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Youth from Low-Income Families at Risk for Problems in Adulthood

Posted in Research

When youth are caught in delinquent behavior, it is a prime opportunity not only to provide them with a consequence that will deter future delinquency, but to educate them about the risks of continuing to behave in ways counter to the acceptable social norm. It may be possible to interrupt the cycle of delinquency and help the adolescent to become a responsible young adult.

A recent study examined how delinquency in youth plays out in early adulthood, and how income levels might affect the later behaviors of the teens. The study’s results were published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and indicate that if youth with delinquency problems are treated with early intervention, they may avoid later problems in adulthood.

Risky behavior found in adults with a history of delinquency includes crime, alcohol abuse, and risky sex behaviors. The patterns of dangerous behavior were especially prevalent among disadvantaged youth.

The researchers recruited over 800 youth from low- compared to middle-income backgrounds. They investigated the influence of delinquent behavior in the participants, all aged between 10 and 24 years old. The participants were asked to complete self-report questionnaires that focused on delinquent involvement, alcohol consumption, and sexual activity in late childhood. They were also asked about delinquency and alcohol consumption during adolescence and crime, alcohol use disorder and risky sex during early adulthood.

The study found that the youth from low-income families were twice as likely to have had early sex (sexual activity by age 11) and were more likely to have a history of early delinquent behaviors than those assessed in the middle-income group. However, middle-income teens were 1.5 times more likely to report early initiation with alcohol consumption (by age 10) than those from a low-income background.

In addition, the youth that showed early and repeated risky sexual activity, delinquency and alcohol consumption beginning in late childhood and continuing into the teen years also had a higher rate of long-term crime, alcohol use disorders and risky sexual activity into their adult years.

Lead author W. Alex Mason, PhD., explains that it is important to understand the dynamics of delinquency in youth and how it affects behavior in early adulthood. By identifying target youth that may be at a higher risk for dangerous behaviors in adulthood, the youth may be able to participate in an early intervention and education program that will help him or her reset the course of life.