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Teacher concern associated with reduced anti-social behavior among troubled teens

University Of Chicago : 24 May, 2007  (Technical Article)
Having a teacher who students perceive cares is associated with lower rates of drug and sexual risk behaviors among high risk youth, according to a new study headed by a University of Chicago researcher.
“Adolescents who reported low teacher connectedness were two times more likely to use marijuana and amphetamines, and two times more likely to be sexually active, have sex while high on alcohol or drugs, have a partner who was high on alcohol or other drugs during sex, and have multiple sexual partners,” said Dexter Voisin, Assistant Professor in the University’s School of Social Service Administration.

Although other studies have found that behavior improves when schools show concern for students, the new report is the first to show a significant association between teacher connectedness and anti-social behavior among delinquent teens. The findings were reported in an article “Teacher Connectedness and Health-Related Outcomes among Detained Adolescents,” in the current issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study underlines the importance of providing additional training for teachers in dealing with delinquent youth, Voisin said. Teachers and parents should be encouraged to have high expectations for students and schools should ensure that every student feels close to at least one supportive adult at school, Voisin said.

“Other strategies most likely to improve school and teacher connectedness may include involving teachers as coaches and after-school leaders, and establishing cooperative learning where teachers use small groups of students as learning partners,” he said.

“Although supportive adults are clearly important in adolescents’ lives, for some youth, teachers have more contact with adolescents than many other adults, perhaps even including parents and guardians. Thus, for many troubled youth, many of whom may already be grappling with unmet psychosocial needs, the protective value of teacher connectedness may be critical,” he explained.

The study was based on interviews between 2001 and 2003 with 550 boys and girls who were 14 to 18 years old and were in eight regional youth detention centers in Georgia. The sample was equally divided between boys and girls, and was 41 percent white, 40 percent African American, and nine percent, other or not identified.

The youth, who were in the facilities after being arrested on theft on other charges, were interviewed with audio- computer-assisted technology that supplied questions over a headset and allowed the respondents to respond confidentially, potentially reducing response bias and circumventing potential problems related to illiteracy.

The students were asked about their relationships with teachers and their social behaviors prior to being detained, in a number of areas: Do teachers at my school care about me? Do teachers at my school understand kids? Do teachers at my school treat kids fairly? Do teachers at my school really care about students? Do teachers at my school really put a lot of effort into their teacher? And, do teachers at my school make school work interesting?

Of the group, 81 percent smoked marijuana, 24 percent used amphetamines, 73 percent used alcohol, and 77 percent used tobacco. Nearly 86 percent reported having sex.

The study analyzed the relationship between teacher connectedness and social behaviors controlling for length of stay in detention, family income, race and gender.
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