Adolescence is marked by significant changes in relationships related to the teenager's emerging independence. A successful transition depends on a young persons abilities to transform relationships with family members and peers (of both sexes), and to extend their relationships into the broader community. Young people with strong interpersonal skills are assertive but not intrusive. They work well in groups, resolve interpersonal conflicts peacefully and are comfortable communicating ideas and feelings. Socially competent adolescents have an expanded ability to make appropriate judgements on moral issues, to express positive values and to refrain from aggressive, violent and antisocial behaviour.
Social competency and interpersonal skills are learned in the home, the school and the broader community. Media portrayal of violence as an acceptable way to solve problems may also influence children who are approaching adolescence. The early and middle years are crucial to preventing further problems. The younger the onset of severe antisocial and aggressive behaviour, the more likely it is to persist. Seventy-one percent of children with a severe conduct disorder at age six qualify for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder as adults. (330)
Children whose antisocial behaviour begins early, for example between the ages of 12 and 15, are typically more troubled and violent and less social than adolescents whose antisocial behaviour begins later. Often they have learning difficulties and poor family relationships. This is why it is important to address all young peoples learning problems as soon as possible. (134)
Learning difficulties and aggressive tendencies tend to perpetuate and exaggerate each other. (332) Success in school is important to social adjustment. Early school problems and school failure are associated with behaviour problems and substance abuse. (258) This relationship probably operates two ways: school difficulties may give rise to behaviour problems and visa versa.
Early interventions with children who are experiencing learning difficulties have an important effect on school adjustment as well as on academic success. Early academic success in school leads to further academic successes, more positive attitudes toward school, more positive self-perception and in boys, fewer juvenile offenses. (87)
It is estimated that some 15 percent of elementary school children are bullied or repeatedly victimized at school or in the vicinity of school. The degree of violence children experience in their homes, especially in the preschool years, is a strong precursor and predictor of violent behaviour and bullying. (331) A number of child-rearing styles have also been shown to predict whether children will bully others, including a lack of warmth at home, modeling of aggressive behaviour at home and poor supervision by parents.
Important strategies for preventing and stopping bullying include providing good supervision for children and effective non-violent consequences to bullies, ensuring good communication between teachers, parents and children, providing children with opportunities to develop good interpersonal skills, and creating a social environment that is supportive and inclusive. (196)
As children approach and enter puberty, gender roles become increasingly relevant to their development. Boys between the ages of eight and 11 are more likely than girls the same age to be physically aggressive; girls are more likely to use indirect methods of aggression such as isolating others or telling negative stories about a peer. Generally, physical aggression declines with age in both boys and girls. There is no truth to the stereotypical image of sudden increased aggression in adolescence and only six percent of adolescents are actually involved in violent acts and arrests. (93) On the other hand, the greater size, strength and impulsiveness of early adolescence can make teenage aggression more alarming.
Gender tends to put boys and girls at risk for experiencing violence in different ways. Girls are more likely to experience sexual assault and harassment at school, on dates or from male friends and associates. Young men are more likely to experience physical violence at home, physical assault in schools and the community, and assaults by strangers.
Well adjusted teens tend to reject peers who are aggressive. This sometimes pushes troubled teens into association with other teens who have similar antisocial behaviour. The greater the rejection from prosocial peers, the tighter the bonds can be to deviant peers. (134) In addition, the greater the alienation from family members, the more likely teens are to group with other alienated teens. The group then amplifies the resentment and antisocial tendencies of individuals.
Influences on the positive outcome: Age-appropriate social skills
Note: These influences are also listed in the drop-down list above. Please use this menu to navigate within this page.
Supportive home environment
- Set a good example. Communicate your feelings and show your child how to resolve conflicts in a non-violent, peaceful way. Young people who learn to express their feelings and negotiate successfully at home are less likely to display their aggression outside the home. (7)
- Be involved with your children and monitor their behaviour. Do not leave children unsupervised on a regular basis or for a long period of time.
- Use discipline that is firm but not coercive. Do not bully or shame children or withhold age-appropriate freedoms. Hostile parenting has a negative effect on childrens social relationships and helping behaviour.
- Encourage children to make their own decisions and help them learn from the consequences of those decisions. Children who depend on parental controls are less prepared for controlling themselves and making appropriate decisions.
- Teach your children how to avoid and resolve conflicts with siblings. Monitor how older siblings treat younger ones.
- Teach your children life skills such as decision-making, problem solving and conflict resolution.
- Teach your children to value honesty, compassion and respect for others, by being an empathetic parent.
- For children who are timid or lack friends, arrange for them to participate in positive social groups which meet their interests.
- If you think that your child is being bullied, ask him or her directly. Work with the school and your child to ensure that the bullying stops.
- If your child is bullying others, use appropriate, non-violent consequences as a way to confront the situation and help your child learn alternative behaviours. Increase your supervision of your childs whereabouts. Seek help if you would like support in working with your child.
- Do not tolerate violence in your home. Seek help if you need to.
- For helpful advice on living with adolescents, see recommended reading for parents.
- Provide parents with opportunities to be involved in their childrens schools. Strong school-home links help parents and children build stronger relationships.
- Provide post-divorce support to children. There is evidence that post-divorce programs in grades four to six that emphasize communication skills, the expression of feelings, problem solving, anger control and enhancing self-esteem may improve both academic achievement and social and emotional functioning (87).
- Provide social skills programs for children in the early grades. The Ottawa Board of Education's Children Learning For Living Program is an excellent example of how schools can reduce social problems and enhance students' social skills.
- Provide peer conflict resolution and peer counseling programs. Anti-bullying programs and an ethos of respect can significantly decrease rates of bullying, fighting and antisocial behaviours at school.
- Provide support and training to parents on how to promote positive social behaviour and effectively manage behavioural problems. The Montreal Intervention Program is one example of a program that provided support to both parents and disruptive boys and succeeded in lowering behavioural problems and self-reported delinquency in adolescents, while improving academic performance.
- Teach families how to interact with their children in an optimal way and how to reduce conflict at home through parenting programs, outreach to troubled families, visits by public health nurses, parent-school partnerships, and public education campaigns. Children who grow up in violent homes learn to use violence as a way of coping.
- Sponsor programs to prevent family violence and provide help to families experiencing violence in the home.
- Provide family-friendly policies, for example, flexible hours, work-at-home arrangements and job sharing, to allow parents to spend time with their children.
- Do not expect or force employees to work long overtime hours for fear of losing their jobs.
- Invite speakers and agencies to talk with parents about child development and the transition to adolescence at lunch time sessions.
- Provide employee assistance programs (EAP) that include counseling on parenting practices and help for parents in situations involving family violence.
- Sponsor the development, evaluation and sharing of best practice interventions that prevent family violence.
Support of significant others
Today, with both parents working and the growth of single-parent families, children spend significantly less time with adults than they did a decade ago. "Family time famine" can occur among families of all income levels and backgrounds.
Children need a stable, supportive bond with a caring adult who can help them make a positive social adjustment. Adults who provide this kind of support are often called mentors. Children who have opportunities for mentoring relationships with adults, including relatives, teachers, ministers, recreation workers and others who nurture and respect them exhibit more positive social relationships than those who do not. (93) While mentoring is not an easy task, the mentors also benefit.
Peer mentoring is also an effective way to support young people. When children form meaningful attachments to helpers who are slightly older than themselves, they have more opportunities to learn positive social behaviours and values. Mentoring also has a positive effect on self-esteem because young people who are being mentored perceive that they are valued by someone else. For more information about peer mentoring, see the Peer Helping Annotated and Indexed Bibliography.
- Be available to spend time with a child in your extended family who needs the attention from a caring adult.
- Be a positive role model for children in your extended family.
- Encourage your children to spend time with other family members and trusted adults in the community.
- Encourage your children to join activities at school and in the community that are led by trusted adults and peers.
- Ensure that teachers and coaches understand child development and the importance of mentoring.
- Encourage teachers and coaches to serve as positive role models.
- Create a school climate that encourages mentoring. Make sure that every student is known and appreciated by at least one adult in the school.
- Provide opportunities for peer counseling and peer mentoring. The Cultural
Program at Joe Duquette High School in Saskatoon brings peer teachers and elder mentors together to teach skills and traditional ways to grade nine students.
- Collaborate with business and community organizations to set up mentoring programs. For example, in Hamilton, Ontario, the Big Brothers Association, the Bank of Montreal and two school boards have teamed up to offer a mentoring program to inner-city schoolchildren under the Industry-Education Council initiative.
- Support mentoring programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
- Ensure that staff of youth-serving programs and agencies understand the importance of mentoring to social adjustment.
- Support intergenerational initiatives that link children and older citizens.
- Support peer-led activities and provide training for peer leaders.
- Collaborate with workplaces and schools to set up mentoring programs. For example, in Hamilton Ontario, the Big Brothers Association, the Bank of Montreal and two school boards have teamed up to offer a mentoring program to inner-city schoolchildren under the Industry-Education Council initiative.
- Encourage churches and faith communities to establish mentoring programs.
- Encourage ethnic and cultural organizations to establish mentoring programs.
- Consider setting up a mentoring program with retired or current staff and children who have an interest in your business area of work.
- Collaborate with community agencies and schools to set up mentoring programs. For example, in Hamilton, Ontario, the Big Brothers Association, the Bank of Montreal and two school boards have teamed up to offer a mentoring program to inner-city schoolchildren under the Industry-Education Council initiative.
Supportive living and learning environments
Involving young people in activities and decisions that affect them is essential to their healthy development. Like adults, young people need to feel valued in the mainstream of life and to have meaningful opportunities to participate in both their schools and their communities.
Schools and communities need to provide multidisciplinary, collaborative programs that can be continued over time. Too often, successful demonstration initiatives are not carried on after the demonstration period is over because funding is cut. (97) Schools, communities and governments need to make a clear commitment to continue activities and programs that demonstrate success through a thorough evaluation process.
Provide a welcoming school environment that promotes optimal learning and socialization.
Provide in-school and after-school opportunities for children to learn positive social skills and cooperation, for example, volunteer work, activities that stress fun and a sense of belonging.
Teach children to value honesty, compassion and respect for others, by modeling these behaviours and values individually and in the school as a whole.
Provide opportunities for students to take leadership roles and to make meaningful decisions about activities and policies in the school.
Make learning life skills such as decision-making, problem solving and conflict resolution part of the school experience or curriculum.
Teach students how to solve interpersonal problems in a non-violent, productive way. This can include programs in conflict resolution, assertiveness training and peer mediation trained, neutral schoolmates who help other students resolve conflicts and manage their anger. The Unloading Zone is an example of a program that teaches young people that managing anger is an important part of personal growth.
Provide opportunities for participation in enjoyable, non-competitive physical activities and other interest groups that promote positive social behaviour.
Reduce aggressive behaviour.
Involve students in influencing other students to reduce violent behaviour. For example, Making Waves trains grade 11 students to be peer educators about dating violence.
Address racism, sexism and prejudice against religion and sexual preference. The S.T.A.R. (Students Against Racism) program is made up of committees of students who assert that racism and prejudice are unacceptable in school.
Monitor children who have learning problems and provide assistance early to those who are having difficulty. Students who achieve academically tend to have better relationships and more positive social behaviour.
Provide support to students who are struggling with long-term problems and academic difficulties. One example is a program at Curé-Antoine-Labelle Secondary School in Laval that helps students aged 13 to 16 learn self-responsibility and how to form solid relationships with adult helpers.
Monitor the safety of the school environment and take action immediately if bullying, threatening or property damage occurs. For information on a model program, see ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program.
Maintain a positive peer culture that helps to prevent the formation of gangs and antisocial peer groups.
Cooperate with community policing programs and invite school liaison officers to talk with staff and students.
- For information on reducing anti-social behaviour in schools, see recommended reading for schools.
Teach decision-making and problem-solving skills.
- Consider offering courses in decision-making and problem-solving as part of the school curricula. The Social Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Program, which has been widely implemented in New Jersey, has been shown to improve childrens positive social skills and ability to solve problems immediately after the program and on entrance to high school. (255)
- Train counsellors and teachers to help children learn problem-solving and decision-making as part of school life.
Provide activities that promote positive social behaviour and leadership development, and reduce aggressive behaviour.
Encourage youth to show leadership in developing community activities that prevent crime and reduce violence. Youth Action Teams are developing safety and violence prevention activities in over 65 communities in British Columbia.
Provide recreation and skill development programs (both athletic and non-athletic skills). These build positive social behaviour and can help reduce antisocial behaviour in the community. The PALS Project Participate and Learn Skills which took place in Ottawa, provides an example of an effective community-based program for disadvantaged children living in a public housing unit. The Boys and Girls Club of Canada: Active Living Initiative demonstrates how a variety of physical activities can benefit young people.
Provide police school-liaison officers and cooperate with schools to provide violence prevention programs. For information on a model program, see ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program.
Cooperate with schools to provide effective after-school programs.
Characteristics of effective after-school programs
- based on research on adolescent development
- developed by and for youth
- emphasize social relationships among peers and with
- responsible, caring adults
- encourage parental involvement
- set clear rules regarding drinking, etc.
- safe and accessible
- provide links with schools and other community services
- fun, flexible and culturally relevant
- offer food to attract youth
Source: A Matter of Time, Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1992. (275)
Actively involve youth in decisions, policies and programs that affect them; provide them with opportunities to develop leadership skills and take on leadership roles.
- Include youth in the development and operation of community services. The City of Vancouver Civic Youth Strategy involves youths as active partners in the development and delivery of civic services that have a direct impact on young people.
- Involve youth in community planning and the operation of community facilities. In Surrey, British Columbia, young people helped to design Bear Creek Park and will be in charge of running it.
Provide opportunities for children to focus on positive values.
- Encourage churches and faith communities to provide positive opportunities for children to socialize and discuss values.
- Encourage children and adolescents to do meaningful volunteer work in the community.
- Work with communities, schools and governments to fund and support exemplary prevention programs. See ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program for a good example of this kind of collaboration.
- Work with communities and schools to support programs in malls and other retail settings that can discourage negative behaviour by young people and assist them in learning to become positive citizens in the community. See the Dufferin Mall for an example of this kind of activity.
- Actively involve youth in decisions, policies and programs that affect them; provide them with opportunities to develop leadership skills and take on leadership roles. Child Friendly Calgarys Youth Volunteer Corps and Youth
Advisory Council to the Mayor gives young people a voice in civic affairs.
- Offer incentives to create after-school programs that help children make a successful transition to adolescence.
- Support/fund coalition building among youth-serving agencies, schools and parent groups.
- Fund research on best practices and the dissemination of information about exemplary programs. See ASAP: A School-Based Antiviolence Program for an example of how governments, the private sector and the community can work together to develop model programs.
Media violence is often named as a factor in creating a culture that tolerates and sometimes, stimulates violent behaviour. (250) Children can unknowingly pick up and accept messages from television, movies, video games, advertisements and music that portray violence and antisocial behaviour as an acceptable way to solve problems or obtain gratification. On the other hand, positive media images can influence values and perceptions that affect behaviour. For example, media that portrays girls and women in non-traditional roles and that breaks down stereotypes about ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians and people with disabilities can help to improve tolerance and positive social values.
- Monitor and restrict viewing of violent and sexist material on television, music videos, computer games and movies.
- Discuss with your child how the media portrays violence as a solution to problems and how this does not work in real life.
- Communicate your disapproval when media portray stereotypes and excessive violence. Praise media that shows positive values and ethical solutions to problems that are relevant to young people.
- Provide media literacy programs that teach children to discount stereotyping about gender roles, gays, lesbians, ethnic minorities, older people and people with disabilities. Help them learn how advertisements are packaged to influence their behaviour.
- Encourage children and teens to write for local papers and participate in local television and radio shows. Provide a space for them to publish or broadcast their views.
- Advocate media coverage that portrays healthy young people in leadership and positive social roles.
- Protest media coverage that is sexist or stereotypes minority groups.
- Encourage and support media outlets that show young people in a positive light and that show that communities value young people.
- Encourage media personalities to act as positive role models for young people.
- Encourage media outlets to sponsor youth sports and activities and to provide coverage of young peoples events.
- Provide guidelines for programming directed at children and youth and encourage the development of self-regulating guidelines in the media industry.
- Sponsor media campaigns and programs that portray youth in leadership and positive social roles.
- Set a good example in all government communications. Show the multicultural diversity we enjoy in Canada as a strength and advantage.
Aware of any innovative programs, legislation or initiatives that are relevant to this positive outcome?
This is your chance to let us know!
We are always on the lookout for specific strategies proven to be successful (or showing promise), that illustrate work done in this area. After reading this section of the site, click on the icon below and share your ideas.