Minister O’Gorman launches report on adolescent behaviour

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Dr Roderic O’Gorman, T.D., today launched the report, Risk and Protective Factors in Adolescent Behaviour, by Emer Smyth and Merike Darmody.

Schools matter more for teenage behaviour than where they live

New research, published by the ESRI and produced in partnership with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Inclusion and Youth (DCEDIY), shows that schools are more important than neighbourhoods in influencing adolescent behaviour. Using data from the Growing Up in Ireland study, the findings show that most 17-year-olds have no behaviour difficulties and few consistently ‘act out’ at home, at school, and in the community.

Marked gender differences were found in types of behaviour. Behaviour that involved acting out – externalising behaviour at home, school-based misbehaviour and antisocial behaviour – was more common among young men. Young women were more likely to internalise their difficulties, and their tendency to do so increased significantly between 13 and 17 years of age. Socio-economic disadvantage among families was linked to behaviour difficulties at home but did not make a difference to anti-social behaviour or misbehaviour at school.

Behaviour patterns varied by the specific second-level school young people attended but the neighbourhood they lived in made much less difference. The quality of relationships with teachers emerged as a particularly important factor. 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. 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. Difficult relationships between teenagers and their parents were linked to behaviour problems. Larger friendship groups had both positive and negative effects, helping with low mood and isolation but posing a greater risk of school misbehaviour, antisocial and externalising behaviour. 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 findings show the importance of taking a holistic approach to supporting young people’s wellbeing, with a continuum from early prevention to targeted specialist support for those with more serious difficulties. Schools are an important influence on behaviour and a crucial site for intervention and support. However, some young people experience greater difficulties than others, underscoring the importance of adequate provision of child/adolescent community mental health services.

Emer Smyth, one of the report’s authors, said:

‘These findings relate to young people’s lives before the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental health and wellbeing of young people has been disproportionately affected by the period of restrictions which makes it all the more important to support young people’s wellbeing by providing a supportive school environment and an engaging experience of education.’

Merike Darmody, one of the report’s authors, said:

‘Young people’s (mis)behaviour is influenced by a number of factors. Good communication between families and schools is essential in supporting young people. Furthermore, having at least ‘one good adult’ can act as a protective factor, highlighting the importance of teachers, youth workers and other adults who work with young people in identifying and responding to the drivers of misbehaviour and school disengagement.’

Launching the report, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Inclusion and Youth, Dr Roderic O’Gorman, T.D., said:

‘My Department worked with the ESRI to produce this important analysis because it will help us to continue to promote the welfare and healthy development of our young people.  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. 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.’