9 January 2009

Naughty kids more likely to fail in life

Agence France-Presse
Children who badly misbehave in school are likelier to end up with a dud job, poor mental health, teen pregnancy or divorce, according to a new study.
Naughty kid

Dangerous road: The research provides statistical backing for teachers who sound warnings about anti-social behaviour.
Credit: iStockphoto

PARIS: Children who badly misbehave in school are likelier to end up with a dud job, poor mental health, teen pregnancy or divorce, according to a new study.

The paper, published today by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), provides statistical backing for teachers who sound warnings about anti-social behaviour, its authors said.

The research draws on an exceptionally long-term investigation, launched among 3,652 Britons who were born in 1946. With their consent, these volunteers have been monitored at occasional intervals since their birth, filling in questionnaires about their health, family and professional life.

Adolescent misconduct

At the ages of 13 and 15, this group was assessed by their teachers, who were asked to grade their behaviour as having severe, mild or no conduct problems. A total of 9.5 per cent of the teenagers were identified as having severe problems; 28.8 per cent had mild problems; and 61.7 per cent no problems.

Forty years later, the follow-up inquiry found a clear link between misbehaviour at school and difficulties in adult life.

“Adolescent misconduct might adversely affect developing social behaviours and result in pervasive social and mental health difficulties throughout adult life,” the authors write.

Compared with those with no conduct problems at school, those who severely misbehaved were twice as likely to become a parent before the age of 20; likelier to get divorced or have relationship problems with spouses, children or friends; four times likelier to leave school with no qualifications, and twice as likely to be in a manual job or unemployed.

Problems in life also extended, but to a lesser degree, to those with milder forms of misbehaviour.

Costly behaviour

Males accounted for 62.6 per cent of those with severe behavioural problems at school and 54.8 per cent of those with mild problems. If the father had a manual job, this too was a major factor among teenagers in these categories.

The study was led by Ian Colman, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Colman said the study provides a useful guide for focussing resources to help teenagers whose behaviour could prove costly both to themselves in adulthood, and to society.

He admits that the study has some limitations – there are no data to explain why children misbehaved, for instance. On the other hand, the teachers’ assessment was a good indicator of a child’s risk of delinquency, and a better guide than the parents’ own assessment, he added.

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