Keeping Troublemakers in Line

Juvenile delinquents more likely to behave if employed and regularly attending school

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Do troublemakers stay in line better by working or going to school? Staying busy is a good thing, but work alone may not teach younger teens how to mesh well in society.

A recent study followed a group of serious juvenile offenders for 5 years. The study’s findings showed the best behavior came from those who both worked and attended school regularly until they were too old for high school.

Dropping out of school to work full time did not improve behaviors like aggression towards others and transacting in stolen goods regardless of how much money they made working.

"Keep an eye on your kid’s school attendance."

Kathryn C. Monahan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, led an investigation into the effects of unbalanced work and school hours for juvenile offenders.

For the study, 1,354 juvenile offenders from Phoenix, AZ and Philadelphia, PA, between the ages of 14-18 at the start of the study, were followed for 5 years.

Participants were interviewed at the start of the study, every 6 months for the first 3 years and then once per year until the end of the study.

Interview questions assessed:

  • Monthly employment status; both legal and illegal employment
  • Number of hours worked per week
  • Antisocial behavior, such as
    • Aggression towards another
    • Transactions involving stolen goods
  • School attendance
  • Job type
  • Wages earned

Overall, participants reported between 2-19 percent of low-intensity employment (less than 20 hours per week), and between 2-33 percent of high-intensity employment (more than 20 hours per week).

Results of the study showed youth who participated in high-intensity employment had less aggressive antisocial behavior than unemployed youth. Researchers did not find major differences in aggressive antisocial behavior between high and low intensity employed workers. Nor were major differences found between unemployed and low-intensity working youth.

Level of aggressive antisocial behavior did not vary based on employment level with regard to the offender's age.

Theft or transactions involving stolen goods was lower in the high-intensity workers compared to low-intensity workers and was highest in among the unemployed youth under the age of 18. By the age of 18, these correlations faded and level of work time did not impact income-related antisocial behavior. 

Levels of both aggressive and income-related antisocial behavior were lower in those under the age of 18 who attended school regularly.

Authors found that irregular school attendance, for those who were young enough to be enrolled, was an indicator of antisocial behavior. Even more so than dropping out of school altogether. 

Dr. Monahan said, “Our results suggest caution in recommending employment in and of itself as a remedy for adolescents’ antisocial behavior. As an intervention strategy during young adulthood, placing juvenile offenders in jobs may be a wise idea.”

“But for adolescents of high school age, placing juvenile offenders in jobs without ensuring that they also attend school may exacerbate, rather than diminish, their antisocial behavior.”

This study was published in December in Child Development.

Funding support for this study was provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the National Institute of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission, William Pen Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 2, 2013
Last Updated:
January 4, 2013