Prevention programs can intervene at any point along this continuum of risk. For example, empathy-based character education intervenes at the level of ‘Empathy Breach’, teaching students the skills to enhance prosocial behaviors. Peer mediation intervenes at the level of the ‘Disruption in Peer Group,’ helping students to prevent or repair breaches that have occurred between individual friends or groups of friends. Crisis intervention comes into play at the level of ‘Peer Aggression,’ after an event has occurred.

Risky Business is the only program we know of that intervenes at the level of ‘Normative Misperceptions,’ It scientifically and systematically identifies and corrects specific maturational distortions that place adolescents ‘at-risk’ for peer aggression. Risky Business is a primer because it targets the psychological underpinnings that precede empathy failure before it gives rise to bullying, harassment and violence.

Schools can employ multiple prevention methods that compliment one another and target all points of impact on the pathway to peer aggression. Risky Business is not a replacement for ‘proven programs’ or a substitute for clinical interventions for ‘high-risk youth’. Instead, it is the ‘missing enzyme’ that prepares adolescents to digest and absorb the content of subsequent interventions, while also promoting social growth and improving the school climate through social emotional education.

Risky Business is a universal intervention for all students. It has been effective with special education students, gifted students, emotionally disturbed and/or conduct disordered students as well as with the general student population.

Normative Misperceptions
Adolescents have particular misperceptions of the motivations and intentions of their peers. We call these biases ‘normative distortions’ because they are universal and arise from maturational constraints in cognition and emotional development that color peer perception.

Empathy Breach
Perceptions influence behavior. When normative distortions occur, there is a corresponding shift in empathy for the associated peer. Empathy failure is bi-directional. When an adolescent loses the empathy of the group, there is an increased risk of victimization. When an adolescent loses empathy for the group, there is an increased risk of perpetration.

Disruption in Peer Group
The regulatory function of the adolescent peer group is to contain the sexual and aggressive impulses of its members. Disputes between peers disturb the harmony of the group and temporarily disable its protective function. Most often, they occur when one member matures more quickly than the others. Other times, a deviant peer overwhelms the defenses of the group.

Peer Aggression
When the cohesive boundary of the peer group ruptures, the likelihood of aggression among its members increases. The form of the outbreak may be instrumental (e.g., physical fighting, violence, etc.) or relational (e.g., excluding, teasing, out-casting, etc.).