A considerable portion of the Dutch youth develops problem behaviour during adolescence. Factors such as character, family situations and relationships with peers can influence the development of aggressive behaviour or feelings of depression. Remedial educationist Miranda Sentse has carried out research into the influence of social environments on problem behaviour. It turns out that parents play an important role. Sentse will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 4 March 2010.
Sentse used data on roughly two thousand boys and girls aged between ten and fifteen. Not all vulnerable children develop problem behaviour. Sentse has discovered which factors increase the risk. ‘The results of my research are important for care providers who provide specific training for parents or who work on developing school policies for youths with problem behaviour’.
The results show that the family environment plays an important part in the development of problem behaviour in adolescents. Sentse: ‘A child that often experiences conflict has a greater chance of developing antisocial behaviour. When parents show warmth and support for their frustrated child, the chance of problem behaviour developing is reduced. A cold, rejecting attitude, on the other hand, increases the likelihood of antisocial behaviour considerably’.
Children in the adolescent phase feel the need to belong to a group and have a strong desire for autonomy. Adolescents with antisocial friends tend to start showing problem behaviour as well. Sentse concludes that adolescents that are, in addition, not under strict supervision by their parents have a greater chance of developing antisocial behaviour. Sentse: ‘This is particularly the case with boys and adolescents who are biologically more advanced than their peers. This group feels a much stronger need for autonomy. On the other hand, too much control can also have a detrimental effect’.
Adolescents are not just sensitive to parental appreciation. They also wish to be accepted by their peers. Sentse focused on the question of which social context is most influential in adolescence. ‘I wanted to know, for example, if rejection by parents could be compensated by acceptance by peers. It turned out that adolescents, and particularly girls, show more problem behaviour if they have a bad relationship with their parents. The risk is reduced, however, if they have good relationships with peers. This does not work the other way round – parents are not able to compensate for rejection by peers through acceptance and support’.
Miranda Sentse (Harderwijk, 1982) studied Orthopedagogy at Radboud University Nijmegen and conducted her PhD research at the Department of Sociology of the University of Groningen and at the ICS (Interuniversity Center for Social Science Theory and Methodology). The research was financed by NWO. Her PhD supervisors are Prof. S. Lindenberg and Dr R. Veenstra. Her thesis title is: 'Bridging contexts. The interplay between family, child, and peers in explaining problem behavior in early adolescence'. Sentse is now working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Psychiatry at University Medical Center Groningen.
Contact: Miranda Sentse, tel. 050 -361 3623, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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