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Sending a high-risk teen to work won't necessarily keep him or her out of trouble, according to a recent University of Pittsburgh study. The research indicates high school-age juvenile offenders who are employed during the academic year and do not attend school regularly are more likely to engage in antisocial, or destructive, behavior.
Kathryn Monahan, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said this study and earlier ones indicate 20 hours of work a week is the tipping point for antisocial behavior.
"Working more that that during the school year for teenagers, and during the school year is key, has been shown to detrimental in terms of increasing delinquency and other types of problem behavior among teenagers."
Antisocial behavior, in this study, could be synonymous with criminal behavior, like robbery, selling drugs, or vandalism. Monahan said the 8-year study tracked 1,300 serious juvenile offenders on a monthly basis.
"One of the unique things about this study is we can actually look at in a given month whether they were employed, how much they were employed, and whether or not they were attending school and how regularly they were attending school in a given month," Monahan said. "It gives us a much more micro-level view of how being employed and going to school is related to monthly levels of antisocial behavior."
Since the teens were already known to have committed a crime, the study could imply recidivism, or a relapse of criminal behavior. But Monahan said there's a key component to recidivism.
"Recidivism is usually what we think of in terms of being re-picked up in the justice system," Monahan said. "We can engage in delinquent acts, and sometimes we don't get caught."
Monahan said the 14- to 17-year olds in the study weren't all arrested when they engaged in the antisocial behavior. Monahan added the teens were already at high risk for high school dropout, so there's room for more research in how employment impacts the rate of dropout among delinquents.