Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 23rd 2015 Contents A28
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Academic learning is usually in the spotlight at
school, but teaching young students "soft" skills
like self-control and social skills might help in keep-
ing at-risk kids out of criminal trouble in the future,
a study finds.
Duke University researchers looked at a programme
called Fast Track, which was started in the early
1990s for children who were identified by their teach-
ers and parents to be at high risk for developing
aggressive behavioral problems.
The students were randomised into two groups---
half took part in the intervention, which included a
teacher-led curriculum, parent training groups, aca-
demic tutoring and lessons in self-control and social
skills. The programme, which lasted from first grade
through tenth grade, reduced delinquency, arrests
and use of health and mental health services as the
students aged through adolescence and young adult-
hood, as researchers explained in a separate study
published earlier this year.
In the latest study, researchers looked at the "why"
behind those earlier findings. In looking at the data
from nearly 900 students, researchers found that
about a third of the impact on future crime outcomes
was due to the social and self-regulation skills the
students learned from ages six to 11.
The academic skills that were taught as part of
Fast Track turned out to have less of an impact on
crime and delinquency rates than soft skills, which
are associated with emotional intelligence. Soft skills
might include teaching kids to work co-operatively
in a group or teaching them how to think about the
long-term consequences when they make a decision,
whereas teaching physics is an example of a hard
"The conclusion that we would make is that these
(soft) skills should be emphasised even more in our
education system and in our system of socialising
children," says Kenneth Dodge, a professor of public
policy and of psychology and neuroscience at Duke
who was a principal investigator in this study as well
as in the original Fast Track project. Parents should
do all they can to promote these skills with their
children, Dodge says, as should education policy-
"To the extent we can improve those skills, we can
improve outcomes in delinquency and juvenile crime,"
says Dodge, who is also director of Duke s Center
for Child and Family Policy. The study was published
recently in the journal Child Development.
To Neil Bernstein, a psychologist in Washington,
DC, who specialises in child and adolescent behavior
disorders, the researchers findings seem consistent
with what he s seen on the ground in working with
children for more than 30 years. And while he says
he agrees with the importance of teaching self-control
and social skills, he would add empathy to the list,
"Empathy is what makes us aware of the feelings
of others and when you re empathic, you re much
less likely to hurt someone else s feelings," says Bern-
stein, who serves on the advisory board for the Part-
nership for Drug-Free Kids and is the author of mul-
tiple books, including How to Keep Your Teenager
Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can t.
Being in tune with how someone else feels might
also make adolescents steer clear of bullying and
other "behaviours of concern," Bernstein says.
Empathy was not one of the skills that were directly
measured in this study, according to Lucy Sorensen,
a PhD student at Duke and lead author of the study.
But there were several measures of "prosocial behav-
ior," Sorensen says, defined as voluntary behaviour
intended to benefit others.
While Bernstein thinks the study s findings are
meaningful and could potentially
serve as a model for schools, he
says that collectively getting a
school system, teachers, parents
and students all motivated enough
to take part in an intervention like
Fast Track is challenging.
Several parts of the Fast Track
study have been picked up suc-
cessfully in other school settings,
Sorensen says, such as a social-
emotional learning curriculum
called Promoting Alternative
Thinking Strategies, or Paths.
Programmes like Fast Track need
buy-in from school systems, teach-
ers and parents, she says. She adds
that it s a strength of Fast Track
that the students get support both
at school and at home. (NPR)
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Social skills in childhood
prevent harder problems later
Being in tune with how someone else feels might make
adolescents steer clear of bullying and other behaviours of
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