Project KICK (Kids in Cooperation With Kids) is a delinquency prevention program for ut-risk youth that uses nontraditional approaches to stress management. Twelve African American children who were taught physical, cognitive, and experiential models of stress reduction and management reported that they enjoyed the program, and they demonstrated an increased ability to recognize and manage stress.
Children experience stress from numerous sources: self, others, and the environment. In this article, we discuss the need for stress reduction programs that are tailored to meet the needs of at-risk youth and provide an outline of a curriculum that can be implemented in a variety of settings. This curriculum provides youth with various methods for recognizing and moderating stress levels so that they become responsible agents for their own well-being. This proposed stress management curriculum is modeled after other stress management curricula that have been used with children (Rickard, 1994; Trotter, 1998). In particular, this program was developed for use with at-risk youth in a program called Project KICK (Kids In Cooperation With Kids).
Project KICK is a community-based drug prevention program that began in 1991 in a mid-sized southern city (Rollin, Rubin, Marcil, Ferullo, & Buncher, 1995). Youth who live in this area were considered to be at risk because, compared with youth in most other neighborhoods in the city where the research was conducted, they were overrepresented in the statistics dealing with involvement with law enforcement agencies because of violent crime, theft, and drug activity. Consequently, the majority of youth who participated in Project KICK had an increased risk of being influenced by these negative community forces.
Currently, Project KICK operates in public housing as an after school program. All of the youth and families being served through Project KICK are African American. The program uses a peer mentoring model to teach children the following Project Kick curricula units: Orientation and Rapport Building, Learning to Like Myself, Feelings, Drug Education/Awareness, Friendships, Trust, Peer Pressure, Basic Communication Skills, Anger Management, Conflict Resolution, and Problem Solving and Decision Making (Rollin et al., 2001). The Relaxation Unit was developed as an additional unit for the KICK curriculum as part of the health promotion emphasis. Its purpose was to provide the students with an array of preventive stress reduction techniques.
THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF STRESS
How Stress Affects Youth
Stress affects people in a variety of ways, including emotionally, physically, and mentally. For children, excessive stress can interfere with their schoolwork and with peer, family, and interpersonal relationships (Paschall & Hubbard, 1998). During times of excessive and unmanageable stress, people, especially adolescents, respond with symptoms of anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, poor coping skills, drug and/or alcohol use and abuse, and physical illness (Rollin et al., 1995). In addition, obesity, cardiovascular problems, asthma, and hypertension are the most prevalent physical disorders for children and adolescents who deal with stress (Ewart & Kolodner, 1992; McQuaid et al., 2000).
African Americans and Stress
Project KICK operates at the Boys and Girls Club in a low-income public housing community and, therefore, serves a low socioeconomic status population. All of the members of the Boys and Girls Club, and subsequently the population used for the Stress Management program, are African American. Many of the stress-related diseases that have been found to affect children are endemic among disadvantaged individuals and certain racial subgroups, including African Americans. Social forces such as lack of resources, poverty, poor education, substandard housing, unemployment, racism, and environmental conditions diminish the quality of life in some African American communities (Bullard, 1992). These social forces place African Americans at a significant risk for poor health, higher incidence of mortality, and reduced life expectancy (Centers for Disease Control, 2001). Other risk factors prevalent in this population are the use of tobacco, alcohol, and nonprescribed psychotropics; poor nutrition; and susceptibility to sexually transmitted disease (Centers for Disease Control, 2000; Neighbors, Braithwaite, & Thompson, 1995; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998).
In particular, the African American population is at a high risk for many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, and asthma (Harris, 1990; Kirn, 1989; Persky et al., 1989). African Americans show a higher risk than other ethnic groups for many of these diseases. For example, the risk of African American adults developing Type 2 diabetes is twice that for their White counterparts. An ethnic disparity in the mortality rates attributed to cardiovascular disease has also been identified (Gillum, 1991).Moreover, childhood obesity is more prevalent among minority subgroups, such as African Americans, than it is in the general population.
Exercise as a Means of Reducing Stress
The Stress Management curriculum developed for Project KICK incorporates exercises from different disciplines, including Tai Chi and yoga. Tai Chi is a moderate form of exercise that has been shown to …