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Frabutt Speaks on Youth Violence for 2015 Hesburgh Lecture

Lecturer asserts perception of increased violence partly due to media and hype

Hesburgh Lecture Notre Dame's Jim Frabutt speaks in the Schine Auditorium.

Youth violence, particularly in schools, seems to be on the rise…or is it?

Jim Frabutt, a faculty member in the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education and Fellow in the Institute for Educational Initiatives, explored the subject in the 10th annual Hesburgh Lecture Series at Sacred Heart. Frabutt’s talk was titled, “Community Safety and Youth Violence Prevention: A Focus on School.”

The lecture also aligned with the fifth anniversary of the Horizons Enrichment Program, an outreach organization working with K-12 students from low-income Bridgeport families.

Horizons Executive Director Jeff Rumpf spoke at the lecture’s outset about SHU’s role in helping disadvantaged students who likely would be affected by the “achievement gap.”

“We look at what they need: teachers that believe in them, music, creative arts,” Rumpf said. “Horizons is able to mobilize an army of young people and professors here to support kids. They are not only catching up, but competing. It’s a matter of believing.”

Mark Moyer, the Hesburgh Lecture representative from the Notre Dame Club of Fairfield County, introduced Frabutt. The lecture series is named after the late Father Ted Hesburgh, who was president of Notre Dame University for 35 years (1952-1987) and received more than 150 honorary degrees in his lifetime.

Frabutt opened by urging that, in situations of youth violence, people look beyond the hype and media accounts alone, noting that incidents can help create headlines and drive views. He also reflected on the years 2000-2009 to show how media manipulated data. With splashy headlines like “Girls Gone Bad,” he said, mainstream media created the sense that teen girls had become increasingly aggressive and that America had a public health crisis on its hands. The claims were based on FBI crime statistics showing a rise in arrests of girls for aggravated assault and simple assault. However, said Frabutt, when one considers other, more objective studies, there is no spike.

Frabutt explained the FBI data reflected policy changes — net widening, criminalization of less serious forms of violence and zero tolerance approaches. “Juvenile violence is actually not increasing,” said Frabutt. “And homicides in schools have also steadily declined, as well as ‘other’ violent crimes.” He cited the most recent available data in that assertion.

In fact, noted Frabutt, schools are among the safest places for kids ages 5 to 19. He shared data collected over a six-year span that showed bike accidents, falls and pool drownings as the leading causes of death in this age set, with school homicides much lower on the list.

Educators, Frabutt said, currently approach students in three ways: instruction, management and learning supports. The last is perhaps most important. “Students often face non-academic issues related to social, emotional, mental and behavioral needs,” he shared. “A kid can’t focus if he’s hungry or there was a shooting during the night. We need to address this.”

Other outside factors that affect a student’s mental state are peer bullying — something 19.6 percent of students say they have experienced, according to one study; and cyberbullying, experienced by 14.8 percent of students nationwide.

Frabutt offered solutions to address these issues, including schoolwide attention, tiered services, responsive supports and increased adult monitoring.

Video games often are singled out as a factor contributing to youth violence, and Frabutt said there’s a link. “Less time is spent in more positive extra-curriculars and physical activity,” he said. However, there are positives at the same time, including an increase in cognitive skill and efficiency, eye-hand coordination and spatial reasoning.

He also offered suggestion about how educators handle discipline. “Discipline should not be purely punitive,” said Frabutt. “It’s important for educators to communicate and teach your expectations, recognize and reinforce positive behaviors, apply discipline consistently and fairly, and look at data for successes and problems.”

Summing up, Frabutt guided parents to have high demands but a warm and supportive manner, and educators to offer access to mental health counseling, effective and positive support and discipline, school crisis and emergency preparedness, and a balance of physical and psychological safety.