A Computer-Based Violence Prevention Intervention for Young Adolescents: Pilot Study

Article excerpt

Violence in the adolescent population is a serious public health problem (Hammond & Yung, 1993). Adolescents are at increasing risk for exposure to violence either as a victim, witness, or perpetrator (Gladstein, Rusonis, & Health, 1992). Homicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, and the third leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds (Cochanek & Hudson, 1994). Approximately 135,000 students bring guns to school every day, and a child is killed or injured by a gun every 36 minutes (Slavin & Stiber, 1990). Unfortunately, these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg; they do not reflect the number of violent and aggressive acts that do not lead to homicide, or the psychological impact of violence in the middle school years.

Schools and other organizations that serve youth have begun implementing various programs aimed at the prevention of violence (Cueto, Bosworth, & Sailes, 1993; Hausman, Spivak, Prothrow-Stith, & Roeber, 1992; Wilson-Brewer, Cohen, O'Donnell, & Goodman, 1991). Because of the complexity of the problem, a variety of strategies must be employed. Some strategies involve traditional educational approaches, while others, such as peer mediation, reflect attempts at innovation. Yet, few of these approaches have been systemically evaluated to a degree that would allow a determination of the most effective strategies or configuration of strategies.

The three approaches most frequently found in the school setting are curriculum, peer mediation, and specific interventions targeted at the most aggressive students. As can be seen in Table 1, each has limitations. While curriculum involves all students, the skills learned require practice and refinement before they can be consistently effective in resolving conflict. Peer mediation programs provide students for whom anger control is an issue with the skills to deal with immediate conflicts. Unfortunately, only those students who are trained or participate in mediation receive the benefits. In contrast, curricula expose everyone in a class to conflict resolution methods, but the timing and delivery are controlled by the teacher, not student need, and few will have sufficient opportunity to practice and receive coaching. The more resource-intensive, skill-building programs, such as anger replacement therapy (Goldstein & Glick, 1987), usually are offered only to the most aggressive teens. While each of these approaches has an important role to play in a comprehensive prevention strategy, shortcomings include the time and expense of teacher training, as well as the issues of intervention consistency, student control, and access to personal information.

A computer-based intervention could overcome many of these limitations. Computer-based interactive interventions have been successful with other complex interpersonal skills, health promotion, and prevention strategies (Bosworth, Gustafson, & Hawkins, 1994; Gustafson, Bosworth, Chewning, & Hawkins, 1987; Orlandi, Dozier, & Marta, 1990). Several unique features of the technology allow for branching, user control, personalization, flexibility, open access, and anonymity. [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] This paper reports the results of a pilot study designed to test the efficacy of a computer-based (multimedia) violence prevention intervention for young adolescents (SMART Talk).

SMART Talk

The SMART Talk computer program engages young adolescents through games, simulations, cartoons, animation, and interactive interviews, enabling them to learn new ways of resolving conflict without violence. Although the six modules may be used sequentially, they are designed to stand alone and can be used in any order without losing continuity or impact. Modules have been developed in three areas: anger management, dispute resolution, and perspective taking.

Anger management. For adolescents, anger is a major precipitator of fighting or violence. …