March 24, 2008 – Pre­vious research has shown that par­tic­i­pating in extracur­ric­ular activ­i­ties pro­tects young men and women from risky behav­iors and delin­quency. This theory was con­firmed in a recent study from researchers at North­eastern University’s Col­lege of Crim­inal Jus­tice, but the results also offered a dif­ferent per­spec­tive on how the same activ­i­ties affect young men and women dif­fer­ently. These, and other results, were pub­lished in a recent issue of Crime & Delinquency.

While it was pre­vi­ously believed that par­tic­i­pa­tion in sports would decrease delin­quency in boys, it actu­ally did not have a sig­nif­i­cant pro­tec­tive effect. How­ever, the reverse was true for girls, whose risk for delin­quent behavior was reduced sig­nif­i­cantly if they took part in sports. Other activ­i­ties, such as church and after-​​school com­mu­nity activ­i­ties, decreased the risk of delin­quency in boys, but not for girls.

This study set out to iden­tify the fac­tors that lead young men and women to fall into serious delin­quency and risky behav­iors,” said Sean Varano, Assis­tant Pro­fessor of Crim­inal Jus­tice at North­eastern. “We know that girls and boys have a number of dif­ferent expe­ri­ences as they mature, and it is impor­tant to under­stand those dif­fer­ences so that informed deci­sions can be made on how to pro­tect them.”

The study, com­pleted by Sean Varano, Ph.D., Amy Far­rell, Ph.D., both from North­eastern, and Jeb Booth, Ph.D., for­merly of North­eastern, exam­ined the self-​​reported data from 1,400 teens from an upper middle class sub­urban neigh­bor­hood. By looking at both young men and women inde­pen­dently of one another, exam­ining the social con­trols (parental, aca­d­emic, etc.) and bonds devel­oped inside the home, in the class­room and during extracur­ric­ular activ­i­ties, it has become clear that they respond dif­fer­ently to cer­tain social con­trols and activities.

Involve­ment in church and non­school activ­i­ties, for both young men and women, sig­nif­i­cantly pro­tected them from serious delin­quent behavior, which includes fighting, car­rying a weapon or vio­lence. How­ever, it did not pro­tect them from risky behavior, such as drinking, smoking or drunk driving.

The researchers also found that how stu­dents feel about their school envi­ron­ment also impact their risk of delin­quent and risky behavior. Stu­dents who view their aca­d­emic envi­ron­ment as pos­i­tive are less like to be involved in serious delin­quency or risky behavior. The con­verse is also true – when stu­dents feel neg­a­tively about their school, they are more likely to exhibit neg­a­tive behavior. “The fact that this idea was con­firmed by our research shows that pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive school envi­ron­ments are impor­tant for both urban and sub­urban schools,” said Amy Far­rell, Prin­cipal Research Sci­en­tist and Asso­ciate Director of the Insti­tute on Race and Jus­tice at Northeastern.

This study also indi­cated that a “tip­ping point” may exist, a point at which too much involve­ment in extracur­ric­ular activ­i­ties could actu­ally increase levels of risky behavior and serious delin­quency. What this may sug­gest is that the lack of time spent with par­ents and family might inten­sify the neg­a­tive peer influ­ences that the stu­dents are exposed to.

The data clearly shows the need for a bal­ance in stu­dents’ lives to best pro­tect them from serious delin­quency and risky behav­iors,” added Varano. “With con­tinued gender-​​specific research, better pro­grams can be imple­mented with the goal of improving the school envi­ron­ment and reducing the inci­dence of risky behavior and delin­quency for all students.”

For more infor­ma­tion about Pro­fes­sors Varano and Far­rell, and their research, please con­tact Jenny Eriksen at (617) 373‑2802 or via email at j.​eriksen@​neu.​edu.

About North­eastern

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visitwww​.north​eastern​.edu.