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Just as public health researchers have identified smoking and a diet high in fat as risk factors for heart disease, the Social Development Research Group (SDRG) has identified a set of risk factors for adolescent health and behavior problems. SDRG research has shown that certain conditions in children's community, school, family, and peer environments, as well as physiological and personality traits of the children themselves, are common risk factors for problems such as drug abuse, delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and school failure.

SDRG has also identified protective factors and protective processes that prevent people who are exposed to risk from developing health and behavior problems. Protective factors reduce one's risk for later problems by buffering the effects of exposure to risk factors. SDRG's Social Development Strategy emphasizes two key protective factors: bonding to prosocial family, school and peers, and clear standards or norms for behavior. The strategy identifies three processes that promote these protective factors: opportunities for involvement in productive prosocial roles, skills to be successfully involved in these roles, and consistent systems of recognition and reinforcement for prosocial involvement. These factors protect against the development of conduct problems, school misbehavior, truancy, and drug abuse.

Knowledge of risk and protective factors guides SDRG theory and the development and testing of prevention and treatment interventions. SDRG research programs seek to influence risk factors in groups as diverse as elementary school children, urban teenagers, children of addicts, and cocaine abusers.

SDRG interventions are designed to strengthen the bonds of attachment, commitment, and belief that tie young children to families, schools, and community groups through providing them with opportunities for active involvement, the skills to participate successfully, and rewards or recognition for their efforts. When bonds are strong and families, schools, and communities express clear norms against unwanted behaviors like interpersonal violence or drug abuse, problems are less likely to occur.

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