After examining the data from an exhaustive national study on youth violence, Michael D. Resnick has concluded that the answer to reducing the likelihood of violence among the young is, in a sense, not really that complex. Kids, he says, need to feel connected.
"What we've learned is that this feeling of connectedness -- to family, to school, to their communities -- is extraordinarily important," says Resnick, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. "I've come to believe that human beings are hard-wired biologically in this way. When children feel competent, confident, and needed, they sparkle."
Resnick is the lead author of an article in the November, 2004 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health that summarizes the most recent findings of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. That study, initiated as a result of a mandate by Congress in 1993, focuses on health-related behaviors by students in grades 7 through 12 in 134 schools that were determined to provide a representative national sample. The article that Resnick authored assesses the degrees to which various risk and protective factors can predict violent activity.
The article points out that violent activity among the young has largely been decreasing since the early 1990s, and according to Resnick, many researchers believe that these drops are a result of strategies that involve risk reduction and protection enhancement.
To Resnick, the information from the study reinforces the evidence that children's involvement in violent behavior can be significantly reduced if adults pay vigilant attention to various "protective factors," in families, schools, and communities.
"We've learned about the importance of caring, competent adults in the lives of kids, the importance of feeling close to and cared for by family members and by other adults in the lives of kids: teachers, coaches, mentors, neighbors. We've learned about the extraordinary protective effects of feeling connected to school, which has been something educators have been heartened by." says Resnick.
Resnick believes these findings can be translated into public policy in a variety of ways. "They raise important public-policy questions about parental availability. They raise questions about reducing the level of stress that many families feel, particularly families where parents have to work two full-time jobs and still live in poverty. I think they raise important questions about the stresses that are placed on our schools and the extent to which teachers are able to connect with kids. They raise questions about class size and about the quality and safety of the school environment. When schools are perceived as unsafe places, the connection doesn't happen."
Gun violence by children has generally been declining since the early 1990s and Resnick believes that that reduction is largely a result of growing attention to protective factors and risk reduction. But he also notes that lately there have been "some upward blips" of youth gun violence in some cities that may be cause for concern.
"I think it's important that advocacy be sustained and that we be vigilant," he says. "I don't want to see the successes that we've seen be reversed because of inattention to the protective factors that our kids need. Those needs aren't going to go away. But our sustained attention to them might."