Some research suggests children who are physically, emotionally, or sexually abused may be more likely to break the law as adults. Yet a new study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggests academic success could buffer some effects of child abuse. Positive academic experiences may reduce the risk of criminal activity in adulthood.
Positive School Experiences May Buffer Some Effects of Childhood Abuse
The study gathered data on 356 people from preschool age to adulthood. Based on parent reports and self-reports, participants had experienced childhood neglect, abuse, or both. Researchers also gathered data on individuals’ educational experiences and crimes.
The study broke participants into three categories:
- People who did not engage in crime, or who only engaged in low levels of crime
- People who engaged in chronic criminal activity
- “Desisters,” or people who only committed crimes in adolescence
Abuse was generally associated with a higher risk of criminal behavior. There was no link between childhood neglect and criminal activity.
School engagement was linked to reduced criminal behavior in teens. Kids who were engaged in school tended to participate in class and succeed academically. Students with more positive school experiences were more likely to be in the non-offenders group.
If teens did engage in crime, school involvement did not lower their risk of criminal behavior as adults. For that group, only educational attainment reduced the risk of adult criminal behavior. Educational attainment refers to the highest school level a person has completed.
Students who were suspended in seventh through ninth grades were more likely to take part in criminal activity as adults.
The study’s authors urge teachers to be mindful of the role abuse can play in academic concerns. Educational experiences can influence adult outcomes of abuse. By supporting vulnerable students, teachers may help abuse survivors become successful adults.
The Mental Health Effects of Child Abuse
Criminal behavior is just one measure of adult outcomes in children with a history of abuse. A 2014 study says early abuse and neglect can change the way certain genes behave. The genes may affect a child’s social skills and future mental health.
A 2017 study found people who were emotionally abused in childhood are more likely to develop posttraumatic stress (PTSD). They also have a higher risk of opioid abuse.
- Educational success curbs effects of child abuse, neglect. (2018, March 14). EurekAlert. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-03/uom-esc031418.php
- Jung, H., Herrenkohl, T. I., Skinner, M. L., & Rousson, A. N. (2018, February 3). Does educational success mitigate the effect of child maltreatment on later offending patterns? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 088626051875611. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0886260518756113
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