Matthew Larson and Gary Sweeten, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Romantic Dissolution, Offending, and Substance Abuse During the Transition to Adulthood,” Criminology, August 2012

Breaking Up is Actually Hard to Do

School counselors take note: the effects of a breakup can be more detrimental to teens than we may think. In this recent Criminology piece, Matthew Larson and Gary Sweeten (August 2012) offer another angle on the effects of teenage broken hearts. Using National Longitudinal Study of Youth data, Larson and Sweeten find that a romantic breakup is directly related to a range of negative outcomes. Young men (aged 12-16) who experience a breakup show an increase in criminal offending and substance use, while young women go straight for the substances, particularly in the form of binge-drinking.

Digging a bit deeper, the authors believe the loss of love results in the loss of relationships, which may lead to negative behavior—ideas stemming from classical criminological strain and informal social control theories. The gender difference, speculate the authors, may derive from a tendency for young women to resort to coping strategies that are more likely to be damaging to themselves, not to others.

One final caveat? Larson and Sweeten find that the negative criminal effects of breakups can be alleviated by one thing: entering a new relationship. Oh, to be young and in (and out of and in again) love.

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