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Violence-Prevention Program Reduces Aggressive Behavior, Study Concludes

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A violence-prevention course that employs anger-management and empathy training can reduce aggressive and violent behavior in elementary school children in less than six months, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported last week.

A team of researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle evaluated 790 2nd and 3rd graders in 12 elementary schools across the state over a six-month period beginning in fall 1993. About half of the children were given an anti-violence curriculum called "Second Step," which teaches social skills, anger management, impulse control, and empathy in 35-minute weekly or twice-weekly sessions. The other children, the control group, received no special instruction.

Two weeks after the program ended, classes of students who took the 12-week course exhibited, on average, 30 fewer acts of negative physical behavior--such as kicking, hitting, and fighting--each day, compared with the control group classes, the researchers found. Students enrolled in Second Step also showed more socially desirable conduct on the playground, in the cafeteria, and in the classroom compared with the control group, the report says. These positive effects persisted six months after the course had ended.

In contrast, the children in the control group exhibited more aggressive behavior, compared with the children enrolled in the course, six months after the classes had ended, the study says.

While the students came from different backgrounds in urban and suburban districts, schools were matched based on demographic and economic similarities.

Little Data

Despite the growing popularity of school-based violence-prevention curricula in recent years, there has been little evidence that these classroom approaches head off violent behavior by youths. ("Anti-Crime Efforts Often Found To Fall Short," April 30, 1997.)

The new study shows that appropriate curricula, while not a panacea for the high youth-crime rate, can help suppress students' violent behavior, said David Grossman, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and the study's lead author.

Second Step was created by a Seattle-based nonprofit group, the Committee for Children, and is used in more than 10,000 schools in the United States and Canada.

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