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Teen Risk-Taking: Promising Prevention Programs and Approaches

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Document date: October 03, 2000
Released online: October 03, 2000

This guidebook is based on research made possible by a grant from the RWJ Foundation in support of Making The Grade: State and Local Partnerships to Strengthen School-Based Health Centers and a subcontract from Making The Grade at George Washington University. The authors wish to thank Julia Lear, Ph.D., executive director, and Jane Koppelman, M.P.A., deputy executive director, Making The Grade, for their guidance, encouragement, and support in compiling the research, as well as the project's Advisory Board for conceptual and concrete suggestions for developing a practical guidebook for program directors, educators, and others interested in extending and strengthening the network of effective prevention interventions for at-risk preteens and teens.

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.

Table of Contents

Update on Adolescent Risk-Taking
Common Elements of Successful Programs
Moving From Research to Practice
Prevention Readiness Questionnaire
Program Profiles
Index of Promising Programs and Approaches
Text and Literature Review Sources
About the Authors


This guidebook and program compendium provides an essential first step in bridging the gap from "research to practice." It explores some of the practical issues associated with finding, choosing, and starting potentially effective prevention programs for at-risk preteens and teens.

For many, preadolescence and adolescence are difficult to navigate. Most teens have newly granted independence and a desire to test limits, yet they lack information and decisionmaking skills. This combination often leads to unnecessary risk-taking that can have harmful, even deadly, consequences.

The most serious threats to the health and safety of adolescents and young adults are preventable. They result from such risk-taking behaviors as fighting, substance abuse, suicide, and sexual activity rather than from illness. Many teens do not engage in any of these behaviors; however, most teens that engage in any one of these behaviors are also likely to engage in others, thereby increasing the chance of damage to their health.

Programs intended to educate preteens and teens by steering them away from such risky behavior are in demand and gaining in popularity. These programs often are based in schools, where they can potentially reach large and diverse groups of youth. They also are found in a variety of community settings.

Although interest in problem behavior prevention programs is increasing, until recently little was known about what components and delivery mechanisms make for a successful intervention—and whether such components and means can be extended to or modified for other settings. Such information is crucial for those interested in either improving existing programs or establishing new ones based on successful models elsewhere.

To help close this knowledge gap and to help program directors, practitioners, and community leaders enlarge the network of effective programs and approaches for at-risk youth, Urban Institute researchers reviewed what is known about successful prevention interventions and their dissemination. They identified 51 problem behavior prevention interventions whose initial effectiveness has been demonstrated through scientific evaluation. A subset of 21 programs was selected on the basis of the rigor of their evaluations or the strength of their results for closer examination of the program elements and/or delivery modes that appeared to be associated with their effectiveness. The researchers also explored with the assistance of experienced prevention scientists and school-based practitioners what might be the essential elements of schools' and other community organizations' readiness to undertake research-based problem behavior prevention programming.

This guidebook to promising programs and approaches offers the fruits of that research. It is our hope that it will provide a helpful starting point for the development of a larger, more sustainable network of effective prevention programs and approaches for at-risk teens.

In the booklet you will find:

  • An Update on Adolescent Risk-Taking—what is known about the level and characteristics of teen risk-taking today and why it is both necessary and an opportune time to improve and expand the network of effective prevention programs for at-risk preteens and teens.
  • The Common Elements of Successful Prevention Programs, briefly summarized, along with an explanation of the criteria used to select the 51 programs profiled in this guidebook.
  • Moving from Research to Practice—a discussion of the challenges facing practitioners seeking to replicate promising intervention programs or approaches, with some suggestions for ways to meet these challenges.
  • A Prevention Readiness Questionnaire to help program directors and planners identify and assess factors necessary to create favorable conditions and circumstances for successful adaptation or replication of the programs or their salient components in new settings.
  • Profiles of 51 Prevention Programs whose behavioral evaluations demonstrate their effectiveness. The profiles provide general information about the program, highlight unique features, summarize evaluation results, and give general contact information. The 21 (most) rigorously evaluated programs also have curriculum, training, and contact information included.
  • A Handy Reference Chart for quick comparison of the 51 programs.

This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which many find convenient when printing.


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