Conference addresses teen behavior

Christopher Sigurdson

A growing concern about public and mental health problems among youth prompted a three-day conference this week hosted by the University.
The conference, held at the Holiday Inn Metrodome, included specialists from all around the country who spoke about the increased need for preventing behavioral problems in young kids.
Dr. John E. Lochman, professor and Saxon Chair of Clinical Psychology at the University of Alabama, presented the keynote address. Lochman stressed the importance of reaching children at an early age in order to prevent behavioral problems. He also discussed the advances being made in prevention science, and how families will benefit from them.
“Anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviors are very difficult to turn around. This is why prevention programs are so important,” Lochman said.
Ken Winters, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University, also spoke at the conference. Winters focused on the need for prevention programs.
“Prevention programs will have an effect on youths who may be prone to extreme violence,” Winters said.
In addition to prevention of anti-social and aggressive behavior among youths, the conference touched on drug abuse, delinquency, crime, depression and suicide.
Harvy Leviton, psychologist at Hopkins Public Schools, attended the conference.
“Aggressive behavior is a problem at our schools. We are always on the lookout for new ideas on how to work better with kids that are presenting aggressive behavior in school,” Leviton said.
The conference was planned even before the shootings in Littleton, Colo., occurred, but the issue was addressed at the beginning of the conference.
When asked about the recent outbreak of violence in schools, Winters said many people don’t take signs of a troubled teen seriously.
“Most people don’t assume that some of these things are going to lead to terrible outcomes. There is the natural tendency for people not to always react with prevention thinking in mind. I think that might be the bottom line message,” Winters said.
Lochman pointed out that in one particular prevention program, parents are taught that interacting with children is a key element. In a different type of prevention program, children should be encouraged to use problem solving when confronted with a social dilemma.
Speakers at the conference explained that most prevention programs are moving toward working with parents and children at the same time.
Lochman said the best prevention program would include involvement of both parents and children. However, Lochman pointed out limitations to this type of program.
Those programs are a relatively new concept, and Lochman pointed to a limited number of long-term studies to verify success. The biggest limitation for parents is the unwillingness to change their own behavior, he said.
Lochman stressed the importance of conferences such as this one when trying to deal with increasing problems among youth.
“It’s a way to respond to the increased concerns in communities about these kinds of problems,” Lochman said.
The three-day conference will also include a trip to Early Risers Summer School, a community-based drug prevention program for youths.