Updated 31 July 2013

'Engaged' teens more likely to stay in school

A new study suggests that keeping teens engaged at school helps reduce their risk of behavioural problems, substance use and dropping out.


Keeping teens engaged in school helps reduce their risk of behaviour problems, substance use and dropping out, according to a new study.

Specifically, it's important to provide teens with a supportive learning environment that gives them opportunities to feel competent and independent, and meets their emotional needs, the University of Pittsburgh and Connecticut College researchers said.

The study authors noted that active engagement in high school has been found to promote the skills and values that help teens successfully move into adulthood. Actively engaged students are those who participate in academic activities, feel connected to their school, value their education and are motivated to learn.

However, research suggests that as students progress through high school, they may tend to become disengaged. Some studies estimate that 40% to 60% begin to show signs of disengagement, such as losing interest in their education, demonstrating a lack of effort or simply not paying attention.

This new study included about 1 300 students in grades 7 through 11 at 23 public schools in the eastern United States. 58% were black, 36% were white and 6% were either biracial or from other ethnic minorities.

Over seven years, the teens completed surveys on topics such as behaviour, school engagement, and relationships with teachers and parents, according to the study appearing July 30 in the journal Child Development.

Educational interventions

"The findings support the idea that behavioural, emotional and cognitive [mental] engagement are assets that help students cope with the stressors, setbacks and difficulties they face in school," study leader Ming-Te Wang, an assistant professor of psychology in education at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a journal news release.

"Youths who are engaged with school activities feel more academically competent, are more connected to the institution, and elicit more positive reactions from their teachers and parents. In contrast, disengaged youths have more academic difficulties, receive less positive support from teachers, and are more likely to associate with disengaged peers," Wang said.

"The study also suggests that early behavioural and emotional engagement in school can buffer against participation in problem behaviour," Wang added. "Educational interventions for students that aim to improve school engagement may decrease delinquency and substance use, and prevent adolescents from dropping out of high school."

More information

The Nemours Foundation asked teens what makes a great teacher.

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