Happy Teens Usually Crime-Free Teens, Study Finds

Even a low level of depression seemed to help push adolescents to illegal activity

MONDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- A new study helps support the notion that happy young teens are more likely to avoid crime.

To reach this finding, researchers at the University of California, Davis analyzed 1995 and 1996 data from nearly 15,000 students in grades 7 to 9. About 29 percent of the students said they'd committed at least one criminal offense and 18 percent said they had used at least one illegal drug.

The researchers, who used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, then looked at the students' self-reported levels of emotional well-being. They found that those who said they were happier were less likely to commit crimes or use drugs.

The team also found that youth with even minor depression were much more likely to be involved in criminal activity or drug use. And while most adolescents have periods of happiness and depression, it's when negative periods begin to outnumber the more positive ones that trouble can start, the California team said.

They theorized that the benefits of being generally happy -- such as maintaining strong bonds with others, feeling good about oneself, and gaining good social skills -- can help kids make good decisions that are "informed by positive emotions."

The study was to be presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas.

The bottom line is that "the emphasis placed on happiness and well-being by positive psychologists and others is warranted," co-author and sociology professor Bill McCarthy said in an ASA news release. "In addition to their other benefits, programs and policies that increase childhood and adolescent happiness may have a notable effect on deterring nonviolent crime and drug use."

Since the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the findings should be viewed as preliminary.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about teens' emotional health.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: American Sociological Association, news release, Aug. 22, 2011

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