Conduct and behavioral issues are not uncommon during adolescence. Teens experience a phase of experimentation and try to test their boundaries during adolescence. New influences, new friends, and new school environments also impact the nature of a teen’s behavior during these significant developmental years. Many teens struggle as they try to find their own individuality and face problems with depression or anxiety. Others express their emotional uncertainty externally through risky behaviors such as substance misuse, sexual promiscuity, or conduct problems. Teenagers are also heavily influenced by the people in their lives during adolescence. Peers, family members, and teachers help shape the course a child will take. But how each of these characters affects the behavior of teens is not clearly understood.
In a recent study, Ming-Te Wang of the School of Education and the Department of Developmental Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh assessed data from 1,400 young people at age 13. The participants were evaluated for effortful control at baseline and then measured for levels of depression and parent-child conflict. Their teacher relationships were also evaluated. At age 18, all of the participants were assessed one more time for levels of misconduct. Wang analyzed how the teacher-child relationship and parent-child relationship each influenced depression and misconduct in the teens.
The study revealed that the participants with the lowest levels of effortful control and high parent conflict had the most significant levels of depression at age 13. Additionally, these same teens had the highest levels of misconduct at age 18. Wang also found that strong teacher-teen relationships helped insulate the teens from both depression and conduct issues, especially for boys with minimal effortful control at baseline. This effect was less significant for the girls, perhaps because girls rely more heavily on peer support than boys. Also, girls tend to place a higher value on personal relationships with friends and family members than boys do, which could increase the role these relationships play on psychological health. Wang says that the results of this study demonstrate that both parental and teacher relationships are important to teens for different reasons. Wang added, “In other words, teachers and parents seem to play relatively independent and distinct roles in the adolescent development of depressive symptoms.”
Wang, M.-T., Brinkworth, M., Eccles, J. (2012). Moderating effects of teacher–student relationship in adolescent trajectories of emotional and behavioral adjustment. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027916
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