Nature and Nurture: Effects on Friendships in Adolescence

When choosing friends in childhood, many young people seem to gravitate toward peers with a history of delinquency or delinquent behavior. Delinquent peer affiliation (DPA) occurs most often during adolescence. Theories on DPA suggest that some teens may choose to associate with delinquent peers because they share similar beliefs and behaviors. Similarly, these children may be rejected by peers who do not engage in delinquent behavior, and therefore may be forced to choose other sources of social support. Along these same lines, some researchers believe that DPA is a result of genetics, causing some people to be predisposed to delinquent behaviors and thus, delinquent peer affiliation.

However, S. Alexandra Burt of the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University wanted to see how environment affected DPA. Using a sample of 726 twin children from a state registry, Burt conducted a study looking at environment, genetic predisposition, and other factors and how each affected DPA.

Burt found that although genetics were somewhat influential of DPA, environment played a much bigger role in the selection of delinquent peer friendships. In fact, the environmental conditions that influenced delinquency in the twins was a significant risk factor for negative behavior in those with strong and robust DPAs compared to participants with few DPAs. This finding suggests that a child’s environment, their family life, and social support within their world may serve as motivators for delinquency and delinquent affiliations. Burt also believes that perhaps these children find reinforcement and positive affirmation for their delinquent behavior from their DPAs, further strengthening the bonds they develop.

Burt also noted that when children have high DPAs, these friendships can increase the environmental risks and elevate their levels of delinquency. In some cases, children who befriend other delinquent children may then experience higher levels of parental disapproval. This can lead to higher stress levels within the home, more conflict and potentially increased delinquency.

In conclusion, this study shows that although genetics may plant the seed for delinquent behavior, environmental influences provide the food and water that allow it to grow. Burt added that this study provides new evidence into the effect of environment, but more research needs to be conducted. She said, “Future research should build on the present findings by examining these associations as they develop from childhood through early adolescence.”

Burt, S. A., and K. L. Klump. (2013). Delinquent peer affiliation as an etiological moderator of childhood delinquency. Psychological Medicine 43.6 (2013): 1269-78. ProQuest. Web.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • tucker

    August 28th, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    I have seen it go both ways.
    I think that in general kids are going to gravitate toward kids who were raised like them and whose families generally tend to exhibit the same traits and tendencies as their own.
    Now when they want to rebel on the other hand, they are going to go for those on the opposite end of the spectrum , the kids and the families that are sure to rub their own the wrong way.

  • samantha

    August 28th, 2013 at 8:52 PM

    true that environment plays a much bigger role.genetics and inheritance is never an excuse to get away with bad behavior,even for’s good that we know have proof of the same.parents can control the environment that children have at home and schools can control that at school.

    so when there is such a high level of control it doesn’t make sense to say some are just bad apples.they turn bad.after all no child is born delinquent.

  • Gregg

    August 29th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    I see that many children are seeking out acceptance and many times they have been shunned by one group so they take cover and refuge within a group that makes them feel safe. They may not necessarily look at the behavior that this group exhibits in society as a whole but rather just how they make them feel. And if they are showing them the acceptance and friendship that they have been denied by others then it becomes very easy for them to slip into this group and to become a part of that entity. I think that there are a lot of parents who may not like it but I also think that if you take a step back and recognize that your child has made friends and try not to make too big a deal out of it many times these things will just naturally flame out.

  • Walker

    September 2nd, 2013 at 7:47 AM

    Let’s look at this from the point of view of a parent of a good kid: would you want to let your child who behaves and does what he or she is supposed to do hang out with a kid who always seems to be pushing the limits and getting into trouble?
    Didn’t think so.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.