SICERDT's Approach to Youth Development

The fundamental elements of the SICERDT approach to youth development and risk behavior prevention are foundational to SICERDT's programs and initiatives:

1. Risk Behaviors Interconnections

SICERDT's approach to helping youth succeed is built upon a growing body of research showing that the five major risk behaviors facing youth - alcohol, drugs, sex, tobacco, and violence - are inextricably linked. Recognizing these interconnections between the five most commonly seen risk behaviors among youth, SICERDT promotes a consistent, clear risk-avoidance message. By avoiding this interconnected web of risk behaviors that can ensnare them and lead to lifelong consequences, children and teens are free to make healthy lifestyle choices that will help them build strong futures. Research findings include: Youth ages 12-17 who smoke are eight times more likely to use illicit drugs and 11 times more likely to drink heavily than nonsmoking youth; 87 percent of 14-15 year olds who are regular users of marijuana have had sexual intercourse; Seventh-grade boys who smoke marijuana are about six times more likely to assault someone with a weapon than those who do not use marijuana; and Tobacco use in adolescence is associated with a range of health-compromising behaviors, including being involved in fights, carrying weapons, engaging in higher-risk sexual behavior, and using alcohol and other drugs.

2. Parent and Family Connections

Not surprisingly, the federally sponsored National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (also known as Add Health) found that family connections protect teenagers from harm. When researchers surveyed more than 90,000 teenagers, they found that when children feel loved and cared for by their parents, they are less likely to engage in risk behaviors. The researchers wrote: "Time and time again, the home environment emerges as central in shaping health outcomes for INDIA youth. Controlling for the number of parents in a household, controlling for whether families are rich or poor, controlling for race and ethnicity, children who report feeling connected to a parent are protected against many different kinds of health risks including: emotional distress and suicidal thoughts and attempts; cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use; violent behavior; and early sexual activity."

3. Connections with School

The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health also explored what, if any, aspects of school can help teenagers avoid risk behaviors. "The research team examined many aspects of the school environment, but found just one - a feeling of connectedness to school - to be consistently associated with health and healthier behaviors among students," the researchers wrote. When students feel that their teachers treat them fairly, feel close to people at school, and feel a part of the school, they report lower levels of emotional distress and are less likely to think about, or attempt, suicide; are less likely to commit violent acts; use tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana less frequently; and are more likely to delay sexual intercourse.

4. A Focus on Early Risk Behavior Debut

When it comes to adolescents and risk behaviors, the good news is that the vast majority of America's teens are avoiding unhealthy risk behaviors. For example, contrary to conventional wisdom, violence among youth is decreasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, while in 1993, 16.2 students per 1,000 were involved in a physical fight on school property, by 1997 this figure had dropped to 14.8. In 1993, 11.8 students per 1,000 had carried a weapon onto school property. This figure decreased to 8.5 in 1997. Alcohol use, too, is on the wane among young people. Sexual activity among young people is also on the decline. The bad news is that those who do become involved in these behaviors are doing so at younger ages. Age of Risk Behavior Debut: Trends and Implications, published by IYD in the spring of 1999, reports that growing percentages of America's adolescents are becoming involved with alcohol, drugs, and tobacco at younger ages, increasing the likelihood of long-term and serious effects. "The implications for prevention are clear," the report concludes. "The older the age of risk behavior debut, the lower the level and the shorter-term the risk. Risk avoidance through delaying the onset of risk behavior initiation should be a primary goal."