Newswise — School violence, substance abuse and other antisocial behavior in youths can be reduced by cultivating so-called "protective assets," the buffers that protect children from exposure to risk factors.

A four-year evaluation of the "Prevention Plus" model for violence prevention found that participating schools saw dramatic decreases in fighting, court referrals, gang-related activities and safe-school violations, said Rich West, director of the Center for the School of the Future at Utah State University. "Protective assets" (or factors) are skills or conditions that buffer or protect children from exposure to risk factors, thus making them more resilient to the effects of risk.

Some examples of protective assets or protective factors are: "positive addictions" to healthy pursuits such as athletics, fitness, a musical instrument; well-developed social and academic skills; strong positive relationships, especially with family members and other significant "mentors" ; clear expectations for performance and adequate opportunities to acquire critical knowledge and skill; and demonstrations of support from family and friends.

Participating students experienced remarkable educational improvement as measured by standardized measures of academic achievement, West said. To date, these results are unique among violence prevention efforts for both magnitude and consistency over a four-year period.

School violence and other antisocial behaviors are a major problem in the nation's schools, he said. As many as 20 percent of students report being frightened throughout much of their school day, and between 8-10 percent of students miss at least one day of school each month out of fear of victimization. Recent trends suggest that violence and intimidation by female students is dramatically rising.