Why Should Adolescents Develop and Implement Violence Prevention Programs?

Young people participating in program planning.

Building on Youth’s Strengths: A Call To Include Adolescents in Developing, Implementing, and Evaluating Violence Prevention Programs” (abstract). Katie Edwards, Lisa Jones, Kimberly Mitchell, Matthew Hagler, and Lindsey Roberts. Psychology of Violence, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2016).

What it’s about: Edwards and colleagues review the benefits and challenges of involving adolescents in developing and implementing violence prevention programs, including teen dating violence prevention programs. The authors highlight research on adolescent (ages 13 to 18) violence prevention initiatives developed primarily by adult researchers and practitioners. The article outlines ways adolescent-led efforts may enhance violence prevention program effectiveness; addresses challenges in involving adolescents in program design and facilitation; and recommends various creative strategies to successfully incorporate adolescents into evidence-based program development.

Why read it: The authors highlight that current adult-created and -facilitated violence prevention programs may conflict with adolescents’ desire for autonomy, the influence of peers, and interest in culturally-relevant and novel programming. In addition, youth play central roles in developing and implementing some violence prevention programs throughout the United States, yet little research has been done on the effectiveness of adolescent-led models. The authors present arguments and recommendations for exploring this new approach.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Including adolescents in developing, implementing, and evaluating violence prevention programs may help reduce youth violence, the authors propose. They base this suggestion in part on anecdotal evidence they obtained from surveying 14 adolescent peer leaders involved in developing and carrying out school and community violence prevention programs.

Citing the diffusion of innovation theory, Edwards et al. argue that adolescent leaders who have adopted nonviolent attitudes and behaviors could promote similar change in their peers through violence prevention programs. The authors cite social norms theory to propose that peer-led adolescent violence prevention programs could create environments that are less tolerant of violence.

The authors describe how adolescents are currently involved in developing and delivering some school and community programs as peer educators, advisory board members, and creators of social marketing or media campaigns. Studying the sometimes organic, sometimes purposeful incorporation of adolescents in designing and teaching programs in violence education, substance use prevention, and sexual and reproductive health education led the authors to suggest that there are promising ways to creatively involve adolescents in program design and evaluation.

Noted challenges in involving young people in program design and execution include:

  • Lack of research experience. Given that adolescents may be good at creating content for their peers, yet may not have the relevant research-based knowledge on victimization or violence to create evidence-based programs, the authors say that “there is a necessary balance that needs to occur.”
  • Financial constraints and turnover. Training costs time and money, and adolescents will naturally exit a program because of graduation or other commitments.
  • Ethical considerations. Because adolescent leaders may have had personal experiences with violence, issues relating to confidentiality, self-disclosure, and the possible triggering of trauma need to be considered.

Edwards et al. acknowledge that adolescent-led programs may not be more effective than adult-led efforts, but recommend more research into the possibilities this new approach may yield, starting with:

  • Documentation, on a nationally representative scale, of current efforts to incorporate adolescent developers and facilitators.
  • Researcher participation in adolescent-led models in order to document them and compare them with adult-led programs.
  • Experimental evaluations of different adolescent-led models.

In the meantime, the authors suggest, using current evidence-based programs and finding ways adolescents can adapt them may provide a potential bridge between adult- and adolescent-developed programs. They also suggest the development of toolkits, guidebooks, and handbooks as a means to bring together adolescents, researchers, and teachers in violence prevention programming.

Additional references: Look for more articles about adolescent-led programs and violence prevention in our digital library.

Learn more about a teen-led antiviolence group.

Listen to two youth describe their efforts to address dating violence.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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