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Respect, not behavioral controls, produces healthy school environments

Schools may contribute to reducing adolescent health risks by building “climates of respect,” in which teachers and administrators are responsive to — and value — the feelings and perspectives of students, a new study has concluded. Such climates produce healthier behavior than those that focus exclusively on behavioral control.

The results of the study, which used data collected from the National Annenberg Survey of Youth (NASY), were recently published online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. A co-author of the study was Daniel Romer, director of the Adolescent Risk Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which oversees NASY.

“[R]espect is a key ingredient in school relationships that support healthy adolescent development,” the authors concluded. Teachers contribute to a respectful school climate by providing support and help when students need it and valuing adolescents’ perspectives, decision-making capabilities and contributions to solving problems in school.

Adolescents who have teachers that are supportive and sensitive also develop a sense of social belonging in their schools, according to the research. Such a climate also reduces individual risk taking in the form of drug use and results in fewer friendships with risky peers.

Conversely, simply building a sense of belonging in a school – without also fostering a mutual climate of respect – does not reduce drug use, the study found. (The study did not measure the effects on other forms of risky behavior, such as violence or victimization.)

Larger schools were perceived as less respectful than smaller ones. Black and Hispanic students reported less respect in their schools, which are more likely to be large and overcrowded.

A total of 476 youths ages 14 to 18 participated in the survey. Joining Romer as co-authors of the study were Maria D. LaRusso of New York University and Robert L. Selman of Harvard University.

Visit to read the article “Teachers as Builders of Respectful School Climates: Implications for Adolescent Drug Use Norms and Depressive Symptoms in High School.”