The Reciprocal Links Between School Engagement, Youth Problem Behaviors, and School Dropout During Adolescence


  • This project was supported by Grant DA034151-02 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health to Ming-Te Wang.


Drawing on the self-system model, this study conceptualized school engagement as a multidimensional construct, including behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement, and examined whether changes in the three types of school engagement related to changes in problem behaviors from 7th through 11th grades (approximately ages 12–17). In addition, a transactional model of reciprocal relations between school engagement and problem behaviors was tested to predict school dropout. Data were collected on 1,272 youth from an ethnically and economically diverse county (58% African American, 36% European American; 51% females). Results indicated that adolescents who had declines in behavioral and emotional engagement with school tended to have increased delinquency and substance use over time. There were bidirectional associations between behavioral and emotional engagement in school and youth problem behaviors over time. Finally, lower behavioral and emotional engagement and greater problem behaviors predicted greater likelihood of dropping out of school.