Speaking with an expert about youth violence
By Spiros Tzelepis
When I was looking for statistics about Youth Violence, having in mind an article on this issue, I addressed to the Youth Violence and Suicide Prevention Team asking for help. To my surprise, I received a quick response with all the information I needed in a very polite message which encouraged me to ask for further help. Working on the article, I realized that an expert's opinion would be very helpful. This is how I thought to ask Dr.Potter for this interview.
We are an interdisciplinary group. I am one of the Behavioral Scientists on the team. We also have Public Health Advisors (PHAs) who work with us. We Behavioral Scientists work on developing ways of sizing up the problems, ways to approach solving the problems, and evaluating whether the solutions actually do what we want them to do. With the assistance of the PHAs, we generally provide some money to groups in the community or through universities to conduct violence prevention programs and evaluate those programs. We then work, as a team, to put the information discovered in this program development and evaluation.
My own background is as a Sociologist/Criminologist. I have worked in the areas of juvenile justice and child welfare for nearly 20 years, as well as teaching in universities in the United States and Australia. I have colleagues who are Psychologists, Anthropologists, Physicians, Economists, and, as you might expect, Public Health. We bring a variety of ideas and ways to study the problems associated with violence to the team. Hopefully, this interdisciplinary approach will bring great results. But, like most social problems, it may take longer than we would like.
A second problem is in how we define youth violence. For example, a 12 year old "recruited" into a group fighting a civil war is engaged in violent behavior, but some would call that a "war." On the other hand, a 12 year old carrying a loaded gun to school in a U.S. city might be considered a violent youth. So, we might find that young people in some countries are actively involved in violent behavior (war), but the meaning of that violent behavior is different from young people engaging in gang violence in a European or North American city.
I guess the answer is that young people are witnesses to violence and commit violent acts all around the world. Our ability to do "good" science on the scope of the problem and the things that "cause" the violence is limited.
If you find you are tempted to use violence to get your way, stop and think about it. If you need some help, talk with your parents, a spiritual advisor, a trusted teacher, or someone you believe will help point you in the right direction.
Roberto Hugh Potter received his education at the University of South Florida (B.A., 1975) and the University of Florida (M.A., 1977 and Ph.D., 1982). He has worked as a Criminal Justice Planner, Founding Director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Institute, Training and Research Director for the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, and Director of Evaluation Research and Information Systems for Families First in Atlanta. His academic career has spanned five and one-half years teaching Sociology and Criminology in Australia (University of New England), and currently as Director of the Institute for Correctional Research and Training at Morehead State University (Kentucky).
His applied and evaluation research interests include a range of corrections issues. These include evaluating drug treatment programs, victim-offender mediation and conferencing programs, and other community corrections issues. Publications in this area have focused on studies on juvenile justice system decision-making, net-widening, and campus crimes.
On the sociological side, he is interested in behaviors and products at the margins of society, or "daily deviancies", as reflected in the 1996 publication, Pornography: Group Pressures and Individual Rights, a study of the X-rated video industry and consumers in Australia.
Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002
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