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‘Why do young people misbehave in school?


In 2017 a special report by the NSW Ombudsman was given to Parliament, which reported
that more than 45 percent of the suspensions within NSW public schools were due to students’
persistent misbehaviour, not including physical violence and serious criminal behaviour (NSW
Ombudsman, 2017). This statistic along with a study showing 20 percent of teachers’ days is spent
on managing students who misbehave, shows that there is a need to recognise ‘why young people
misbehave in school,’ and to find strategies and solutions in improving young people’s behaviour in
school (Office of the Auditor General Western Australia, 2014). Through the examination and review
academic literature, this report aims to identify main interview findings and commonalities on the
beliefs of what causes students to misbehave. This report also intends to compare and contrast
findings from interviews with the literature review and provide refinement implications for personal
teaching practice and philosophy.

Section One:

Student misbehaviour can take one of several forms including bullying, vandalizing, talking
back to teachers, stealing, fighting, as wells as a number of other behaviours that can disrupt the
flow and positive learning environment of a classes and activities in school. The destructive effects of
these behaviours have serious affects and implications on everyone implicated. As the events in a
student’s environment stimulate their response and cause them to misbehave as an attempt to
escape out of something or get something, causing action and reaction on a loop (Kalat, 2014).

While there have been many studies done on the investigation of student misbehaviour
perspectives throughout the last decade, the bulk of these studies predominantly centre on insights
into misbehaviour and the impacts, while only a limited amount makes any attempt to explain and
understand why (Crawshaw, 2015; Dalagic & Bayhan, 2014). Some studies show that environmental
factors like ineffective classroom layout and design, lack of explicit instruction, unproductive teacher
interaction, and lack of expectations and the incapacity to grasp relevance to be seen from the
content, have a drastic affect, causing student misbehaviour (Berg, Segers & Cillessen, 2012;
Guardino & Fullerton, 2010; Mazer, 2013; Ometesco & Semudara, 2011).

Researchers also showed that student misbehaviour can be a result of personal thought
processes from the student themselves (De Nobile, Lyons & Arthur-Kelly, 2017). This is supported by
Nemeroff (2016), who states that the development of negative beliefs, and consequentially
emotional distress and unacceptable behaviour can stem from the negative life experiences and the
destructive emotions that come from child abuse. Student misbehaviour can also be connected to
increased sensation seeking, including reward seeking throughout adolescent cognitive development
(Flora, 2018; Giedd, 2012).

Developing further on this research, studies indicate that the cognitive behaviour of
students is furthermore influenced through social experiences and it is recognised that students
learn to behave through observation of others in society, including peers, teachers and parents (De
Nobile, Lyons & Arthur-Kelly, 2017). As such, when young people are deprived of emotional support
from parents and others, lack of control and inattention have a strong correlation with misbehaviour
and behavioural control problems (Crawshaw, 2015).

Extending on this, studies on teacher opinions on misbehaviour associate aggression,

insolence and disobedience to the absence of morals and ethics a student holds them self too
(Blazar & Kraft, 2017; Crawshaw, 2015). With studies on adolescence showing risk taking behaviour
and misbehaviour being triggered by peer presence in the form of high arousal and even pressure to

Luke Ranieri 17968506

‘Why do young people misbehave in school?’

fit in (Steinberg, 2005). Opposite to this, teachers’ misbehaviour is seen by students as a product of
incompetence, offensive behaviour, and low emotional support towards the students (Blazar &
Kraft, 2017; Broeckelman-Post, et al., 2015).

Studies have also shown that goals, desires, wants and needs are among the main drivers for
misbehaviour amongst young people, and suggest that adolescents have persuasive desires of
“belonging” and “recognition”, further driving them to foster and create misguided ambitions
through escape, revenge, sensation and attention seeking (De Nobile, Lyons & Arthur-Kelly, 2017;
Resnick, 2000). Extending on this, satisfying the primitive needs of belonging, freedom and survival,
misbehaviour is used as an attempt of young people to achieve these goals (Loyd & Barkley, 2005;
Petra & Winderman, 2000). Despite this, due to the lack of investigation in this field, research
advises that misbehaviour in young people is driven by the result of both psycho-educational and
environmental factors in students’ lives (De Nobile, Lyons & Arthur-Kelly, 2017).

Section Two

Within this report, six participants from different age groups, careers and cultures were
interviewed. The interviews consisted of the single same question ‘In your opinion, why do young
people misbehave in school?’ and was conducted in a relaxed and non-interruptive environment.
One the interviewees answered the questions, further open-ended questioning was used, designed
to draw out the interviewees’ beliefs on student misbehaviour and why. This was done to achieve a
deeper understanding of the responses. These open-ended questions include ‘can you explain
further in detail?’ and ‘why do you say that?’ etc.

All responses were recorded by the interviewer with pen and paper and recorded only their
group category, gender and their responses. The interviewees consisted of a female and a male
teacher, a female and a male parent (non-related), a female pre-service teacher and a male non-
teaching friend. Table 1 below highlights the responses of the six interviewees and the similarities in
their responses between them.

Luke Ranieri 17968506

‘Why do young people misbehave in school?’

There were many similarities between all six of the interviewees’ responses, with all six
stating that misbehaviour of students is due to the student’s parental influence and upbringing, with
Persons 1 to 4 stating this in their first response immediately. Peer pressure and hidden learning
problems were both stated and explained by all interviewees, as well as distracted by mobiles being
a common statement said at the start of the interviews.

A notable difference between the teaching and non-teaching interviewees can be seen, with
Person 1 to 3 sharing many statements and thoughts, while Person 4 to 6 sharing their own
considerations and opinions. What is noticeable is that Person 4 shares beliefs and opinions with
both the teaching and non-teaching participants. This could be due to them not having the
professional experience of being a teacher but has the deeper understanding on misbehaviour than
non-teaching equivalent. A common theme amongst these interviewers where they took the
answering to the main question in relation to students in schools at present times, very little to no
mention of past personal experiences in relation to student misbehaviour. A common statement
made by both parents was the fact that when they were in high school, students who didn’t want to
be there could leave at any time and get a job, and they both shared the opinion that if they didn’t
leave, corporal punishment from the school and parents would ‘knock some sense’ into the
misbehaved students.

Section Three

Following the interview results, a correlation can be seen between the literature review and
the thoughts of the six interviewees, with the two current teachers and the pre-service teacher

Luke Ranieri 17968506

‘Why do young people misbehave in school?’

sharing opinions on their being more unseen circumstances for the reasoning behind student
misbehaviour. Those three discussed aspects that Person 1 -3 little or no opinion on, including class
layout, non-engaging teacher and personality clash with the teacher. This correlates with Guardino &
Fullerto’s study (2010) where they showed that disruptive behaviour and misbehaviour is decreased,
and academic engagement increases when reorganising classroom layout, specifically improved
when student input is involved. Cothran’s study (2009) suggested that to decrease teacher non-
engagement and teacher clashes with students, class content needs to be relevant to students’
themselves and their needs of being interesting and fun, building a relationship of commonality
between teacher and students.

Similarly, most interviewees stated that misbehaviour can be a result of lack of student
understanding or teacher implementation of class rules, expectations and policies. This is supported
by Demanet & Houtte’s investigation (2012) into the negative impacts associated with teacher low
expectations of students and can be resolved through clear statement of rules and expectations at
the start of lessons for lower high school years. This would also help manage the other believed
cause of misbehaviour, mobile phones, which were expressed by Person 1 to 6 as being a major
distraction in classrooms these days, but Person 1 and 2 feel they are necessary for student’s safety
and contact in emergency situations.

However, the main benefit to mobile phones as education tools in classrooms is the increase
opportunities for informal learning. Pollara & Broussard (2011) stated that using these mobile
devices dynamically in diverse situations creates opportunities for rich, authentic and relevant
learning experiences. Mermelstein & Tal (2005) builds on this by offering two more usages of
mobiles in education, where they are a means for students to listen to audio books and textbooks
that too date were only available in written and expensive format. Secondly can be used for
administrative messages through SMS, providing contact between school and students through high
speed communication over conventional email; without the possibility of being misunderstood as
spam and students not receiving important communiques (Mermelstein & Tal, 2005; Santos & Ali,

When Persons 1 and 2 stated that when they were in high school, students who didn’t want
to be there could leave at any time and get a job, and if they didn’t leave, corporal punishment
would fix the misbehaviour. The first part of the statements would do away with the non-
academically drive students and enable a supportive environment in classrooms due to students
having similar motivations. This is supported by Broeckelman-Post, et al. study (2015) on student
misbehaviour effects on engagement and is in line with Toby (1998) findings.

The second part about corporal punishment is something that is a sensitive topic, and mostly
banned in western society, but is still believed when corporal punishment can’t be used in schools,
misbehaviour is common. Han (2014) argues that illegalisation of corporal punishment in schools can
give false assumptions that every student responds to the same motivation and disciplinary
methods, which can be an explanation for why some students still misbehave. This is a common
perception with older generations having strong opinions of politics and education and helps
rationalize why Persons 1 and 2 (parents) had differing views on why students misbehave compared
to the other interviewees.

Section Four

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‘Why do young people misbehave in school?’

Within teaching, it is imperative to understand what causes students to engage in suitable

and appropriate behaviours, and what actions as a teacher can be used to dissolve misbehaviour
within a classroom. Within the previous section of this report, the six interviewees perspectives
were compared to comprehensive studies and research, with the aim to illuminate the reasons for
student misbehaviour amongst young people in schools. Through recognition of the various reasons
to why student misbehave, teachers can use this knowledge to develop further awareness to
improve their personal practice within educational and outside environments. A main issue which
arose in research is that teachers should be aware of biological changes which transpire throughout
the commencement and continuation of puberty.

Another important aspect for teachers to consider within their practice is the awareness of
all possible medical conditions and disorders which can and may affect the behaviour of students in
class environments. Achievable through communication with other teaching staff or speaking to the
student’s parents. Through awareness, time can be allocated, and adjustments made to
accommodate these students, and optimise the learning environment as best as possible. A common
misconception is that students are motivated in similar ways, and Han (2014) disagrees with this, as
it can be seen in his study that if need be, each student must be catered for individually, as no two
are the same.

When teaching, the praxis and teaching style must be suited to the individuals and class that
are being educated, while ensuring that the difficulty of work being communicated is not beneath or
beyond the students’ grasp (Demanet & Houtte, 2012). It is widely understood that students are
more likely to disengage with content if it is not hard enough or too hard all together. A way around
this is having content that is meaningful and can be applied practically (Cothran, 2009). Through
demonstrating information can be practically applied, lessons become more exciting and
meaningful, and students are engaged in the lesson, however, rules and expectations should always
be set out to students at the start of term and referred to each lesson to endure proper class


The question ‘Why do young people misbehave in school?’ has been investigated extensively within
this report through exploratory research. This was aided by literature review on the topic of student
misbehaviour reasons and evolved into a deeper understanding of why young people misbehave.
Using the research and literature, this report recognises and distinguishes what teachers are to be
conscious and mindful of in the classroom environment, and what can be done in their position to
their practice style to reduce student misbehaviour in school.

Luke Ranieri 17968506

‘Why do young people misbehave in school?’


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