Advances in Applied Sociology
2011. Vol.1, No.1, 48-55
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/aasoci.2011.11004
Self-Esteem, Self-Efficacy and Deviant Behaviour of Young
People in Hong Kong
T. Wing Lo, Christopher H. K. Cheng, Dennis S. W. Wong, Tina L. Rochelle,
Sharon I. Kwok
Department of Applied Social Studies, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China.
Email: {sstwl, sshkc, ssswwong, rochelle, sikwok}
Received November 18th, 2011; revised December 20th, 2011; accepted December 27th, 2011.
This study was designed to explore the psychological and social correlates of deviant behaviour in a sample of
Hong Kong school students. Findings revealed that their deviant behaviour was significantly and positively cor-
related with rebelliousness and susceptibility to negative peer influence. While weak direct relationships were
found between self-efficacy, self-esteem and deviant behaviour in general, we found “bullying/vandalism”, “ver-
bally/physically attacking parents”, “lack of motivation to study”, and “verbally/physically attacking teachers”
had significant effects with “self-esteem and/or self-efficacy”. The present study concludes that changing the de-
linquents’ deviant identity is essential; the identity-rebuilding process would strengthen their self-image and
prevent them from going astray.
Keywords: Delinquency, Deviant Behaviour, Self-Esteem, Self-Efficacy, Hong Kong
In recent years there has been an increase in research into the
impact of deviant peer affiliations on adjustment in young peo-
ple (Fergusson et al., 2007; Goodnight et al., 2006). Research
has found that adolescents who affiliate with delinquent peers
are at increased risks of involvement in criminal activities
(Level & Chamberlain, 2005), substance use (Claes et al.,
2005), and mental health problems (Fergusson et al., 2003). In
part, at least, these associations appear to reflect the fact that,
through a number of processes, deviant peer affiliations act to
increase the risks of behavioural difficulties (Schwartz et al.,
2006; Fergusson et al., 2007). The issue of deviant behaviour
among young people has become increasingly common in
Hong Kong of late and has aroused the concerns of the Hong
Kong Government, education sector, social workers and the
police force.
Peers and Unruly Behaviour
Adolescence is known as a time of unpredictable behaviour,
emotional upheavals and high rebelliousness. Adolescents at this
life stage are striving for self-development and independence,
developing their self-image, and learning and experimenting
with the behavioural norms of adult society in order to gain
trust and acceptance from others, particularly their peers (Allen
et al., 2005). School and family are places for adolescent growth in
which, psychologically, adolescents are developing and at-
tempting to demonstrate signs of maturity by building their self-
image and learning appropriate social behaviour.
Research suggests that as adolescents leave their parents in
order to develop an independent lifestyle, peer acceptance is of
the utmost importance (Chen et al., 2005). Adolescents may be
faced with numerous setbacks in the process of establishing
their self-identity and integrating into the community. From this
perspective, rebellious behaviour may be viewed as a sign of
growth and independence. However, if assurance and accep-
tance are not gained within the traditional groups (e.g. school,
community, and family), values and self-concepts may not be
properly developed. This may lead adolescents to seek life sat-
isfaction and fulfil their psychological needs through their peer
group. In this case, the social appropriateness of group interact-
tions may be overlooked by adolescents in order to feel accepted
within the peer group. Such subtle relationships between devi-
ant behaviour and self-concepts have been reported (e.g. Kap-
lan, 1975; DuBois & Silverthorn, 2004; Bartlett et al., 2006).
Research has shown that students with less favourable school
performance are likely to affiliate with one another for group
support (Wentzel, 1994, 2004). Once becoming labelled as a poor
performer, prosocial behaviour may be exhibited when faced with
the dilemma of choosing to perform well at school and receive
praise from teachers or to perform badly but be accepted by
peers (Wentzel, 1994). Though they may exhibit delinquent
behaviour in order to gain acceptance from their peers, this does
not necessarily apply to all under-performing students. Many
students respond positively to setbacks and failures encountered,
however some are prone to display more deviant behaviour. Psy-
chological factors, such as self-esteem and self-efficacy, have been
shown to be equally as important as social factors in contribut-
ing to the cause of deviant behaviour (Becker & Luthar, 2007;
DuBois & Silverthorn, 2004; Schwartz et al., 2006). Though
peer acceptance is particularly important to adolescents, indi-
vidual differences in ways of maintaining self-discipline amongst
peer influence may still exist.
Gender Differences, Self-Concepts and Delinquency
Recent research has found gender differences in delinquent
behaviour (Kim & Kim, 2005; van Lier et al., 2005). Carroll et
al. (1999) found gender differences in reputational profiles,
with males perceiving themselves as tougher, more popular, and
more of a leader than their female counterparts, who wished to
be liked, seeking affection and affiliation. This ties-in with both
physical and self-presentation goals set by males, and demon-
strates the importance to males at a young age of social status
within the peer group. Lau and Leung (1992) suggested in their
study that poor relation with school had a more negative effect
on the self-concept of girls than boys, and a more negative im-
pact on the delinquency of boys. While good relations with pa-
T. W. LO ET AL. 49
rents were found to have a particularly positive effect on the
self-concept of boys.
Rigby and Cox (1996), studying factors associated with de-
linquent behaviour of adolescent school children, found that
girls generally reported less delinquent behaviour than boys. They
observed that girls with low levels of self-esteem were associ-
ated with reported bullying behaviour. However, results also
demonstrated that comparatively high levels of reported enga-
gement in peer bullying and relatively low self-esteem were each
independently and significantly associated with the measure of
delinquent behaviour in both boys and girls.
Self-Esteem, Self-Efficacy and Unruly Behaviour
It has been acknowledged that having positive self-efficacy
and self-esteem is good for well-being (Katja et al., 2002; Karat-
zias et al., 2006). Psychologists generally regard having a strong
sense of self-esteem as a sign of self-understanding and self-ac-
ceptance, which allows individuals to view themselves and others
equally, achieving one’s self-integration and developing one’s
potential effectively, as well as having a higher expectation for
self-efficacy (Tabassam & Grainger, 2002). There are a number
of ways in which young people can benefit from positive self-
concepts. Respect can be gained from surrounding people (fam-
ily, teachers, peers), which can prevent youth from developing
a sense of low self-esteem. This also allows them to be able to
face challenges and failures assertively. Secondly, it also allows
them to have confidence in developing friendships and to maintain
positive relationships with family members and teachers. Re-
search on the relationship between self-concept and youth deve-
lopment has found a positive correlation between high self-esteem
and assertive behaviour that can include having a strong sense
of self-discipline and good work performance etc. (e.g. Levy,
1997; Donnellan et al., 2005).
Sociologists and psychologists have long considered self-esteem
to be an important cause and consequence of social behaviour
(Mason, 2001). Kaplan (1975) observed that deviant behaviour
may be an adaptation and self-protection against self-derogation. If
a sense of self-esteem and positive self-evaluation cannot be gained
through socially acceptable methods, motivation for behaving
in such a (positive) way will gradually decline. Instead, one may
try to gain self-esteem and attention through other means that
may include deviant behaviour. Thus, having a low sense of self-
esteem has often been regarded as a motivation for deviant be-
It is not the deviant behaviour itself, but rather the accep-
tance and recognition gained from deviant peers after commit-
ting an act of deviance that enhances adolescent’s self-esteem
(Goodnight et al., 2006; Becker & Luthar, 2007). Delinquents’
sense of self-enhancement and protection can ultimately be
gained by strengthening the psychological bonding with other
delinquents when they engage in similar behaviour. Therefore,
there is not necessarily a direct relationship between unruly
behaviour and self-esteem, which can be enhanced through
“delinquent association” (Sung & Thornberry, 1998).
There is evidence supporting the correlation between negative
self-esteem and unruly behaviour (Kaplan & Lin, 2000, 2005).
Mason (2001) discovered that boys with low self-esteem could
enhance their self-esteem after engaging in unruly behaviour,
however, it was observed that such an effect did not occur in
boys with high self-esteem. Levy’s findings (1997) support
Kaplan’s theory of self-concept and unruly behaviour. By using
multiple self-perception measurements, Levy discovered that self-
acceptance (particularly moral self-perception) of severe delin-
quents was significantly lower than that of other individuals.
Research in Hong Kong has been conducted looking into the
possible contributing factors of these problems (Cheung, 1993;
Cheung & Ng, 1988; Li & Lo, 2006; Lo, 1984; Wong & Cheng,
2000; Wong & Leung, 2002; Shek, 2005), in which social fac-
tors including family, school community and peer influence, have
been the main research focus, some psychological factors such
as self-concept and values have also been examined. However,
Hong Kong research has been less focused on investigating the
correlations between self-esteem and self-efficacy and the de-
viant behaviour of young people. This study aims to use a large
sample of secondary school students to explore these correlates.
In this study, perceived self-efficacy is defined as people’s be-
liefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of per-
formance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives.
Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate
themselves and behave (Bandura, 1994). Self-esteem refers to
general feelings of self-worth or self-value.
Ten secondary schools were chosen by means of a multi-stage
random sampling method. Eight were comprehensive schools and
the remaining two were vocational schools. One class was ran-
domly selected from each form in each school. A total of 1432
valid questionnaires were received. Eighty seven percent of the
students were aged between 11 and 18 years (Mean = 16.14; SD =
2.37). The majority of them were 18 years old (20.5%), 17 years
old (17.4%) and 16 years old (12.2%); 7.9% were aged 12 years
and below, 9.6% were 13 years; 9.6% were 14 years, 8.4% were 15
years, and 9.3% were aged 19 years. Some of the older respondents
were newly-arrived immigrants from Mainland China. Lacking a
reasonable command of English, it was necessary for these students
to start in lower forms, and as such, a small number of respondents
(3%) were aged 20 years or above. Over half (58%) of the respon-
dents were male and 42% were female, while 65% of respondents
stated that they have no religion. Regarding educational levels,
respondents were evenly spread across S1 to S7. Students in voca-
tional schools comprised 13.7% of the total sample.
The self-administered questionnaire, which took around 20 -
30 minutes to complete, consisted of a number of sections:
1) Demographics, including gender, age, educational back-
ground, school results and conduct etc;
2) Young People’s Daily Behaviour Scale (18 items), (see Ta-
ble 1). Respondents were asked to rate the weekly frequency of
behaviours on a 4-point likert scale where “1” indicates “never”
and “4” indicates “5 times or more”. The items were adopted
from similar research conducted by: Wong & Cheng (2000),
Baldry & Farrington (2000), and Soldz & Cui (2001);
3) Self-Esteem Scale (8 items) adopted from the Chinese Ado-
lescent Self-Esteem Scales (CASES) (Cheng, 1998), designed for
Hong Kong adolescents as a self-report scale measuring self-
esteem, using 4-point Likert scale where “1” represents “strongly
disagree” and “4” represents “strongly agree”. CASES has ob-
tained high reliability and validity in a number of studies (e.g.
Cheng & Watkins, 2000; Education and Manpower Bureau,
2003; Wong & Watkins, 2001). The reliability in this study was
relatively high at α = .84.
4) Self-Efficacy Scale (10 items) adopted from a measure by
Schwarzer et al. (1997), following the same 4-point Likert scale
Table 1.
Respondentsdaily activities.
Never, Seldom
(%) Mean (SD)
Watching television 5.8 10.4 83.8 3.78 (.56)
Doing homework, revision 34.8 26.6 38.7 2.99 (.94)
Surfing the internet, ICQ 60.2 14.7 25.1 2.28 (1.20)
Reading books, magazines 61.3 22.6 16.2 2.36 (.97)
Hanging out purposelessly 75.1 13.1 11.8 2.07 (.95)
Verbally attacking parents 47.7 40.9 11.4 2.54 (.82)
Smoking 83.5 7.9 8.6 1.53 (.96)
Playing sports with friends 77.8 13.9 8.2 2.05 (.85)
Window-shopping, watching movie 76.8 15.4 7.8 2.23 (.71)
Learning music, playing musical instruments 88.3 5.1 6.6 1.54 (.87)
Verbally attacking teachers 70.9 23.6 5.5 2.09 (.84)
Bullying, vandalism to seek excitement 71.5 23.1 5.5 2.01 (.88)
Joining extra-curricular activities 83.7 10.9 5.5 1.83 (.83)
Joining school/ local community activities 86.3 9.5 4.3 1.81 (.78)
Drinking alcohol 78.7 17.2 4.1 1.70 (.89)
Joining leisure courses 93.2 4.3 2.4 1.46 (.70)
Joining religious group activities 96.1 2.0 1.9 1.32 (.61)
Taking illegal drugs 95.5 3.5 1.0 1.15 (.51)
format as the self-esteem scale, the scale obtained a reliability
score of .83 in the current study;
5) Rebelliousness Scale (5 items) adopted from Kaplan et al.
(2001), again following the same 4-point Likert scale response
system, it obtained an acceptable reliability of α = .66;
6) Susceptibility to Negative Peer Influence Scale (6 items)
constructed for local usage with modifications from the original
version designed by Dalton et al. (1999) and Dielman et al.
(1987), consisting of a 4-point scale, “1” = “certainly not” to
“4” = “certainly”. The reliability score for this part of meas-
urement was α = .84. Items from the self-esteem, self-efficacy,
rebelliousness and susceptibility to negative peer influence scales
were mixed randomly within the questionnaire in order to in-
crease its internal validity.
Understanding Young People’ Daily Behaviour
Table 1 shows the prevalence of respondents’ daily activities,
the most common daily behaviour of respondents was watching
television, doing homework, and surfing the internet. Regard-
ing delinquent behaviour, 24.9% of respondents sometimes or
always hang out with friends, over 28% engaged in bullying and
vandalism for excitement, 21.3% of respondents drank alcohol
and 16.5% smoked. More than half (52.3%) of the students ad-
mitted to sometimes or always verbally attacking their parents;
while 29.1% of respondents sometimes or always verbally at-
tacked their teachers.
The factor structure of the “Young People’s Daily Behaviour
Scale” was tested using Principal Components Analysis and Ob-
limin Rotation. Initial analysis revealed the presence of five com-
ponents with eigenvalues greater than 1, yielding a 5-factor so-
lution accounting for 51.9% of the variance. All items had loadings
above .3. These factors were labelled 1) deviant behaviour; 2)
community active behaviour; 3) active learning behaviour; 4)
semi-studious behaviour; and 5) aggressive behaviour (see Table 2).
In order to further comprehend the behavioural patterns of
respondents, further exploratory factor analysis using different
extraction criteria and rotation methods were attempted. Results
revealed a 2-factor solution accounting for 35% of the variance,
and different extraction and rotation methods resulted in similar
factor structure (see Table 3). The factors were labelled: 1) de-
linquent behaviour and 2) diligent behaviour. Delinquent beha-
viour included drinking alcohol, hanging out with friends, smok-
ing, verbally attacking teachers, bully and vandalism to seek ex-
citement, drug and substance abuse, verbally attacking parents,
and not doing homework. Factor 2 represented more positive
behaviour, such as engaging in constructive social activities.
Results revealed that revising for homework was negatively
correlated with delinquent behaviour (–.50), and positively cor-
related with diligent behaviour (+.27), thus the more negative
behaviour adolescents engaged in, the less likely they were to
revise their homework. Reading books and magazines was po-
sitively correlated with diligent behaviour (.38). This pattern shows
that there is a counteraction between engaging in constructive
social activity and reading (Factor 2), and engaging in delin-
quent behaviour (Factor 1), suggesting that students who did
not like studying were more likely to behave negatively.
We also analysed gender differences in respondents’ daily
behavioural patterns. Significant differences were found in res-
pondents’ daily behaviour; females were more likely to go win-
dow-shopping and watch movies (p < .01), and were also more
likely to verbally attack parents (p < .01). Males were more likely
to verbally attack teachers (p < .01), bully and vandalise (p < .05),
engage in sports (p < .01) and get involved in school or com-
munity activities (p < .01) (see Table 4). The noted gender dif-
ferences are consistent with the different gender roles identified
in previous paragraphs, indicating that male deviant behaviour
tends to be mainly centred on violence and challenging author-
ity; while female deviant behaviour is mainly associated with
family and social relationships.
T. W. LO ET AL. 51
Table 2.
Factor analyses of respondents daily activities.
active behaviour
Smoking .66
Hanging out purposelessly .64
Drinking alcohol .56
Taking illegal drugs .55
Window-shopping, watching movie .51
Doing homework, revision –.65
Joining school/local community activities .79
Joining extra-curricular activities .74
Playing sports with friends .72
Learning music, playing music instruments .64
Joining religious group activities .55
Watching television –.53
Joining leisure courses .52
Surfing internet, ICQ .73
Reading books, magazines .72
Verbally attacking parents .72
Bullying, vandalism to seek excitement .70
Verbally attacking teachers .68
Extraction method: principal component analysis, 51.9% variance explained, oblimin rotation, loadings smaller than .25 were not displayed.
Table 3.
Factor analyses of adolescentsdelinquent behaviour (Factor 1) and diligent behaviour (Factor 2).
Drinking alcohol .68
Hanging out purposelessly .67
Smoking .65
Verbally attacking teachers .61
Bullying, vandalism to seek excitements .59
Taking illegal drugs .53
Window-shopping, watching movie .48
Verbally attacking parents .41
Surfing internet, ICQ .39
Doing homework, revision –.50
Joining school/local community activities .75
Joining extra-curricular activities .74
Joining leisure courses .61
Playing sports with friends .55
Learning music, playing music instruments .42
Joining religious group activities .45
Reading books, magazines .38
Extraction method: principal component analysis, varimax rotation.
Table 4.
Gender differences in the prevalence of daily activities.
Male Female
Mean SD Mean SD t-test Cohen’s d rγλ
Watching television 3.79 (.55) 3.75 (.57) 1.40 .075 .037
Doing homework, revision 2.98 (.99) 3.01 (.86) –.57 –.030 .015
Verbally attacking parents 2.47 (.80) 2.64 (.83) –3.93** –.209 .104
Reading books, magazines 2.40 (1.01) 2.31 (.91) 1.64 –.098 .049
Playing sports with friends 2.26 (.87) 1.75 (.73) 11.65** .087 .043
Surfing internet, ICQ 2.23 (1.24) 2.35 (1.14) –1.83 –.245 .122
Verbally attacking teachers 2.19 (.86) 1.95 (.78) 5.54** .000 .000
Window shopping, watching movies 2.15 (.72) 2.32 (.68) –4.61** .620 .296
Hanging around purposelessly 2.07 (.97) 2.07 (.92) –.01 –.079 .040
Bullying, vandalism, to seek excitement 2.05 (.89) 1.96 (.87) 2.05* .100 .050
Joining school/local community activities 1.89 (.79) 1.69 (.73) 4.77** .254 .126
Joining extra-curricular activities 1.87 (.81) 1.78 (.86) 1.88 –.070 .035
Drinking alcohol 1.73 (.92) 1.66 (.86) 1.36 –.081 .040
Smoking 1.54 (.99) 1.51 (.92) .69 .295 .146
Learning music, playing musical instruments 1.50 (.89) 1.57 (.83) –1.48 .109 .054
Joining leisure courses 1.44 (.70) 1.49 (.66) –1.32 .072 .036
Joining religious group activities 1.30 (.62) 1.35 (.60) –1.51 .037 .019
Taking illegal drugs 1.14 (.51) 1.16 (.50) –.45 -.024 .012
*p < .05, **p < .01, d.f. = 1388 - 1416 due to missing values.
Correlations between Self-Concepts, Rebelliousness,
Susceptibility to Negative Peer Influence and Deviant
Correlation analyses were conducted on the relationship be-
tween self-esteem, self-efficacy, rebelliousness, susceptibility to
negative peer influence and deviant behaviour (see Table 5). Sig-
nificant positive correlations were found between “deviant be-
haviour” and “susceptibility to negative peer influence”, and be-
tween “deviant behaviour” and “rebelliousness”, with correla-
tions of +.69 and +.88 (p < .01). These findings suggest that the
more “deviant behaviour” respondents engaged in, the more re-
bellious they became, and the more susceptible they were to ne-
gative peer influence. A relatively weak and negative correla-
tion was found between “self-esteem” and “deviant behaviour”.
No correlations were found between “deviant behaviour” and
“self-efficacy” (r = 0, p = .98), and between “self-efficacy” and
“rebelliousness” (r = 0, p = .90). Negative correlations were found
between “deviant behaviour”, “susceptibility to negative peer
influence” and “self-esteem” (–.13 and –.16, p < .001), demon-
strating that respondents with lower self-esteem were more sus-
ceptible to negative peer influences and were more likely to en-
gage in deviant behaviour. However, such correlations were weak,
which suggest their relationship could be more complex.
Results indicate that Hong Kong respondents’ deviant be-
haviour is generally positively correlated to “rebelliousness” and
“susceptibility to negative peer influence”, though the relation-
ship between “deviant behaviour” and “self-concepts” was not
direct. Using ANOVA, we analysed the effects of deviant be-
haviour on self-esteem, self-efficacy, rebelliousness, and suscep-
tibility to negative peer influence. The results were consistent
with but provided more information than those obtained from
the correlation analyses. ANOVA results indicated that all de-
viant behaviours had significant effects with “rebelliousness”
and “susceptibility to negative peer influence”. Furthermore,
these differences followed the linear trend with deviant behav-
iours (all linear contrasts p <. 01), suggesting that the more fre-
quent the deviant behaviour, the higher the rebelliousness, and
the more susceptible to negative peer influence. However, not
all types of deviant behaviours had significant effects on re-
spondents’ self-esteem or self-efficacy. Only “bullying/vandalism”,
“verbally/physically attacking parents”, “lack of motivation to
study”, and “verbally/physically attacking teachers” had signifi-
cant effects with self-esteem and/or self-efficacy (p < .01; dif-
ferences in self-esteem scores were only significant in the first
three items) (see Table 6).
It is interesting to note that the relationship between “bully-
ing/vandalism” with self-esteem and with self-efficacy followed
a non-linear but U-shape trend as indicated by the polynomials
contrast tests (p < .001). This demonstrates that students’ self-
esteem and self-efficacy decreased when they engaged in “bul-
lying or vandalism”, and stayed at the lowest level when they
occasionally engaged in these behaviours. However, their self-
concept gradually increased when they engaged in this behave-
iour more regularly. The self-efficacy levels of frequent delin-
quents were even higher than those of non-delinquents. More-
over, although the relationship between “lack of motivation for
studying”, “verbally or physically attacking parents”, “verbally or
physically attacking teachers” and “self-esteem” and/or “self-
efficacy” follow a linear fashion, they were in different directions.
T. W. LO ET AL. 53
Table 5.
Correlations between deviant behaviour, self-esteem, self-efficacy and susceptibility to negative peer influence.
Deviant behaviourSelf-esteem Self-efficacy Rebelliousness Susceptibility to
negative peer influence
Deviant behaviour 1.0 –.13** 0 .88** .69**
Self-esteem 1.0 .63** –.15** –.16**
Self-efficacy 1.0 0 –.08**
Rebelliousness 1.0 .59**
Susceptibility to negative peer influence 1.0
**p < .01, N = 1340 to 1419.
Table 6.
Effects of negative behaviours on self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Polynomial contrasts
Behaviour Self-conceptsNeverA littleSometimes OftenOverall
F-tests linear quadratic
Self-esteem 22.86 22.69 21.49 20.5218.00*** 33.99*** 2.39 ns
Verbally/physically attacking parents
Self-efficacy 27.40 26.82 26.47 25.96 3.65** 3.65** .11 ns
Self-esteem 22.30 22.01 21.60 21.522.00 ns 3.06 ns .12 ns
Verbally/physically attacking teachers
Self-efficacy 26.58 26.27 27.15 27.70 5.06** 6.99** 2.07ns
Self-esteem 22.76 21.87 20.93 22.1813.42*** 3.13 ns 14.01***
Bullying, vandalism to seek excitements
Self-efficacy 26.84 26.36 26.40 28.18 5.04** 6.74** 14.71***
Self-esteem 20.87 21.42 21.99 22.537.87*** 12.53*** 0 ns
Doing homework, revision
Self-efficacy 25.61 26.26 26.68 27.02 4.14** 8.24** .25 ns
**p < .01, ***p < .001; d.f. = 3, 1392 to 1403.
The relationships indicate that the more respondents attacked
their parents and the less motivation they had in studying, the
lower their self-esteem and self-efficacy. However, the effect of
attacking teachers was quite different from attacking parents or
lacking motivation in studying. While there was no significant
relationship between attacking teachers and respondents’ self-
esteem, it was found that students who attacked teachers more
often also had higher self-efficacy (see Table 6). This is dis-
similar to the effect of attacking parents, which was related to
lower self-esteem and lower self-efficacy, demonstrating that
students with higher self-esteem and higher self-efficacy would
be less prone to attack their parents and would have higher
motivation in studying, but might attack teachers at times.
A significant body of literature researching the role of devi-
ant peer influence on delinquent behaviour in young people lends
support to the hypothesis that associating with deviant peers
significantly increases the likelihood of individual delinquency
for some youth (Gifford-Smith et al., 2005). The present study
discovered that the more rebellious and susceptible to peer influ-
ence adolescents were, the more severe the types of deviant be-
haveiour they engaged in. The results of the current study were
consistent with previous research where delinquent association has
been observed to be an important factor for the rise in severity
of adolescent deviant behaviour (Lacourse et al., 2003; Vitaro
et al., 2005). If adolescents fail to gain social acceptance through
normal living experiences, an impaired self-image may develop.
If this is combined with relatively low self-esteem and self-dis-
cipline (high rebelliousness) and high susceptibility to peer in-
fluence (low resilience), adolescents may naturally try to self-
actualize and gain acceptance in other social groups (illegitimate,
unruly ones) through engaging in deviant behaviour (Wentzel,
1994; Sung & Thornberry, 1998; Allen et al., 2005).
These findings are consistent with a developmental process
in which reward dominant youth are more likely to associate
deviant behaviour with the rewards provided by deviant peers
than to associate this behaviour with punishments provided by
adults (Goodnight et al., 2006). However, it is important to note
that not all types of deviant behaviour have a similar linear re-
lationship with self-concept. Weak direct relationships were found
between deviant behaviour and self-efficacy and self-esteem,
however, deviant behaviour was associated with the desire to gain
acceptance from peers. Therefore, the deeper the desire, the more
severe the types of deviant behaviour young people engaged in.
Differences were found in the roles of authority between pa-
rents and teachers. Since it is easier for delinquents to be noticed
by their peers through openly challenging their teacher’s autho-
rity, delinquents’ self-esteem and self-efficacy will gradually be
enhanced (self-enhancing effect) once they are frequently en-
gaged in unruly behaviour in an open manner, i.e. the more they
verbally attack their teachers, the higher their self-esteem and
self-efficacy will become.
Gender differences were found in respondents’ deviant be-
haviour whereby male respondents were more likely to verbally
attack teachers, bully, and vandalise. This supports previous find-
ings demonstrating the negative impact of poor school relations
on male delinquency (Lau & Leung, 1992). Female respondents
were found to be more likely to verbally attack parents, as op-
posed to teachers. As adolescents mostly will not have the op-
portunity to witness peers challenging their parents in the home,
their self-esteem will remain relatively low as their self-esteem
and self-efficacy are not enhanced as a result. The above find-
ings are consistent with Kaplan’s Self-Enhancement Model (1975)
and other relevant research (e.g. Wentzel, 1994; Mason, 2001;
Donnellan et al., 2005; Forney et al., 2005).
Associating with delinquent peers was related to increased
rates of delinquency among Hong Kong secondary school stu-
dents. However, what is difficult to define is whether delinquent
adolescents affiliate with delinquent friends, or whether delin-
quent friends produces delinquent adolescents (Fergusson et al.,
2007). Our findings were consistent with those of Bartlett and
associates (2006), in that self-esteem was found to be a protect-
tive factor against the risk of deviant behaviour. Through factor
analysis, we found different behavioural patterns from two groups
of students engaging in either diligent social activities or those
of a deviant nature. Students were less likely to become part of
a delinquent group if they engaged themselves more in diligent
social activities. Self-efficacy and self-esteem will also be en-
hanced if the diligent social effect can be strengthened among
students through engaging in such activities.
Deviant behaviour can be viewed as another expression of
prosocial behaviour within the delinquent network where more
peer acceptance is gained through committing more severe acts
of deviance (at least from the delinquents’ perspective). The en-
hancement of young people’s self-esteem (gaining peer atten-
tion) through engaging in deviant behaviour is more significant
and is an important factor in their susceptibility to peer influ-
ence and rebelliousness. This mechanism acts as a vicious cycle
for delinquents. Initially when deviant behaviour emerges, de-
linquents’ self-esteem is relatively low and there is a strong de-
sire to be accepted by peers, once youths have built their repu-
tation within their delinquent peer group, they will gradually
become role-models for junior delinquents and their behaviour
will no longer be affected by peer pressure. Delinquents may
have a relatively low self-esteem prior to, or in the initial stages
of, the emergence of deviant behaviour, but self-esteem will gra-
dually be enhanced once the behaviour has gained peer support.
Youth delinquency is a problem with multiple causes and ef-
fects, and the present study found that self esteem is a crucial
factor. Hong Kong has attempted to help delinquent students
through a “one school-one social worker” system. Before deve-
loping any effective intervention strategies, it is essential to un-
derstand the aforementioned crucial factor associated with school
delinquency in Hong Kong. Students should be provided with the
opportunity to participate in co-curricular or after school activi-
ties, so as to release their stress and anxiety, and channel their
rebellious behaviour in constructive ways. Active participation
in activities could help to develop their potential and enhance
self-confidence and self-esteem, thus serving as a protective fac-
tor of delinquency. Since students often turn to their peers, in-
cluding deviant ones, for support during times of stress and anxiety,
they should be coached on how to resist undesirable peer pres-
sure through proper social skills; helping them to rebuild their
social circles is a necessary strategy.
To conclude, to change the deviant identity of school delin-
quents is central to social work for young people. Without a new
identity, they would feel easy to mingle with their former devi-
ant peers. Social work in school should prepare the delinquents
for the new roles they are to play after any intervention pro-
grammes. However, preoccupation with their previous deviant
identity is a hurdle for positive change; they may seek to re-
solve the crises and frustrations they encountered by deviant
means. To rebuild their identity, they need to look for someone
or something that they have faith in, no matter these are voca-
tional, social, humanitarian and political cause; or they have to
experience success or achieve social status through conventional
means, such as the Hong Kong Award for Young People, sports
talent programme, volunteer services, mentoring, and role model-
ling. The identity-rebuilding process would gradually strengthen
their self-image and self-efficacy, remove their deviant self-concept,
and prevent them from going astray.
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