Definition, nature, Causes of Deviant Behaviour among School Children


Definition, nature, Causes of Deviant Behaviour among School Children

The school as a formal organization has formally established rules and regulations which govern the official conducts of the principal, teachers and students in the school system. These rules and regulations are so made to enable everybody in the school system work and behave in a manner conducive to the pursuit of laid down goals of the school. The question to which we should address ourselves is: does the learning of these rules and regulations prevent teachers and students from breaking them or from committing the offences forbidden by these rules and regular
tions. This brings us to the crucial problem of deviant behaviour which is the objectives of this paper after reading it, students should be able to:

a)     Define norms and values

b)     Explain the concept of deviant behaviour phenomenon

c)     Discuss the theories of deviance delinquency

d)   Classify deviations into forms showing their symptoms in the school and society

e)    Examine factors contributing to deviations

f)    Suggest some therapeutic guidelines for curbing deviant behaviour amongst school children.


The term norm has more than one meaning. Sometimes, it refers to a type of statistical average, what “everyone does”, and at other   times to rules of right and wrong. In sociology, the second meaning is used more often, but the first meaning cannot be ignored. For instance, at a school social club, it might be the norm to drink heavily at every meeting, but none of the members would argue that heavy drinking is a sign of virtue. In this case, the norm is the rule of standard of behaviour defined by the shared expectations of a group of people. This may include what the group regards as a socially acceptable pattern of behaviour expectation of every members of the group.

It is known that individual actions in the school system do not lead in themselves to the collective goals of the school. The collective actions of the staff and students are needed to achieve the collective goals of the school. The school rules and regulations therefore prescribe the standard of behaviour expected of the teachers (externally prescribed by the Ministry of Education) and of the students (internally prescribed by the school authorities).

Students, on admission to schools, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels are given prospectuses which stipulate some of these expectations. These rules and regulations specify, in most cases, what members should and should not do. But does the reading and learning of these rules and regulations prevent teachers and students from committing offences forbidden by the regulations? This brings us to the crucial issue discussed in chapter seven under conditions that bind society together.

If the individual in the school system is not willing to conform, instructions not to commit offences as stipulated in the rules and regulations of the school are not always effective. Such willingness or unwillingness depends on the degree of previous socialization of the individuals. So, the school, like any other formal organization, always faces the problem of how to deal with behaviour expected of teachers and students in the school system. The non-conformity to the norms of a particular group is what sociologists’ term deviant behaviour.


Whereas norms are rules and regulations for behaviour, values are attitude and standards of judgment about what things are important, desirable, and right. For example, the National Policy on Education (1981) lists a number of values which seems to be   widely accepted: decency, morality, and honesty, respect for elders etc. although we usually assume that normative rules come from the values people hold, the opposite relationship between values and norms may hold true. Blake and Davis (1964) expressed the views the values are the reasons we give ourselves for following the rules. As secondary school students, we may be punished for lying and rewarded for telling the truth. If so, we will probably not tell lies very often. To explain why we do not lie, however, as we begin to mature, we will not say “for fear of being punished”. Instead, we will say that we believe in (place a high value on) Honesty.

Obviously, a society will run much more smoothly if people believe its social norms and if they can speak about the values that justify the norms by which they live. Whether norms are the result of values people hold or whether values arise from norms, contradictions occur in the feelings people have about both norms and values.

Cases of normative inconsistency, situations in which two conflicting norms or values are both held, are fairly common a good example is a student belonging to Palm wine drinker’s club with norms different from the general norms of the school. As a general rule, when norms compete, people are inclined to follow the norms that best serve their interest and this may lead to deviation.

         What is Deviant behaviour ?

Deviant behaviour is a behaviour that varies markedly from the norms acceptable to the society. Deviancy in relation to an individual behavioural departure from well established norms. There are norms of behaviour to which an individual is expected to conform in the larger community as well as norms established within the school system. It is when an individual’s behaviour is a variance with the existing norms that could be described as a deviate.

Deviant behaviour in terms of attitudinal behaviour which when displayed by school children within the educational institution: is often described as “delinquent behaviour”, “maladjusted behaviour”, “inappropriate behaviour” unhealthy behaviour” and “abnormal behaviour”. Nevertheless, if in any society an adolescent manifests deviant behaviour that has criminal form, he could be tried in the ordinary court of law of that society. What this implies is that no one person could be described as fully grown in the psychological sense until he learns to display a measure of the sub-culture to which he belongs. Therefore, an individual whether he be an elementary school child, adolescent in secondary school, or the youth or adult in the society could only be described as a deviate when his conformity to the cultural group values and beliefs are deficient and maladaptive.

In short, deviance is a relative term because the accepted norms of any two societies may not be the same. What is acceptable in one society may not be acceptable in another. This is also true of school deviations. Since, any two schools are two social groups with different patterns of behaviour, deviation in one school may not be regarded as deviation in another.

           Common Deviant Behaviour Exhibited by School Children

There are several forms of deviant behaviour exhibited by children in the Nigerian school system. Though deviant behaviour may vary in some communities, yet there are similarities across socio-cultural settings. Okorodudu has classified these into four forms, namely: psycho-social form of deviance, criminal forms of deviance, moral forms of deviance and personality deviance.

 (a)   psycho-social Forms of Deviance

Okorodudu (1994) explained that the psycho-social form of deviant behaviour includes all the dimensions of anti-social behaviour that negate the established norms for promoting peace and order within the school and community. Examples are lying, jealously, envy, unhealthy competition and comparison, disobedience, gossiping, whispering, rudeness, pride, arrogance, pomposity, and truancy. These forms of deviant behaviour are common features of school children and adolescence in the Nigerian society.

(b)   Criminal Forms of Deviance

The deviant behaviour of adolescents in and outside of the school system is described as criminal because of the gravity of significant departure from the acceptable norms of both the school and the larger society. They are considered serious infringements against established rules and regulations of the school system and at larger societal laws. They are actionable offences against the law. These include: burglary, suicide, stealing, forgery, assault, fighting, fraud, examination malpractice, abortion, rioting, and wanton destruction of public properties. It is common these days to find students engaging in these forms of deviant behaviour.

 (c)   Moral Forms of Deviance

The moral form of deviance is the most common among secondary school adolescents in Nigeria. They constitute behaviour that negates the moral norms of the school and the society at large, and are of great concern to parents, teachers, school counselors, psychologists and even the government. An example in drug and drug abuse which include smoking of Indian hemp, sniffing of lacquer thinner, taking of barbiturate, pills and excessive alcoholism. The immediate effect on the adolescent is over confidence, poor judgment, and desire to ‘slow off’ and lack of concern for other students and members of the school community. Other forms of moral deviance include rape and other sex offences such as receiving opposite sex in the dormitory, having sex within or around the school, certified cases of venereal diseases, pregnancy and possession of pornographic films and literature.

Personality Forms of Deviance

The personality forms of deviance have their origins in the individual; and are so classified because the behaviour exhibited undermines the norms of normal or healthy personality. The individual’s behaviour not only creates problems for others in the school but it also affects him adversely. Examples of personality forms of deviance behaviour include aggression or hostility, temper tantrums, sociopathic personality, hatred, inferiority complex and withdrawal.

                       Causes of Deviant behaviour in Schools

We noted in chapter one that sociology of education seeks to solve educational problems which are essentially social in nature. The sociologists of education, after identifying social acts of deviance in school, must also seek explanation of the possible cause of deviance behaviour with the view to offering therapeutic guidelines at the end. Our approach would be based on the etiology of deviance behaviour in school and community. The various forms of deviances discussed earlier in this chapter have their own dynamic sources. However, Okorodudu (1993) believes that one cause may be taken at a time to be responsible for the manifestation of a particular maladaptive behaviour. Rather, certain aggregate factors might work together to generate on unwholesome behaviour in individuals. Many forms of deviance behaviour are caused by interplay of many factors, some of which are:

1.   Nature and Characteristics of Adolescence

The secondary school child is generally adolescence between childhood and adulthood. First, the child is leaving one stage of growth to another and this is the problem. He is neither a child nor adult but has his own world. Moreover, he is influenced by his physical development. These physical changes in boys and girls remind them that they are ready to have sexual intercourse with the opposite sex who wants to impress. But since he has no means to do that it is unlikely that he might to steal.

Adolescence always wants to behave like adults so some try to smoke which is traditionally an adult act. Their smoking is therefore an expression that they are also adult. That is why smoking is rampant in our society today.

The bold ones often smoke Indian hemp so that they might be considered as courageous as adults. Moreover, adolescents can be easily provoked because whatever an adult does to them, they regard it as an attempt to reduce their personality to that of a child. Normally, they are very violent when they act it is this behaviour that leads to assault and insults in school even demonstration and riots.

2.     Individual’s personalities

Individuals do not acquire adolescent characteristics at the same time even though they may be in the same age bracket. They do not respond to similar social situation in the same way. They are individual differences. These individual differences may be explained through personality theories. For example, two students may have financial problems. While one may decide to steal, the other may not. Secondly, some students fight with their teachers and or break bounds while other does not. All this are due to the individual’s personality. In this era of community secondary School, children do not live on their own. They live surround them like things and people some within the school compound, either outside the school system. This things and people may be called the situation in which one has to live. This situation is capable of changing. The changes can be slow or fast at times.

The secondary school child in most cases leaves his immediate environment and lives in company of other students in a hostel. The hostel and school situation are often totally different from his family and village situation. When a student finds himself in a new situation that is the school environment he has adjusts to it. If the adjustment is properly done by keeping to the school norms, the students is at peace with himself and his new situation. Failure to adjust may take three forms:

i.   Trying to escape from the situation by refusing to go to school or playing truant.

ii.  Trying to change the situation violently by attacking his teachers and seniors whom he perceives as threats;

iii. Turning his mind to other things so as to forget his failure to adjust to the situation. For example, he may engage in smoking, drinking or refusing to participate in any school activities.

There are, therefore, two possible causes in maladjustment. The first is; broken personality and the second; broken situation. 

a)         Broken personality

Living a successful life in any social institutions involve sublimation of a great deal of our personal desires. Many students are unable to sublimate their personal desires. Since the school cannot satisfy their desires either because the norms of the school do not permit it or the individuals do not help themselves to meet the societal demands on them, they become frustrated. When frustrated, they neither leave the school to avoid the annoying situation or develop anti-social behaviour. The student with anti-social behaviour begins to break the school rules and regulations.

b)        Broken Situation

When ever an individual student fails to adjust properly to the new situation in the school, he tries to fight the situation either by resorting to violence and crime/or by isolating himself from others. Isolated students tend to be suspicious of the teacher and other students. It is suspicion that leads them to attack teachers and other students whom they always perceive as standing in their way. Psychologists term this misplaced aggression. 

3)        Broken Family Circumstance

Incessant cases of broken homes and instability in the homes in our society are indications that all is not well in the family background of delinquents in the school system. The social, cultural, religious, and emotional climate of the child’s home is one major source of the origin, growth and development of delinquent’s behaviour among school children in Nigeria. Psychologists believe that children brought up in broken family situation acquire many deviant traits, which manifest delinquent behaviour as they grow and develop into adulthood. Odenumi (1990) expressed the view that more cases of delinquents appear to be found more often than not in homes experiencing divorce, separation, death or prolonged absence of either of the parents or homes in which either the mother of father is addicted to alcohol and drug abuse. He opined that less attention is given to the needs of the growing child. Given these background influences, children practice the use of alcoholic beverages and drug abuse in and out of the home. Consequently, many of the psycho-social, criminal, moral and personality forms of deviance prevalent in our society are the result of broken family situation.

 4.     Peer Group Influence

Peer group influence is another significant source of delinquent behaviour among school children. They spoilt children in the group exerts negative influences on other members of the group. Since the group interests and activities are not supervised by knowledgeable adults, they form goals and objectives not in consonance with the existing norms of the school, and society at large.

5.     Unwholesome Mass Media Effects

The mass media which include Radio, Television, newspaper and Magazines are recently agency of education in Nigeria. Their major motive is to feed the public with information. However, the present trend in the growing complex media service seems to produce greater negative impacts on the character formation and adjustment process of children. 


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