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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

October 30, 2000

Bad, sad and rejected: Study examines lives of aggressive children

Physically aggressive children are more unhappy and insecure than their peers, and often feel rejected by their teachers, parents and other children, according to a study by a University of Guelph professor.

Prof. Jane Sprott, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, studied a sampling of more than 3,400 10- and 11-year-old children across Canada, focusing on the 10 per cent at the "worst" end of the continuum in terms of physical aggression. "These are the children with whom society presumably is likely to have the most difficulty, as young offenders or later in life as adults," said Sprott, a criminologist who specializes in youth violence and youth justice.

There is growing public perception that youth violence is increasing, even though statistics do not support the claim, she says. "Every generation thinks the current generation of kids is worse than the generation before them. We thought it would be useful to know something about the lives of the children who cause society so much concern."

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Criminology, focused on the children's perceptions of themselves, but it also analyzed information about the children provided by their teachers and "person with the most knowledge," usually the mother. The data was provided by the national Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth through Statistics Canada.

"We were not attempting to study the causes of delinquency," Sprott said. "Our point was to try to understand the view that very young aggressive children have of themselves and view that others hold of them." The findings were overwhelmingly consistent: from all perspectives, regardless of gender, the most aggressive 10 and 11-year-olds are less happy with their lives than other children. Among the results:

--More than 54 percent of the "most aggressive" girls and 35 per cent of "most aggressive" boys said they don't feel as happy as other children.

--Nearly half of them report feeling miserable.

--About 36 per cent of the girls and 27 per cent of the boys say the feel left out at school, compared to 17 and 14 per cent of their peers, respectively.

--Nearly half of the girls and 35 per cent of the boys say they have trouble enjoying themselves

--More than half of the girls and nearly half of the boys report having a negative self image.

"The same patterns emerged when we looked at children's social relationships," Sprott said. This includes nearly half of the children saying they have negative relations with their family and friends. Other findings are:

--About 47 per cent of the children think they are rejected by their parents.

--More than 56 per cent of the boys and 51 per cent of the girls don't think their teachers treat them fairly.

--Close to 20 percent of the girls and more than 20 per cent of the boys report that other children say mean things to them and bully them.

"These patterns also held true no matter whose perspectives were examined, the person with the most knowledge, the teacher's or the child's," Sprott said. She said the study shows that school policies that deal with aggressive children through suspension or expulsion are not the most effective, since one of the keys to improving their attitude is a supportive teacher and better school support.Similarly, the study supports the notion that aggressive children would be better dealt with in a child welfare or mental health system, something Sprott says about 77 percent of people surveyed support.

"Presumably, were their misbehavior dealt with in a punishment-oriented criminal justice system, they would add ‘the state' to the list of people or institutions that had rejected them as children."

Contact: Prof. Jane Sprott Department of Sociology and Anthropology (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3546

For media questions, contact Lori Hunt, Media Relations Officer, Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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