Academic learning is usually in the spotlight at school, but teaching elementary-age students “soft” skills like self-control and social skills might help in keeping at-risk kids out of criminal trouble in the future, a study finds.
Duke University researchers looked at a program called Fast Track, which was started in the early 1990s for children who were identified by their teachers and parents to be at high risk for developing aggressive behavioral problems.
The students were randomized into two groups; half took part in the intervention, which included a teacher-led curriculum, parent training groups, academic tutoring and lessons in self-control and social skills. The program, which lasted from first grade through 10th grade, reduced delinquency, arrests and use of health and mental health services as the students aged through adolescence and young adulthood, as researchers explained in a separate study published earlier this year.
“The conclusion that we would make is that these [soft] skills should be emphasized even more in our education system and in our system of socializing 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 policymakers.
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