Preventing Violence the Problem-Solving Way
Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is dedicated to preventing and reversing trends of increased delinquency and violence among adolescents. These trends have alarmed the public during the past decade and challenged the juvenile justice system. It is widely accepted that increases in delinquency and violence over the past decade are rooted in a number of interrelated social problems -- child abuse and neglect, alcohol and drug abuse, youth conflict and aggression, and early sexual involvement -- that may originate within the family structure. The focus of OJJDP's Family Strengthening Series is to provide assistance to ongoing efforts across the country to strengthen the family unit by discussing the effectiveness of family intervention programs and providing resources to families and communities.

No one doubts that parents are in a unique position to affect the behavior of their children, but the subtleties of this process are not thoroughly understood. It is known that, in the face of circumstances that appear to be very similar, some families adjust well and some do not. Even among the very poor, many of whom experience seemingly insurmountable pressures of daily living, some can cope better than others and may raise children who become examples of healthy human functioning.

In recent years, there has been escalating interest in social and emotional learning in children and in the skills parents can and do use to contribute to their development. There has also been increasing interest in training for parents and their children to enhance those skills. An understanding of children's social cognition -- including how they think about and perceive the feelings and viewpoints of others, how they solve interpersonal problems in different ways, and how the consequences of their actions affect them -- has become a springboard from which to study why some children are socially competent and others are not.

Based on more than 20 years of research on specific interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) skills, intervention methods were developed to test the hypothesis that behavior can be modified by focusing on the thinking processes rather than the behaviors themselves. The ICPS skills relate to high-risk behaviors that may develop into serious problems such as violence and substance abuse. This approach to childrearing deals with social cognition and social adjustment. Its central theme is that certain interpersonal cognitive thinking skills play a crucial role in the social adjustment of both parent and child. Thus, it has particular relevance for the primary prevention of later, more serious problems.

This Bulletin describes intervention methods, their importance, and their impact as evaluated through research studies and explores implementation and policy issues relevant to training and information dissemination.

Raising a Thinking Child is a culture-free, primary prevention program for parents and their children ages 4 to 7. It is derived from a curriculum that was developed for use in schools. Originally called "Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving" (ICPS), the curriculum is now called "I Can Problem Solve" (also ICPS). Helping children think about ways to solve interpersonal problems when they are very young helps them grow into thinking, feeling human beings who will be able to make good decisions when they reach adolescence and adulthood.

In 1997, Raising a Thinking Child was recognized as an exemplary juvenile delinquency prevention program by the Strengthening America's Families Project, conducted by the University of Utah and funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

I Can Problem Solve for schools and Raising a Thinking Child for families both received the Lela Rowland Prevention Award from the National Mental Health Association in 1982 and were recognized as model programs by two prevention task forces of the American Psychological Association in 1986 and 1993. In 1997, they were recognized as among the six top violence prevention programs in a five-State area by the Mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Preventing Violence Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1999