Bonnie Benard

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Prevention Forum

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New Paradigm "Youth as problems, or youth as resources? Communities with problems or communities with resources?" These opening sentences to Reaching Out. a recent book on establishing community service programs for youth, encapsulate a critical issue I see confronting anyone relating to or working with young people, whether as parents, teachers, community folk, or prevention advocates and other helping professionals: the framework or perspective from which we view youth in our society today. Whether we view youth as problems or as resources determines not only our expectations for our youth and our actions towards them, but also the type of programs we, as preventionists, design to address youth issues. Furthermore, from research in social and educational psychology, we know the critical role adult expectations have on the subsequent thoughts and behavior of children. A salient example is the research demonstrating that high parental and teacher expectations are perhaps the most significant variables correlating with a youth's academic success. According to one scholar, "It is therefore essential that educational policies and practices'' - and I would add, prevention policies and practices - "are developed on the basis of expectations that are both realistic and non-limiting, thereby allowing young people to express their full potential in supportive and safe environments" (Kurth-Schai, p. 113). Just as KurthSchai claims most educational policies and practices are based on negative expectations for youth - on youth as problems instead of as resources - many prevention policies and practices similarly reflect this negative underlying paradigm,