There is a growing disparity in academic achievement between boys and girls—with boys, specifically boys of color, underachieving. In response to this widening gap, Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley (2013) studied relational teaching approaches and found that positive relationships between students and teachers ended obstructive, resistant behavior and increased student engagement and willingness to complete assigned tasks.
It has been proven that the strongest indicator of success in therapy is the quality of relationship between the client and the therapist. So when it comes to teens, it is not surprising that a positive working relationship is correlated with improved therapeutic outcomes. In these instances, while it’s unclear whether the engagement in therapy and improved outcomes are a direct result of the relationship, or whether effectiveness leads to the positive relationship, it is clear that the relationship matters.
The biggest predictor for delinquent behavior, other than prior delinquent behavior, is association with delinquent peers. So what sense does it make to force delinquent kids to associate with each other? If you said none, you are correct.
Nonetheless, we continually try intervention strategies that do just that. How often do you hear of kids being placed in group therapy, group homes, boot camp, and so on? These are very common treatment approaches in today’s world. Whom do you think they are with in these programs?
The concept of changing behavior by changing the environment around a youth is sometimes met with skepticism. However, a child’s behavior does change according to the environment. A child may be loud and aggressive with friends, but most kids do not behave that way at church, or with a grandmother, or around the police. Some environments support offensive behavior, while others do not. If a child is exhibiting delinquent behavior, the goal is to alter the environment around him to one that no longer supports the behavior in question.
When it comes to curbing delinquent behavior in teenagers, a label or diagnosis does not really matter; it is not what will make a child stop drinking, fighting, or engaging in other harmful behaviors. What matters most is what will make the behaviors stop.
Editor’s Note: The following is a Q&A with Karen Bluth, PhD, a mindfulness teacher, researcher, and one of the lead authors of a paper published this January in the journal Mindfulness, which examined the efficacy of Learning to BREATHE or L2B, a mindfulness curriculum for adolescents in an alternative school for ethnically diverse, at-risk teens.