UW News

March 14, 1999

High school students’ violent behavior, drinking, sexual activity drops, and school performance rises from elementary school interventions

A package of interventions targeted at teachers, parents and children throughout the elementary school years had long-lasting effects in reducing levels of violent behavior, heavy drinking and sexual intercourse and in improving school performance at age 18 among a multi-ethnic sample of urban children.

This conclusion comes from a 12-year study of nearly 600 children who began their education in 18 elementary school serving high-crime Seattle neighborhoods. The study will be published today in this month’s issue of the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“The message that teachers and parents can make a difference has been confirmed by this research,” said David Hawkins, a University of Washington social work professor and lead author of the study.
“We know that the things people do as teachers and parents can have important effects. The remarkable thing about this study is the breadth of outcomes and that this intervention package has lasting impacts through age 18. We now have clear evidence that helping teachers to teach better and parents to parent better pays off in a broad range of outcomes beyond the classroom,” said Hawkins, who conducted the research in collaboration with UW social work professor Richard Catalano.

The study shows that at age 18 children who received the intervention program were less likely to engage in a number of dangerous or unhealthy activities. Compared with a control group that was not exposed to the intervention, these children were:

? 19 percent less likely to commit violent acts.

? 38 percent less likely to indulge in heavy drinking.

? 13 percent less likely to engage in sexual intercourse.

? 19 percent less likely to have had multiple sex partners.

? 35 percent less likely to have caused a pregnancy or become pregnant.
In addition, the children who received the intervention achieved better academic performance, recording higher overall grade point averages through school.

“It is very clear that when children first start school is an important time to promote positive educational and social development,” said Hawkins. “Helping teachers and parents be more effective in what they do during the elementary school years has an impact in the long run.”

The intervention program was designed as part of a larger on-going study of 800 Seattle school children by Hawkins’ Social Development Research Group at the UW. It starts when children enter the first grade and continues through the sixth grade. Many other prevention programs begin only in the late elementary school years or in middle school.

The program worked with teachers, students and their parents. Teachers were given five days of special training each year to learn such skills as interactive teaching, classroom monitoring, cooperative learning, and proactive disciplinary skills to prevent problems from arising.

Children, meanwhile, were taught impulse control, how to get what they want without aggressive behavior, and how to recognize the feelings of other people. Parents were taught a variety of skills including positive reinforcement, monitoring their children, and how to reduce their children’s risk of early alcohol and drug use.

In the study, children were assigned to three groups. One group received the intervention program throughout elementary school. A second received an abbreviated version of the program only in the fifth and sixth grades. The third, or control group, did not receive any of the intervention.

The behavior and school performance of the students who received the full intervention was significantly better than the control group, while students who received the abbreviated intervention differed little from the controls.

Hawkins believes the early invention is more effective and makes more sense than later-starting programs because it sets into place the course of social development in the school years.
“When kids come to school in this program they are reinforced by teachers and parents right away. It gets education off to a good start and creates active opportunities for them to learn. It teaches children skills and encourages teachers and parents to monitor the development of those skills in the classroom and at home,” he said

The intervention program was not successful in altering all negative behaviors, said Hawkins. It did not have a major impact on reducing the proportion of students who had tried cigarettes or drugs at age 18.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Burlington Northern Foundation.

Other authors of the paper were Robert Abbott, UW professor of educational psychology and Social Development Research Group researchers Rick Kosterman and Karl Hill.

For more information, contact Hawkins at (206) 543-7655 or jdh@u.washington.edu