Robert McMahon, B.C’s new Leadership Chair in Proactive Approaches to Reducing Risk for Violence among Children and Youth, has made it his life’s work to help at-risk youth.

Chair aimed at reducing violence among kids

April 7, 2011

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For Robert McMahon, the term “youth violence” covers a wide spectrum of conduct problems ranging from “just being bratty” and the “relational aggression” frequently seen on social media sites to “rape, homicide, theft, property destruction, bullying and cruelty to others.”

And McMahon, SFU’s new B.C. Leadership Chair in Proactive Approaches to Reducing Risk for Violence among Children and Youth, has made it his life’s work to prevent at-risk youth from developing more serious conduct problems.

He will use his $4.5-million chair to develop strategies to prevent and reduce violent and aggressive behaviour in children and youth.

“It’s important to identify not just risk factors but protective ones as well, the things that help kids become resilient,” says the internationally renowned clinical child psychologist, adding he’s learned “the importance of prevention whenever possible.

“It’s much better than going in after a child is in the juvenile justice system.”

McMahon studied at his home-state University of Virginia and earned a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Georgia before spending 23 years at the University of Washington (UW) where he directed the child clinical psychology PhD program.

His primary research and clinical interests concern the assessment, treatment, and prevention of conduct problems and other problem behavior in youth, especially in the context of the family.

At UW, he was a principal investigator on the federally funded Fast Track project, a multi-site collaborative study on the prevention of antisocial behavior in school-aged children that began in 1990 and continues today.

The largest prevention trial of its kind, it was designed to provide a comprehensive set of interventions from kindergarten through Grade 10. They were focused on enhancing the children’s social and behavioural regulation skills, interpersonal relationships, and academic functioning, as well as working with the family to provide positive parenting skills.

McMahon is excited by the opportunities and challenges posed by Vancouver’s cultural diversity and B.C.’s urban-rural contrast when it comes to developing problem-conduct prevention strategies here.

“Although we’ll begin with Metro Vancouver children and families,” he says, “I’m eager to work with rural youth and families as well.”


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