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Re-thinking ‘risk’ in the context of nurturing adolescent growth – What can we learn from reciprocal associations between traditional teenage ‘risk’ behaviours?

Conference contribution
Authors Russell Turner
Published in Symposium presentation at the European Association of Research on Adolescence (EARA) conference, Ghent, Belgium 15th September 2018.
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Social Work
Language en
Subject categories Youth research

Abstract

Introduction: Teenage drunkenness, drug use and criminal behaviour are traditionally viewed as ‘risk behaviours’. ‘Risk’ though may be understood as both proximal and distal, as well as risk for direct effects, e.g. on health, but also indirect effects on triggering other risk behaviours. The study of healthy adolescent growth needs to include such proximal (i.e. during adolescence) indirect risks. Development life-course theory (e.g. Catalano and Hawkins, 1996), for example, suggests that one ‘risk behaviour’ promotes another, potentially initiating a deleterious developmental ‘cascade’ trajectory. Longitudinal reciprocal associations between behaviours such as substance use and criminal behaviour are however understudied in normal adolescent populations, with previous research showing contradictory findings. Moreover, many studies conflate alcohol use, alcohol intoxication and use of illegal drugs. The aim of this study was to assess the relationships between drunkenness, illegal drug use and criminal behaviour in a prospective, age-homogenous cohort study, using analytical techniques that separate within- from between-person variance. Additionally, the results are discussed in the light of resilience and positive youth development perspectives which challenge our traditional concepts of ‘risk’. Method: Data comes from the Longitudinal Research on Development in Adolescence (LoRDIA) study in Sweden. 1409 adolescents were surveyed via self-report at baseline (age 13, grade 7) and followed-up at grades 8 and 9. Random-intercept cross-lagged panel (RI-CLP) analysis was undertaken. Results: Between-person variance in the development of the drunkenness, drug use and criminal behaviour was between 26% and 47%. At the within-person level, links between these behaviours were only very weak: criminal behaviour was associated with later drug use across grades 7-9, and with drunkenness between grades 8 and 9 only. Drug use was not associated with later criminal behaviour or drunkenness at any time point. Discussion: Stable individual factors play a larger than hitherto known role in within- and over-time relationships between drunkenness, drug use and criminal behaviour. Reciprocal associations between these behaviours are at best weak and may not be of primary importance in practice with normal adolescent populations. Moreover, their development appears to follow three distinct pathways, to which intervention design may need to pay attention. These results challenge the idea that these behaviours are inherently a proximal indirect risk, e.g. for other such behaviours, despite their within-time covariance. Viewing these results through resilience and positive youth development perspectives, the question is raised of when should these behaviours be considered part of normative adolescent development and how ‘risk’ might be better theorised and studied.

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