Good teacher-student relationships can prevent kids from turning to crime

EDINBURGH, Scotland — The bond teachers form with their students may actually affect future crime rates. A new study out of Scotland suggests that children who have a good relationship with their teacher are less likely to engage in anti-social behavior as they grow up. Study authors discovered that having a supportive relationship with an educator between the ages of 10 and 11 protects against engagement in violence or delinquency for up to seven years.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh examined the experiences of 1,483 young people who had a change of teacher between the ages of nine and 10. They identified pairs of young people with similar backgrounds and influences, but who reported different experiences after switching teachers. Each pair had one young person who had a better relationship with their teacher and one who had a worse relationship with their new teacher.

Researchers then compared each pair’s levels of delinquency and violence at ages 13, 15, and 17. In total, study authors looked at 208 pairs at age 13, 235 pairs at age 15, and 194 pairs at age 17. The team used data collected from when the children were 11 years-old to assess their relationship with their new teachers.

At the three different age milestones, the participants completed questionnaires about their aggressive or anti-social behavior such as stealing from home, shoplifting, or vandalism. Results show those with a better quality of teacher-student relationships at age 11 reported fewer delinquent acts up to age 17 than those with worse relationships. The young people with a better relationship with their teacher also reported being less aggressive and violent at age 17.

Teachers more influential than parents?

The findings remained consistent even after factoring in different types of parenting, a range of mental health issues, and aggressive behavior before the change of teacher. The study suggests teacher-student bonds during childhood have a significant impact on how youths behave during adolescence.

“By controlling for additional potential predictors of delinquency and violence in adolescence, we were able to provide some of the strongest evidence to date for a link between the quality of teacher-student relationships and later delinquency and violence. Perceiving the relationship in a positive way and feeling supported and understood by the teacher has the power to protect young people from engaging in rule-breaking behaviors such as delinquency and violence,” says Dr. Ingrid Obsuth from Edinburgh’s School of Health in Social Science in a university release.

The data researchers used data coming from the Social Development from Childhood to Adulthood study, an ongoing review that began in 2004 and led by the University of Zurich. The Zurich project examines the developmental dynamics involved in aggressive behavior and victimization during childhood and adolescence.

The findings appear in the journal Crime & Delinquency.

South West News Service writer Ellie Forbes contributed to this report.

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