Friendship and Violence in Adolescence
The main research goal of the project “Friendship and Violence in Adolescence” is to explain the development and maintenance of violent behavior, as well as the desistence from violence, among adolescents. Why do some youths become victims or perpetrators of violence? How can we explain why some adolescents only use violence in a few instances while others become multiple offenders, repeatedly committing acts of violence? Which adolescents solidify lifestyles encompassing acts of violence as everyday incidents? What possibilities exist to prevent violence and what interventions can help once adolescents have already committed acts of violence? The project seeks to contribute to answering these questions by mainly focusing on two well-known risk factors of violent offending: the endorsement of norms legitimizing violence on the one hand, and the peer group on the other hand. While previous research has shown that the endorsement of norms legitimizing violence, as well as the affiliation with a violent or criminal peer group, are strongly related to the commission of violent acts, little is known about how these factors are related, and in what ways they interact to explain acts of violence. Both the peer group and normative beliefs or attitudes are formed to a large degree during adolescence, and are therefore crucial to prevention and intervention efforts targeting adolescents. A prerequisite, though, is a profound knowledge about how exactly these risk factors promote acts of violence. Applying an integrative theory of action, the research project “Friendship and Violence in Adolescence” therefore focuses on these exact mechanisms. In particular, among others, we will address the following research questions:
- Which social factors affect friendship formation?
- In what ways does the peer group affect the development, maintenance and social diffusion of attitudes promoting violence?
- How important are friendship ties in transforming attitudes promoting violence into actual acts of violence?
- Which role do in-school and out-of-school factors, such as social status or a migration background, play in this regard?
To study these research questions, about 2,200 seventh-graders from cities in the Ruhr will be interviewed. To adequately depict the development of those adolescents over time, participants will at first be accompanied and repeatedly interviewed over a period of two years. Given additional funding by the German Science Foundation (DFG), it is planned to extend this time span to a total of four years. To ensure the best possible support of the participating schools as well as the highest possible data quality, all interviews will be conducted in person by members of our research staff. The surveys will be conducted in the students’ classrooms using netbooks provided by the research staff.
The German Science Foundation (DFG) approved our research proposal submitted in August 2011. The official start of the project was in May 2012. Amongst others, preparatory work was conducted during a research stay at the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University in October and November 2012. Currently, we are finalizing the instruments to be used and preparing the pretest for the first wave of data collection. Fieldwork for the first wave of data collection is scheduled for autumn 2013.