Book Focuses On Teen Violence, Teaching Youths to Recognize, Diffuse Trigger Points

By Mary Beth Spina

Release Date: July 28, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The bad news is that there's no instant solution for eliminating teen violence.

The good news is that it can be reduced and even prevented using a classroom-based program that over several weeks teaches youngsters and teens to understand, recognize, acknowledge and positively rechannel destructive emotions.

Developed by University at Buffalo researchers John and Lois A. Wodarski, it involves an approach called Teams-Games-Tournament (TGT) that they say addresses many of the factors that cause or contribute to violent behavior. The method is described in the Wodarskis' new book, "Preventing Teenage Violence" (Springer Publishing Co., 1998).

"During the past two decades," they write, "the homicide rate has doubled and the suicide rate has tripled among 10- to 14-year-olds."

The Wodarskis note that from 1989-94, the arrest rate for violent crimes rose more than 46 percent among teens, compared with 12 percent for adults. In terms of arrest rates per 100,000 population, the rate for 14-17-year-olds now surpasses that for those ages 18-24.

The teens behind the statistics, the Wodarskis note, share an inability to deal with anger, frustration and feelings of inadequacy that often begin in the home and eventually spill over into other areas of their lives.

"By preventing would-be violent behavior early, we can educate youngsters, teens and parents how to work together to curb the violence throughout the nation," says John Wordarski.

The Wodarskis do not claim to have invented their approach, which is based not only on their research, but also on that of others, and designed to be offered in conjunction with an eight-week program for the participating teens' parents.

The TGT method is designed to be taught as a class for an hour a day for six weeks. Teens working in teams learn to identify and recognize real-life triggers that, if not diffused or rechanneled, can lead to further anger, conflict and violence.

Games, role-playing and other activities show them how to understand and modify impulsive, insensitive behaviors. They learn to deal appropriately with peer pressures, anger and conflict, and to improve poor self-image, social skills, and verbal and non-verbal communications.

The teams then compete in "tournaments" that allow them to share their new knowledge, ideas and problem-solving techniques.

A variety of methods can be used to evaluate short- and long-term results to demonstrate the program's cost effectiveness against its relatively minor investment of time, money and training.

"Most measures tried today tend to pick out one or two known factors, such as substance abuse or easy access to guns, and target them, addressing them in a piecemeal fashion instead of looking at the overall problem as a whole, " John Wodarski says.

John Wodarski, Ph.D., is Janet B. Wattles professor and co-director of the Center for the Study of Antisocial and Violent Behavior in the UB Graduate School of Social Work. Lois A. Wodarski, Ph.D., is a research associate professor of social and preventive medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.