Teen behaviour more influenced by schools than localities, study finds

Youths attending disadvantaged schools had higher levels of truancy, antisocial behaviour

Schools are more important than neighbourhoods in influencing adolescent behaviour, according to new ERSI research. Photograph: iStock

Schools are more important than neighbourhoods in influencing adolescent behaviour, according to new ERSI research. Photograph: iStock


Schools are more important than neighbourhoods in influencing adolescent behaviour, an Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study has found.

It shows that, overall, most 17-year-olds have no behavioural difficulties and few consistently “act out” at home, in school or in the community.

Where there are issues such as antisocial or school-based misbehaviour, they are more common among young men.

While behavioural difficulties in the home are linked to socio-economic disadvantage among families, this did not make a difference to the level of anti-social behaviour or misbehaviour at school.

The study found a significant variation in behaviour patterns between school types - Deis, non-Deis or fee-paying - even taking account of the social background of their students.

Young people attending disadvantaged or Deis schools had higher levels of school- based misbehaviour, truancy and antisocial behaviour.

However, they also displayed more “pro-social” behaviour - such as feeling empathy or concern for others - than those attending non-Deis schools.

Levels of antisocial behaviour and truancy were found to be higher in fee-paying than in non-Deis schools, when controlling for family background factors.

The report’s authors say the difference in the extent of school misbehaviour and truancy, even taking into account the different social mix of schools, suggests that school policies and climate play an important role.

Teacher relationships

The quality of relationships with teachers emerged as a particularly important factor in the research. Young people who disliked school and school subjects, who were frequently given out to by their teachers and who did worse academically had poorer behaviour.

In contrast to the variation between schools, adolescent behaviour patterns did not vary significantly across neighbourhoods.

Having at least one adult to talk to about any problems - whether at home, school or in the community - was consistently associated with better behaviour outcomes for young people.

Positive relationships with parents and peers emerged as important protective factors in the study. Difficult relationships between teenagers and their parents were linked to behavioural problems.

Larger friend groups had positive and negative effects, helping with low mood and isolation but posing a greater risk of school misbehaviour, antisocial and externalising behaviour.

Older friends

Socialising with older friends was also a risk factor for these behaviours. Access to local facilities in a safe neighbourhood had protective effects on adolescent behaviour, highlighting the importance of local service provision for young people.

The report’s authors - Emer Smyth and Merike Darmody - said the findings, which use data from the Growing Up in Ireland study, show the importance of taking a holistic approach to supporting young people’s wellbeing. This ranged from early prevention to targeted specialist support for those with more serious difficulties.

Schools, they added, are an important influence on behaviour and a crucial site for intervention and support.

In a statement, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the key message from the report is that so much of what we do every day to support our young people is working.

“While there is much we can learn from this report, most young people do not have behavioural difficulties, and for those that are experiencing challenges, it is not inevitable that this will continue,”? he said.

“Intervention works, and this speaks to the very important role played by our schools and youth services. As Minister, I will continue to support and promote the essential work of youth services across Ireland.”