Depressive Symptoms May Predict Delinquent Behavior in Adolescents

Researchers from the University of Central Florida, the Family Services Research Center, Medical University of South Carolina, and the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, wanted to determine if depressive symptoms predicted delinquent behavior in adolescents. “Identifying risk factors for these syndromes is imperative, given their relative stability over time and the host of unique and overlapping negative outcomes associated with them,” said the team. “For example, adolescents reporting symptoms of depression and/or delinquency are at increased risk for concurrent and future academic failure, substance use / abuse, victimization, and interpersonal problems, among others.” In order to discover if depression could predict the behavior, the researchers interviewed 3,604 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. The participants were part of the 2005 National Survey of Adolescents (NSA) Replication and were surveyed with parental consent. They were contacted approximately 12 months apart on three separate occasions.

The researchers used a delinquency scale to assess previous delinquent behavior at each of the three interview points. They asked the participants about behaviors including selling drugs, car theft, robbery, burglary, physical assault, and being arrested or sent to juvenile detention, among other things. They evaluated the depressive symptoms of the participants using the NSA Depression Module to determine the level of their depressive symptoms over the previous year.

The team discovered that early presence of depressive symptoms was a clear predictor of delinquent behavior, and that depression presented a higher risk factor for delinquency than delinquent behavior did for depression. Additionally, the study revealed that the presence of depression in girls presented a higher risk for delinquent behavior than it did in the boys. The researchers concluded, “Collectively, these findings indicate that depressive symptoms significantly increase the likelihood that adolescents will engage in delinquent behavior and suggest that depressive symptom assessment should be a routine part of disruptive behavior evaluation and intervention.”

Kofler, Michael J., Michael R. McCart, Kristyn Zajac, Kenneth J. Ruggiero, Benjamin E. Saunders, and Dean G. Kilpatrick. “Depression and Delinquency Covariation in an Accelerated Longitudinal Sample of Adolescents.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 79.4 (2011): 458-69. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Barb Strong

    Barb Strong

    August 14th, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    It’s no surprise that if teens show signs of depression they are going to engage in less tha perfect behavior. They abuse substances to try and lessen the pain they are feeling. Teens need to be monitored more with regular checkups to spot these symptoms before they become deeply problematic.

  • johnny


    August 14th, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    A childhood event is hard to get over and it remains in one’s mind like it was just yesterday. if such a memory is bad and negative it’s going to have all kind of effects on the person and yes,

  • Tasha Wilson

    Tasha Wilson

    August 14th, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    And just yesterday there was a story asking if marital discord could be tied to depression. If the depression causes delinquent behavior in teenagers, then surely logic dictates it will also cause problems in adults as well. The trick is to deal with it before they grow into adulthood.

  • Jamie G. Bishop

    Jamie G. Bishop

    August 14th, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    Many things cause teenagers to get depressed, but when it gets to the point their depression affects their behavior to where they can’t hide why isn’t it blatantly obvious to those around them? That’s when the parents are at fault imho for not stepping in and doing something about their depression prior to that.

    Know your kids, mom and dad! You brought them into this world, so it’s up to you to raise them right.

  • Faith


    August 15th, 2011 at 4:34 AM

    Teens are already facing so many hardships. Let’s all try to do something about that. The last thing that any of us need are depressed teenagers who on top of all of that are going to end up in the correction system too!

  • Taylor


    August 15th, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    Most of the people that involve in such things do so because of things going wrong in their lives.Nobody would want to do something like that if they had a good life with minimal problems!Its almost always the result of something,depression,a tragedy or something.

  • Vickie Fletcher

    Vickie Fletcher

    August 15th, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    @Jamie G. Bishop–And how would they notice exactly? Not everyone knows the signs of depression and they’re probably not around their kids an awful lot to see that they’re depressed or delinquent. Teens tend to breeze in and out of the house like a whirlwind, appearing for meals and bedtime.

  • Amy


    August 16th, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    ^^This. Why has it become so tough to spend some quality time with your family and just catch up with what’s going on in each other’s lives?! One more thing that we suffer from in the modern world!

  • Magic Mario

    Magic Mario

    August 17th, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    If there’s a problem on the inside its definitely gonna reflect on the outside through some means.And such people need to be identified and given help to because its not like we’re doing them a favor,we’re also helping ourselves.

  • BuzzHanks


    August 17th, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    @Vickie Fletcher: “They’re probably not around their kids an awful lot”? Why not? Those kids live in the same house as them. They eat together, and if those same kids are selling drugs and being sent to juvenile hall I think that the parents know exactly what is going on or at least the courts will ensure they do.

    If they are not monitoring their activities when they eventually get in trouble with the law, then the problem isn’t depression-it’s a lack of discipline.

  • Teach


    August 17th, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    @Buzz–Kids get depressed too when they lack boundaries and guidance, don’t forget. A lack of discipline on the side of the parents coupled with that is a bad combination. Such parents are always looking to pass the buck onto the teens which they are then caught doing what they shouldn’t be doing, instead of facing up to the fact that they have raised their children badly.

  • Dorothea Crane

    Dorothea Crane

    August 21st, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if the children feel terrible, then they will start misbehaving. This will only get worse if you ignore it.

    If parents put the happiness and satisfaction of their children at a higher priority, there would be less problems with the young generation. Give them attention they are craving because that’s often what it’s all about.

    You’re all too distracted with your gadgets nowadays! Turn them all off for a night at least once a week and talk with your children, really talk with them. I have six children and ten grandchildren and I’m telling you that every child loves to feel they have your undivided attention and interest. They just won’t admit it.

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