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.

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