Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Cognitive-Developmental Considerations in Violence Prevention and Intervention

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Cognitive-Developmental Considerations in Violence Prevention and Intervention

Article excerpt

Seven-year-old Josh says he couldn't sleep last night because he saw a scary movie. He adds that he won't play football again because he doesn't want to get shot. When questioned further, Josh states that he saw the movie "Boys in the Hood." He describes this as a story about a little boy who throws a football "wrong" to a friend. According to Josh, the friend waits until Josh "grows up" and shoots him. Josh concludes that it is not safe to play football. This is how he plans to avoid being a victim of violence.

This example illustrates the significant role played by cognitive development in how children conceptualize the antecedents and consequences of violence. True, the film "Boys in the Hood" contains an early scene of young boys playing football. And, later in the film, a neighborhood peer shoots a teenager. In the context of the film, the two incidents are not related. Nevertheless, Josh constructed a unique explanation of the events he observed in the movie and formulated plans to alter his behavior accordingly. How is it that Josh came to this particular conceptualization?

Violence is a complex and multifaceted problem influenced by individual and social factors (American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth, 1993). Although often overlooked, a key factor that may influence an individual's proclivity for and reaction to violent behavior is the cognitive-developmental functioning of that individual (Brondolo, Baruch, Conway, & Marsh, 1994). Developmental differences in the ways that children experience phenomena such as sexual abuse and personal body safety (Miller-Perrin & Wurtele, 1989; Wurtele & Miller, 1987), peace and war (Raviv, Oppenheimer, & Bar-Tal, 1999), aggression in the media (Bjorkqvist & Largerspetz, 1985; Fosarelli, 1984), and trauma (Pynoos & Eth, 1985) suggest that developmental level significantly influences how children understand information related to interpersonal violence. Yet, there is little empirical information regarding how children actually experience and make sense of the violence in their worlds. Knowledge about the specific ways in which children's understanding of violence changes as they mature is critical to designing effective programs for prevention and intervention.

A Cognitive-- Developmental Approach

This article describes children's conceptions of violence within a cognitive-developmental framework and suggests procedures and techniques that school counselors can use to facilitate developmentally based violence prevention and intervention approaches with children. The approach used here is primarily informed by Piagetian developmental theory (Piaget, 1952, 1960, 1980), a framework that considers development from the perspective of the child (Oppenheimer, Bar-Tal, & Raviv, 1999). Piaget regarded children as actively constructing an understanding of the world through their actions on the environment. The process of cognitive development occurs due to an interaction of maturation, experiences, social interactions, and a process called equilibration (Wadsworth, 1989). To explore children's ideas about various domains, Piaget relied on open-ended clinical interviews in which the reasoning underlying a child's explanation is extensively probed.

Piaget proposed the presence of schemas, that is, mental structures that offer a template for action in comparable situations (Cole & Cole, 1993; Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). Schemas become increasingly sophisticated through the process of adaptation, which is in turn composed of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation occurs when new information and experiences are modified to conform to current schemas. In contrast, with accommodation, the child modifies existing schema based on new information that cannot be assimilated. When faced with cognitive conflict, children seek to reestablish a balance, or equilibrium, through the processes of assimilation and accommodation (Wadsworth, 1989). …

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