Wellness: An Alternative Paradigm for Violence Prevention

Article excerpt

The authors address adolescent violence by promoting holistic health before symptoms occur and by using strength-based interventions to combat problems that already exist. A wellness model is presented, as is a discussion of research on the components of the model that are related to violence and violence prevention with adolescents.

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Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (1995, 1996) and the American Medical Association (AMA; n.d.) have emphasized the extent to which children in U.S. society today are exposed to a wide milieu of violence. In fact, violence by and toward U.S. children continues to be a problem of epidemic proportions with no foreseeable end (Garbarino, 1999). The problem of school violence is a topic that has been embraced by the media and is the focus of political debate. According to the National School Safety Center ("Blackboards and Bullets," 1999), classroom violence has claimed the lives of 251 U.S. students since the 1992-1993 school year. Fear of school-related violence has kept 5% of high school students at home each month, and 10% of high school students reported having carried a weapon on school property during the 1992-1993 school year (Furlong & Morrison, 1994).

Violence toward young people continues to escalate. Between 1980 and 1994, murders of children ages 12-17 years increased 95%. This equates to a rate of seven child deaths per day (Rosenberg, 1999; Singh, Kochanek, & MacDorman, 1996; Winett, 1998). According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (1988), homicide is now the second leading cause of death for persons 15 to 24 years of age and the leading cause of death for African American and Hispanic youth in this age group. In addition, for every violent death, there are at least 100 nonfatal injuries caused by violence. Children in the United States are 15 times more likely than children in England to die from homicide (Wolfe, Wekerle, & Scott, 1997), most often as a result of firearm use. When suicide and accidental deaths are included, the number of gun-related fatalities in the United States rises to more than 40,000 per year (Barber et al., 1996).

In addition to the accessibility to firearms, children are exposed to violent acts through the media. The AMA (n.d.) estimated that the average child is exposed, through television, to 200,000 violent acts by the time he or she is 18 years old. Research has shown that children who are exposed to violence through television, music lyrics, and videos show increased aggressiveness and increased fear of becoming a victim, become desensitized to violence, and believe that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems. Children also begin to view the world as a "mean and scary" place (AMA, n.d.). The glorification of violence by the media both mirrors and shapes society. Furthermore, children's exposure to violence in the media is often supported by the actions of those in the child's immediate environment (American Psychological Association [APA], 1999), to such an extent that, unfortunately, the home remains the most dangerous place for a child.

The number of families in which abuse or neglect has been substantiated has increased steadily over the past 5 years. Seventy-two percent of the perpetrators of abuse or neglect in 1993 were the child's biological parents (Kids Count in Missouri, 1995). Because violence is a learned behavior, children who witness domestic violence in the home are more likely to use violence as an acceptable means for working out problems (APA, 1999; Foshee, Bauman, & Linder, 1999; Rosenberg, 1999).

Drug and alcohol abuse is also a major factor in the increase in adolescent violence. The adolescent who uses drugs and alcohol is more likely to be both a victim and a perpetrator of violence. Adolescent drug and alcohol abuse has been associated with the prevalence of adolescent assaults, homicide, suicide, rape, and other crimes (Furlong, Casas, Corral, Chung, & Bates, 1997). …