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, more than 2,600 seventh-graders from 5 cities in the Ruhr were interviewed for the first time in 2013. 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 are conducted in the students’ classrooms using netbooks provided by the research staff.
The major progress in 2014 was documenting the data of the first panel wave, the publication of first results, and preparing and conducting the second wave of data collection. Furthermore, findings were presented on national and international conferences and contacts to scholars from Germany and abroad were intensified. We have accomplished to further increase the number of participants (from approx. 2,600 seventh graders in 122 school classes to approx. 2,800 eighth graders in 129 school classes). Currently we are cleaning and documenting the second wave of data, and preparing the linkage of both panel waves.