Evaluation of an Empowerment Program for Early Adolescent Girls

Article excerpt

Adolescence, and certainly early adolescence, is a period of multiple, rapid, and profound changes and transitions. Over the past decade, there has been growing concern among researchers, clinicians, and policy makers about the overall health status of adolescents. Such concerns are particularly important for adolescent girls: "Girls today are much more oppressed. They are coming of age in a more dangerous, sexualized, and media-saturated culture. They face incredible pressures to be beautiful and sophisticated, which in junior high means using chemicals and being sexual. As they navigate a more dangerous world, girls are less protected" (Pipher, 1994, p. 12).

Dryfoos (1998) estimates that one third of U.S. 14-year-olds are at high to very high risk for future behavior problems. Consider the broad range of risky behaviors and pitfalls that await adolescents (Brindis, Irwin, Ozer, Handley, Knopf, & Millstein, 1997; Resnick et al., 1997).

Delinquency, for example, both major and minor, begins for most youth in early adolescence and reaches its height during later adolescence. Experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs also begins for most children during adolescence, and it is during this time that they establish critical use patterns that extend into adulthood. Exploration of sexuality begins in early adolescence and for many girls leads to sexual intercourse, unwanted pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases. Beyond these problems, many adolescents begin to lose interest in school, which can often be further translated into school failure and dropout. Moreover, conflict with peers and parents can lead to dissatisfaction with one's self. All of these social problems can influence an adolescent's life course and have a long-term impact (Johnson & Millstein, 2003; Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Petersen, 1996).

Adolescence is an ideal age group for preventive interventions to avert or delay the onset of problem behaviors. Indeed, too often preventive interventions target older youth when it is too late because problem behaviors have already started. Although the early adolescent years are a time of increased vulnerability and potential risk, they also constitute special opportunities for preventive interventions. As Hamburg and Takanishi (1989) argue: "One of the most neglected opportunities in disease prevention and health promotion has been the thoughtful exploration of how to reach large numbers of adolescents with preventive approaches" (p. 826). Many experts on adolescence have found public policy to be unresponsive to research evidence regarding when and how to intervene in ways that can produce positive impacts for young people and for the nation. The Carnegie Corporation launched the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development to help bridge the gap between knowledge and practice to improve professional practice, program and policy development, and research for early adolescents (Carnegie Corporation, 1995). As representatives of the Council, Hamburg and Takanishi (1989) pointedly state: "It is essential that we move early adolescence much higher on the nation's agenda for scientific research and for youth and family policy" (p. 826). Current interest has grown in bridging practice and research and there is more optimism in the potential of prevention science (Cicchetti et al., 2000; Weissberg, Kumpfer, & Seligman, 2003).

This article describes an intervention for early adolescent girls taking into account recommendations that the development of prevention programs be based on the principles of prevention science (Coie et al., 1993). For example, developmental considerations were important in designing a program that was specific to a particular gender and age group. This allowed for the incorporation of dynamic developmental process variables and an understanding of systems of influence. Developmental theory was used in conceptualizing risk and protective factors. …


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