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Character strength = Lower teen violence, Acting Together project shows

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Self-esteem, gratitude and parent involvement put teens at a lower risk for violence, according to preliminary findings from a survey of local youth.

The Powerful Teen Study by the Surrey-based Acting Together project, which involved a survey of more than 400 Grade 8 students, indicate character strengths and connections with adults lead to a reduced belief in violence.

“Schools and some youth programs already seek to build character strengths," said Dr. Roger Tweed, one of the project's co-investigators. "These findings confirm the relevance of character strengths and suggest there may be value in additional efforts to build gratitude, humility, self-esteem, and authenticity.”

The project involves Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey School District and Simon Fraser University. Participating students, with support from teachers and administrators, filled out confidential 22-page surveys that asked questions about things such as their social connections and beliefs about crimes and gangs. The young people were surveyed twice during the 2010-2011 school year, with a follow-up survey scheduled to take place in 2012-2013. Some parents and teachers were also surveyed.

According to Acting Together, the findings so far from youth aged 12 to 14 reveal that:

• Gratitude and authenticity (i.e., belief in being true to oneself) are associated among boys with lower rates of fighting and fewer beliefs justifying violence;

• Self-esteem and humility are both associated with fewer beliefs justifying violence;

• Youth can have both self-esteem (belief that one has value) and humility (belief that others are as important as oneself);

• Involvement in adult-directed leisure activities (arts, community groups organized by adults, religious activities, school clubs, and volunteer work) is associated with self-reported authenticity;

• Students who reported that their parents generally know where they are and who they are with have both fewer delinquent beliefs and higher life satisfaction;

• Most students agreed that a teacher or other adult at school shows concern for them;

• Most students do not see many benefits to gang membership, but some are aware of only one or two of the many costs of gang membership.

The purpose of the study, Tweed told The Leader last year, is to examine what factors keep kids out of trouble – to focus on the strength to be built upon, rather than the problems to avoid.

The Acting Together project is federally funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), through a $1 million federal Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grant.

Visit www.actingtogether.ca for more information.

 

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