Blog 10: Adolescent Delinquency

Do high school and middle school friendships actually matter? Are the people in this photo below really able to make a lasting impact on one another?

The following two articles offer a resounding yes to this question.  They use SNA methodologies to investigate crime and deviance in adolescent friendship networks. Haynie (2001) introduces the idea that the structure of friendship networks may be associated with adolescent delinquency. Then, Haynie & Payne (2006) build on this work, using SNA to consider how friendship networks explain levels of delinquency across different racial ethnic groups.

Haynie (2001):

What is the research question? 

  • In this study, Haynie is seeking to explore if structural properties of friendship networks have any impact on the known associations between delinquency and peer delinquency for adolescent students.

How is the data collected? 

  • Adolescents were asked during an interview to identify their 5 closest male and female friends from a roster of students.

What is the sample population? 

  • Taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the sample population in this study was all adolescent students attending an identified 139 high schools, and then the adolescents who attend the feeder middle schools associated with these high schools.

What are the nodes? 

  • Adolescents during an in school interview

What are the links? 

  • Friendship between adolescents

What are the results?

  • As evidenced in Figure 1 below, Haynie found that in high-density networks, adolescent delinquency increased as their friends’ delinquency did. In other words, adolescents’ engagement in delinquent behaviors seems to be more impacted by their peers in dense networks. Additionally, they found similar results amongst network centrality and adolescent popularity. These results are particularly interesting from an educational perspective. They speak to the need for educators to be aware of students’ friends and the friendship networks that exist in their buildings.

How does SNA as a methodology help advance our understanding of these types of relationships?

  • In this instance, SNA serves a vital role in understanding the impact that peers have on students’ engagement in adolescent behavior. Though this study could have been conducted through correlational analysis, it would loose the second major finding about how network structure moderates the relationship between peers and engagement in delinquency.

Figure 1

Haynie & Payne (2006):

What is the research question? 

  • Though no explicitly stated research questions, this article seeks to investigate the role that friendship structure plays in explaining the different levels of adolescent delinquency between White, Black, and Latinx students.

How is the data collected? 

  • The same data collection methods were taken in this study — Adolescents were asked during an interview to identify their 5 closest male and female friends from a roster of students.

What is the sample population? 

  • Same as the prior study, the sample population included adolescents from middle and high schools who took part in the Add Health data collection.

What are the nodes? 

  • Adolescent students

What are the links? 

  • Friendship between adolescents

What are the results?

  • Their results provide evidence for the hypothesis that racial and ethnic differences in adolescent violent activity can be explained by friendship network structure.

How does SNA as a methodology help advance our understanding of these types of relationships?

  • If the authors were to investigate this without an SNA approach, they would have missed this major finding. In this case, SNA provides some clear rational to a phenomenon that was already made apparent through descriptive and statistical analysis alone.

The larger story within these two articles is that friendship structure matters to adolescent delinquency, and we, as educators should be cognizant of such.

Blog 9: SNA, friendships, and community

Article 1:

In this article, Kleit (2001) uses social network analysis to investigate the role that social networks play in job searches, specifically for individuals who live in scattered-site public housing communities.  Based on the theory (see Figure 1) that housing lower-income individuals with more affluent peers open them to more opportunities, Kleit hypothesized that living in more dispersed housing would provide lower-income individuals with access to more jobs.  Thus, to explore this, she sought to answer the following research question: Does living in small clusters of public housing in a non-poor area instead of in a dispersed housing pattern influence the types of social ties poor people use when they look for jobs? Using in-person survey data from 253 women living in either dispersed or clustered housing, Kleit asked participants to report the people who they had talked to or would talk to about jobs, as well as various other questions to account for the persons role in their life.  Kleit then identified which of the individuals listed were neighbors.  Thus, the nodes in this project were the individuals who lived int he neighborhood, and the links represent whether or not two individuals would communicate about jobs. 

She found that although there is greater diversity in dispersed communities, these communities are not as close as clustered communities, which she posits may influence their willingness to reach out for job connections as women in dispersed communities were less likely to reach out to neighbors than those in clustered communities.  In this sense, SNA allows us to view the structural impact of housing policies as they apply to entire communities as opposed to solely individuals. 

Article 2:

In their article, Valente and colleagues (2009) use social network analysis to investigate adolescent friendship choices and weight.  As highlighted in the meme below, and evidenced through decades of scholarship, peer relationships are vastly influential in adolescence.

Based on past research which suggests that weight gain seems to spread through family and friend networks, the researchers hypothesized that obesity may spread similarly through adolescent friendships.  Thus, the goal of the study was to investigate if overweight adolescents were more or less likely to have overweight friends.  Using in-person surveys with 685 students between ages 11 and 15, the researchers asked students to report about their friends in class as well as took measures of their weight.  Thus, the nodes in this project were the 685 students, the links represent those who were nominated as friends, and the students BMI were used as node attributes. 

They found that overweight girls were less likely to be nominated as a friend, even though overweight students nominated more friends. Additionally, their network analyses suggested that friendships were more likely between students of similar rather than different weight.  In this way, SNA allowed the researchers to investigate the various relationships of children through nodes and links as opposed to just singular relationships.  This provides for a more accurate depiction of the adolescent friendship network structure as it relates to weight.

Blog 8: Density and Friendship Development

Aggression is not a common trait that we seek in a friendship.  However, research suggests that aggressive children are still known to have friends.  In their article “Forms and Functions of Aggression in Adolescent Friendship Selection and Influence: A Longitudinal Social Network Analysis,” Sijtsema and colleagues (2010) investigate the impacts of aggression on adolescent friendship.  Through this work they seek to explore:

1. The development of friendship networks in adolescence

2. How friendship selection may be predicted by aggression?

To explore these questions, they collected survey data from 6th – 9th grade students over the course of 3 years.  Students were asked to nominate up to 18 friends in their grade at school as well as provide information on the length of their friendship.  During this data collection, they also collected a self-report survey about the students aggression.  The sample population for this study is a longitudinal sample of adolescents in middle school in a medium-sized urban community in the North East.  The sample was comprised of 65% White students, 17% Black students, 6% Latinx students  and 13% students of other race/ ethnicities.  About half of the sample identified as females and all participants were between the ages of 12 and 14. 

In this analysis, the students were used as the nodes, and the friendships between them were the links, whether one-sided or reciprocated.  The density metric was investigated to understand  the first research question about how friendship networks develop over middle school.  Density was defined as depicted in Figure 1, and as much could increase or decrease over time.  

Figure 1. Defining Density

By and large, Sijtsema and colleagues  found that the density of the network decreased over time, suggesting that students made fewer nominations of friends as they progressed through middle school.  Figure 2 demonstrates how this phenomenon occurred across 7 of the 8 different networks.  From this finding, they concluded that “adolescents were less inclined to just nominate classmates as friends. Instead they favored friendships that were mutual….” This contributed to the decrease in density of the network, but didnt necessarily suggest that adolescents had lost friendships between time point 1 and time point 3.

Figure 2. Density over time

In this way, the density metric provided us with an understanding of how the structure of the network as a whole changed over time.  This goes above and beyond what we could have learned from a nodal metric that only allows us to investigate how individual nodes function in a network.   Instead, structural metrics like this one inform us about the functioning of the friendship network as opposed to a few adolescents in the network.  

Sijtsema, J. J., Ojanen, T., Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Hawley, P. H., & Little, T. D. (2010). Forms and functions of aggression in adolescent friendship selection and influence: A longitudinal social network analysis. Social Development19(3), 515-534.