Saint Leo University Core value of RESPECT: "Animated in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we value all individuals' unique talents, respect their dignity and strive to foster their commitment to excellence in our work. Our community's strength depends on the unity and diversity of our people, on the free exchange of ideas and of learning, living and working harmoniously."
How does this statement apply to delinquency prevention and intervention programs that are focused on school violence?
There are many causes of juvenile delinquency, ranging from environmental factors to physiological variables. Saint Leo University’s six core values can be applied to the study of juvenile delinquency and prevention because of the universal nature of those values. Among the university’s core values is “respect,” which the institution defines as quoted in the student’s question:
Animated in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we value all individuals’ unique talents, respect their dignity, and strive to foster their commitment to excellence in our work. Our community’s strength depends on the unity and diversity of our people, on the free exchange of ideas, and on learning, living, and working harmoniously.
To the extent that juvenile behavioral problems are attributable to environmental factors, and even to the extent that certain physiological characteristics contribute to aberrant behavior, respect for the dignity of the individual beginning in childhood can help prevent the development of such behaviors. The point of Saint Leo University’s core values is that, through their application, children can grow into adulthood with respect for others and for their surroundings. Children who grow up with a strong sense of self-worth and with respect for the rights and property of others are adults more likely to excel in life after school. Such values as “personal development,” “integrity,” and “responsible stewardship,” in addition to “respect,” are integral to the development of emotionally healthy youth. The more children are exposed to these values, the less likely they are to engage in criminal or other types of anti-social behaviors.
Specific to the university’s definition of “respect” is the importance of individuality. Children, as they mature, must be treated as individuals with unique characteristics while being inculcated with respect for their community. Racial and religious prejudices have no place in such an environment. Diversity is a condition that strengthens the community, as does the open manifestation of individuality as expressed in speech and in the arts. Children raised in such an environment become confident, productive members of society. That is the preventive model that those concerned about the causes of juvenile delinquency seek to address.
The interventionist model is more complicated because, to a certain extent, the behavioral characteristics that define many children and young adults have already taken root. Intervention, by definition, is oriented towards those children and adults who have already traveled a certain distance down the wrong path. The problem of school violence is frequently associated with larger societal dilemmas, such as the issue of gun control. Instances of school shootings inevitably result in heated debates regarding the merits of limiting access to firearms. This is entirely appropriate, but it does not address the underlying cause of the violence, which may have occurred even in the absence of firearms (albeit, with far fewer casualties). To the extent that individual students who choose to inflict violence on classmates and others are motivated by a perceived need for vengeance, such as in the case of bullied or socially-ostracized students, then the core value of “respect” can be applied as a potential corrective measure. In regard to bullies, emphasis on respect for diversity and individuality can help prevent a repeat of violent episodes. The key issue is to identify the cause of the violence in each individual case. Some individuals, sadly, are simply wired for trouble. Most are products of an environment that shapes aberrant behavior. Preventive and interventionist approaches are more likely to succeed in the case of the latter.