Public Release: 

Prevent risky behavior in your teen: Get to know their friends in and out of school

Society for Research in Child Development

If you've ever watched a group of elementary school kids interact, you can quickly see there's usually a "problem child," one whose behaviors are aggressive or disruptive for peers and teachers. For years, researchers have known that these "antisocial" children are often rejected by their peers. But now a new study published in the November/December issue of the journal Child Development finds that as these antisocial children move into adolescence, they begin to form alliances with other antisocial kids, increasing the chance they'll participate in risky behavior in their teenaged years.

To reach these conclusions, researchers from the University of Padova in Italy surveyed 577 sixth through eighth graders and their teachers in three middle schools in Milan, Italy about antisocial behavior and peer relations.

"Antisocial" actions included such things as "lied to parents," "hit someone," "stole something from a store," "marked graffiti on public transportation or property" and "used alcohol or drugs." Teachers were asked about problem behaviors in the classroom, including whether the child was argumentative or disturbed classmates.

They found that sixth-grade students with high levels of antisocial behavior were, in fact, rejected by their peers within the classroom. However, eighth-grade students with high levels of antisocial behavior were not. Rather, these eighth-grade students were positively accepted by their peers outside of the classroom and school.

The researchers found that most of the acceptance of these antisocial eighth grade youth came from other antisocial youth. In other words, by the eighth grade, antisocial youth appear to be forming relationships among themselves, creating broader networks with other antisocial peers.

"These findings are important because they show that throughout adolescence, antisocial youth may begin to form more cohesive and organized networks with other antisocial youth," said lead author Jeff Kiesner, PhD, a professor of psychology. "This "networking" is likely to result in increasing risk for already antisocial youth," he said.

The findings suggest that it is important for parents to get to know who their child spends time with outside of school and across different settings. "Doing so may provide the additional information that parents need to help guide their adolescent children through a difficult developmental period, during which peers are likely to provide strong reinforcement for antisocial behavior."


Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 76, Issue 6, Differences in the Relations Between Antisocial Behavior and Peer Acceptance Across Contexts and Across Adolescence by Kiesner J and Pastore M (University of Padova, Italy). Copyright 2005 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

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