North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service

Child & Adolescent Review

Research & Resources for Educators
Spring 1996

In This Issue

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Research at North Dakota State University: Gang Behavior

Criminologist Kevin Thompson, an associate professor of sociology at NDSU, has found that gang members are generalists, not criminal specialists who focus on drug trafficking or other crimes.

"Gangs are really loosely organized kinds of groups; they're not like the mob," Thompson says. "Most offenders are generalists who commit a variety of crimes in a cafeteria style of criminal behavior."

Thompson and colleagues at the University of Toronto analyzed data from the Seattle Youth Study to clarify whether gangs and non-gangs differ in terms of criminal specialization. They found that while gang members are more criminally active than non-gang members, patterns of criminal involvement in both groups seem to be general rather than specific.

The study sampled primarily 10th, 11th and 12th graders. It used measures of delinquency that examined involvement in theft, auto theft, drug use and violent behavior. Findings show that gangs tend to be very informal groups.

Age and social class appeared to have little impact on gang membership. Females were less likely than males to be gang members, though that difference was relatively small.

"We can conclude that involvement in delinquency appears to be general for both groups. Although delinquency may precede gang membership, we should apply the same prevention and suppression strategies to both gangs and non-gang members. We shouldn't treat gangs that much differently than we treat delinquent youths in general," he says.

Prevention strategies include more policing, neighborhood watch programs, cleaning up graffiti, youth recreation programs, school-based programs, community education programs and consistently enforced curfews.

Thompson and his colleagues are working on a follow-up piece connected to predictors of gang membership and involvement.

Source: Kevin Thompson, associate professor of sociology at NDSU, 701-231-8938. The research has been accepted for publication in the "Journal of Gang Research."


Teachers who use mix of methods have students who read for fun

A comparison of whole-language and traditional basal-reader approaches to reading instruction indicates it's the teacher, not the classroom philosophy, that turns readers into readers-for-fun.

In a study of 918 first through fifth graders, about half of the students attended schools where whole-language methods were mandated, including extensive use of trade books, daily opportunities for creative writing, and decoding skills taught on an ad hoc rather than systematic basis.

The remaining students were in traditional basal-reader classrooms where reading skills were introduced gradually and systematically through use of readers, workbooks and other conventional materials.

The study showed that grade level and gender had significant effects on youngsters' feelings about both academic and recreational reading. The type of classroom did not influence these attitudes. Girls had more positive attitudes than boys, and students' overall feelings about reading worsened between first and fifth grades.

Researchers then observed teachers in the two whole-language classrooms in which children had shown the most -- and least -- positive attitudes toward reading for pleasure.

They found that both teachers had an "eclectic" approach to the whole-language philosophy. Even the teacher whose students rated reading highest had indulged in such whole-language no-nos as systematic phonics instruction, corrected spelling and ability grouping.

This indicated to the researchers that "the manner in which techniques were employed (rather than the techniques themselves) seemed crucial, and suggested that describing teachers' approaches with global categories is ill-advised."

The more successful teacher's mixed-bag approach to whole-language instruction is in opposition to the stricter practices recommended by whole-language proponents, the researchers point out. Since the development of "an eclectic mix of practices" seems to be underway among teachers already, they urge future researchers to investigate which mix of techniques work best.

Source: Growing Child Research Review Vol. 13, No. 9, September 1995.

Hyper children lack avoidance strategies

Hyperactive youngsters are more injury-prone than other children although their ability to spot hazards is on par with most other children.

A recent study indicates that a deficiency in their cognitive processing of information may be to blame for frequent injuries.

The researchers showed 7- to 11-year-old boys a videotape that presented a child's eye view of a walk home from school. Of the 30 boys, 14 had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and 16, equally physically active, were not.

Embedded in the film's action were five risky situations such as crossing the street from between two parked cars and going down a slide head first.

Subjects pushed a computer mouse button any time the child in the film should stop and change his activity pattern. After the video, interviewers asked each boy questions designed to reveal his perceptions of the personal risk in the dangerous situations and his knowledge of safety rules and prevention strategies.

Contrary to researchers' expectations, the ADHD boys were as quick to identify possible dangers as the normal boys. However, the groups differed substantially in their comments on the likelihood that they themselves would engage in risky behaviors.

More boys in the control group said they would "never" take the risks pictured. More ADHD boys said "probably not." The ADHD subjects reported feeling less upset about the possibility of getting hurt and were more apt to predict a simple doctor visit as the consequence of risky behaviors. The control group tended to envision hospitalization or emergency room treatment as the sequel.

Compared with the control group, ADHD boys knew fewer safety rules that could apply to the filmed situations and could generate fewer common-sense strategies to avoid getting hurt.

The results indicate that cognition, rather than failing to recognize hazards, plays the most important role in an ADHD boy's inability to assess the risk of injury accurately.

Researchers observed that ADHD youngsters' "lower expectations for negative consequences" could lead them to more risk-taking behavior, while their difficulty assessing knowledge of preventive strategies and alternate safe behaviors may add to the likelihood of injury.

Source: Growing Child Research Review Vol. 14, No. 2,February 1996.


Achievement tests may be overrated as predictors of actual academic success

A new longitudinal study finds that even the most widely-used standardized measures of achievement may not be as reliable predictors of students' future academic capabilities as has been assumed.

Previous researchers have reported a very strong relationship between children's third-grade scores on achievement tests and later academic success as college freshmen. A present study confirms that relationship, but finds it to be considerably weaker than expected.

The study used the elementary and high school test scores of 1,147 high school graduates who became University of Iowa freshmen.

Comparison of elementary and high school achievement test scores with actual academic success in high school and college (grade point averages) revealed a blurrier picture than the one painted by previous research results.

There were "significant" relationships between third- through 12th-grade achievement test scores and high school and college grade point averages. "However, the magnitude of these relationships was surprisingly low, compared to that found in earlier studies."

In fact, the conclusion based on the present investigation would indicate that the merits of the achievement test as individual predictors of grade point average appear very limited.

On another front, the present study revealed smaller gender differences than those shown in previous studies. While girls tended to have higher grade point averages than boys, their achievement test scores in all areas but language were lower and on the elementary school level more variable than those of the boys.

The findings do corroborate earlier study results showing that correlations between achievement tests and high school grade point averages increase as the tests are administered closer to the high school years.

Source: Growing Child Research Review, Vol. 13, No. 10, October 1995.

Parenting is more important than family configuration

Parenting style, rather than family composition, seems to be the key determinant of both family functioning and the well-being of adolescents. A study showed no differences in family functioning or depression scores among adolescents from single-parent, stepparent and intact families.

Adolescents from stepfamilies did, however, report more stress. A total of 801 students were surveyed, first during 10th grade when they were assessed for depression, stress and behavioral problems, as well as their perceptions of parental style and family functioning. In 12th grade, they were assessed again, this time for both social and academic functioning.

One analysis of the data contrasted adolescents living with both natural parents, living with only one parent present (the mother in most cases), living with one parent elsewhere and a stepparent and natural parent present, and living with neither parent.

Not only was there no significant difference in the four groups' perceptions of family functioning, adolescents with a dead or completely absent parent did not perceive greater family dysfunction than peers who regularly saw their non-custodial parent.

Overall, the more caring the parent, the less depressed the adolescent. On the other hand, the more overprotective the parent, the more depressed the adolescent.

While the parenting styles of both mothers and fathers were significant predictors of family function and adolescent well-being, cross-gender effects were found. Boys' well-being was significantly associated with the level of caring they perceived from their mothers, while girls' well-being was associated with their fathers' level of caring.

The findings appear to call for switching the focus of social policy efforts from strengthening the family to strengthening parenting.

Source: The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavioral Letter, September 1995.

Parent and teacher workshops

Schools can promote parent education workshops. Call your county office of the NDSU Extension Service to find out about workshops such as:

If you aren't able to sponsor a workshop, consider making brochures or books available during parent-teacher conferences, PTA or other meetings. You might search for options and publicize them in your school newsletter.

Recommended Resources

The following resources are available from Search Institute. To order, call 800-888-7828.

What Kids Need to Succeed by Peter L. Benson, Judy Galbraith and Pamela Espeland. This book presents the 30 developmental assets and shows their importance to helping youth make positive life choices.

Building Assets Together: 101 Group Activities for Helping Youth Succeed by Jolene L. Roehlkepartain. This book gives creative, easy-to-use activities to introduce developmental assets to youth.

Building Assets in Youth, 12-minute video featuring Peter L. Benson. The video describes the power of asset building and includes a leader's guide with scripts for leading discussions with different audiences.

Growing Up Adopted by Peter L. Benson, Anu Sharma and Eugene C. Roehlkepartain. This report gives detailed information on the findings of Search Institute's study of adopted adolescents and their families.

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North Dakota Kids Count!

National reports often use statewide data that leave adults wondering what the picture is in their specific area. The ND Kids Count! office has provided leadership to help break down the national and state information to reveal the status of children in each North Dakota county. Your county office of the NDSU Extension Service can help bring this information to your school or community. Call for a copy of your county's fact sheets.

Responding to our readers

How do you deal with a bully? Avoidance? Standing up for yourself? Telling? Many of you wanted to know more about how to handle the issue of bullies. Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this old question, but the following books will show young children they are not the only ones to face this problem, as well as ways to deal with it. These books are suitable for young children and are available at most libraries and book stores.

The Berenstain Bears and the Bully by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Random, 1993. When Sister Bear comes home from school battered, dirty and bruised, her family learns she was beaten up for no reason by a rough new cub. Sister Bear learns about avoidance, self-defense and much more.

The Rat and the Tiger by Keiko Karza, Putnam, 1993. Although Rat and Tiger are best friends, Tiger always takes advantage of Rat, who is smaller. One day, Tiger goes too far, and Rat, although scared, has to stand up for himself.

Tyrone the Horrible by Hans Wilhelm, Scholastic, 1988. The world's first big bully, Tyrone the Horrible, is bigger and stronger than all the other dinosaur kids. The victim of Tyrone's bullying tries a variety of advice, but finally has to come up with his own solution.

Timothy and the Big Bully by Jeffrey Dinardo, Simon and Schuster, 1988. Class bully Big Eddie picks on Timothy by taking his lunch. Timothy tries many avoidance techniques, but Eddie finally stands up for himself. The surprise entrance of his big brother on the scene really helps.

Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, Philomel Books, 1993. In this fanciful story, Patrick Edward's mom is really a monster, but she's also a fierce mother. When Patrick is sent to the store to get something for dessert, three bullies pounce on him. Their mistake -- it's Monster Mama to the rescue. She not only saves her son, but transforms the bullies into friends.

Source:The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, July 1995.

Citing a resource in this newsletter does not indicatean endorsement of any one professional resource.All sources cited with permission/fee paid.

Spring 1996

NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.
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