation was supported through verified measures.

Wilderness experience seems to be beneficial for people across the spectrum of human experience.  After spending time outdoors, other research supports the idea that people typically have “reduced stress levels, improved mood, enhanced psychological well-being and improved attention and concentration.”

birkhead_hannahs_creek_2000
University of Essex (2009, January 6). Power Of Wilderness Experiences As A Catalyst For Change In Young Offenders. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 20, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/01/090105091536.htm

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