Youth project with morality at its core aims to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour

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A unique youth-focused initiative aims to provide young people with a “moral compass” to help them make important life decisions.

The Youth Compass Project has been designed to shift away from traditional disciplinary responses to youth crime and antisocial behaviour.

Instead, the 12-week programme for youngsters aged between 11 and 17-years-old, combines mediator-led discussions and interactive exercises such as creative tasks, acting, music and video, scenarios, moral dilemmas and debates.

The aim is to guide the participants through a range of topics:

  • Empathy – Understanding and responding to others’ emotional states and viewpoints
  • Moral rules – Exploring why behaviour is viewed as right or wrong, and the role of rules, laws and regulations
  • Moral emotions – Exploring the shame and guilt that can impact decision-making for anti-social behaviour and crime
  • Emotion management and regulation – Developing constructive responses to difficult situations, including mindfulness
  • Peer resistance – Developing strategies to build resilience to resist negative peer pressure and avoid rule-breaking

Principal investigator on the project, Dr Neema Trivedi-Bateman, of Loughborough University, said: “It is imperative that we move away from a punitive approach involving harsh punishments and negative labelling, and towards a supportive, empathetic approach to why young people break rules, including rules dictated by the law.

“Compass can offer a technique that to our knowledge has not been tested before; we can offer young people with new psychological tools and strategies to promote morality and emotion and encourage positive decision-making. Speaking generally, the current crime prevention initiatives do not work.”

The initiative is underpinned on situational action theory (SAT) – a model of crime which has morality at its core.

The key theoretical insights from existing SAT research are that changes in morality correspond to significant changes in crime at the individual level.

Dr Trivedi-Bateman said: “SAT proposes that all acts of crime are acts of moral rule-breaking, and crucially, finds substantial evidence that morality is the key contributor to crime when testing against many other factors, such as self-control.

“The premise that the development of morality in childhood, adolescence and adulthood is continual and malleable allows for an opportunity to intervene.

“This means that interventions focusing on improving moral rules (how right or wrong one thinks illegal action is) and associated emotions (including empathy, shame and guilt) should lead to reductions in crime and improvement in prosocial behaviour.”

The programme has been well received by teenagers at a youth work charity and is currently being implemented and evaluated at two schools in England (The Co-Investigator for the SAT NAV Schools project is Dr Beth Hardie, Affiliated Researcher at the Centre for Analytic Criminology at The University of Cambridge).

For more information visit the Youth Compass website.