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 British study.
The paper, published by the British Medical Journal, provides statistical backing for teachers who sound warnings about antisocial behavior, its authors say.
It 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.
At the ages of 13 and 15, this group was assessed by their teachers, who were asked to grade their behavior as having severe, mild or no conduct problems.
A total of 9.5 percent of the teenagers were identified as having severe problems; 28.8 percent had mild problems; and 61.7 percent no problems.
Forty years later, the follow-up inquiry found a clear link between misbehavior at school and difficulties in adult life.
“Adolescent misconduct might adversely affect developing social behaviors and result in pervasive social and mental health difficulties throughout adult life,” the paper suggests.
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 misbehavior.
Males accounted for 62.6 percent of those with severe behavioral problems at school and 54.8 percent 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 is led by Ian Colman, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Alberta, Canada.
Colman says the study provides a useful guide for focusing resources to help teenagers whose behavior 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 argues.