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Teen offenders: Get a job or go to school?

U. PITTSBURGH (US) — Juvenile offenders who work more than 20 hours weekly, but do not attend school regularly, display more antisocial behaviors than other teens.

Researchers interviewed 1,350 serious juvenile offenders between the ages of 14 and 17 and tracked them for five years. Each month they gathered information about employment, school attendance, and incidents of antisocial behavior. Those incidents ranged from beating up someone to buying or selling something they knew was stolen.

The teens included in the study were African American (41.5 percent), Hispanic (33.5 percent), non-Hispanic Caucasian (20.2 percent), and from other groups (4.8 percent).

Going to school on a regular basis without working was associated with the least antisocial behavior. Going to school regularly and working more than 20 hours per week was linked to diminished antisocial behavior.

Young people who worked more than 20 hours a week and went to school off and on were at the greatest risk for antisocial behavior, followed by teens who worked long hours and had stopped going to school completely.

These effects occurred during adolescence; by early adulthood, working more than 20 hours a week was related to fewer instances of antisocial behavior than those found in adolescents.

The findings are reported in the journal Child Development.

“Our results suggest caution in recommending employment in and of itself as a remedy for adolescents’ antisocial behavior,” says lead researcher Kathryn Monahan, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, who coauthored the paper with Temple University’s Laurence Steinberg and the University of California, Irvine’s Elizabeth Cauffman.

“We found that for adolescents of high-school age, placing offenders in jobs without ensuring that they also attend school regularly exacerbates, rather than diminishes, their antisocial behavior,” Monahan says.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the National Institute of Justice, the John and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission supported the research.

Source: University of Pittsburgh

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