No. VIII-IX (1982)

The extent of social maladjustment among children of Warsaw elementary schools

Published 1982-10-01


  • social maladjustment,
  • primary school,
  • Warsaw students,
  • school maladjustment,
  • demoralization,
  • theft,
  • truancy,
  • aggression,
  • alcohol consumption

How to Cite

Ostrihanska, Z. (1982). The extent of social maladjustment among children of Warsaw elementary schools. Archives of Criminology, (VIII-IX), 191–231.


  1. In the school year 1976/77 the Department of Criminology, Institute of State and Law, Polish Academy of Sciences, began research whose object was - among others - to ascertain the extent of social maladjustment among children from Warsaw elementary schools. As socially maladjusted were recognized children, whose behavior was characterized by a complex of comparatively persistent symptoms pointing to inobservance by those children of fundamental rules of behavior obligatory for the youth of this age (that is, truancy, hour-long gallivating round the streets without control, keeping company of demoralized colleagues, thefts, running away from home, drinking, taking drugs, sexual demoralization, vandalism, aggression).
    In the study were included all children of 3rd— 8th grades of 50 elementary schools in Warsaw: it was a random sample from all schools of this type in the city. There were over 600 classes included in the study, with the total of 17,662 children aged 9— 15.

            The main object of the study was to find out how many children with the symptoms of social maladjustment there are among the pupils of grades 3— 8. It was to be achieved by obtaining information from the teachers about those among their pupils whose behavior covered by the definition of social maladjustment as presented above.

            The extent of social maladjustment among the children of Warsaw elementary schools was found to be substantial, as there were 6.5% of socially maladjusted children in the classes examined (10% of the boys and 2.7% of the girls). The extent is greater in the higher grades (there were as many as 15.4% of socially maladjusted boys and 4.4% of such girls in the 8th grade), and lower in the lower grades (respectively 7.4% of boys and 1.4% of girls in the 3rd grade). From the 7th grade an exceptionally distinct increase is pronounced.

            The percentage of boys revealing symptoms of social maladjustment is 3,7 times higher than that of girls. Among girls, there is a more pronounced increase in the extent of social maladjustment in higher grades as compared with lower grades, than it is the case among boys. Among the eldest girls the symptoms of social maladjustment intensified than among the eldest boys.

            The study revealed also large differences in the extent of social maladjustment among different schools. The percentage of socially maladjusted children ranged from 2.3% in the ’’best” school to 17% in the "worst" one. The classes in the "worsts" schools were found to be smaller than those in the “best” ones where the disclosure of a smaller number of socially maladjustment children could have been connected with the poorer acquaintance of the teachers with their pupils in larger classes. The districts of the “worst” schools were also often defined by the head-masters as "difficult”, that is inhabited by families estimated by them as unfavorable educational environment.

            The definition of social maladjustment assumed in the study revealed first of all the children who: gallivanted (77% of socially maladjusted boys and 75% of girls), played truant (70% of boys and 79% of girls), kept company of demoralized colleagues (55 and 44% respectively). The next most frequently occurring type of behavior was stealing (1/3 of boys and 1/5 of girls), while it was seldom that the children with the symptoms of social maladjustment were considered as drinking alcohol (merely 16% of boys and 14% of girls), which result not only from the fact that the children start drinking in the higher grades, but also from the teachers being only poorly informed as to the extent of drinking among their pupils. Running away from home occurs seldom among the socially maladjusted children (13% of boys and 15% of girls), as well as the symptoms of sexual demoralization (which were, however, found in as many as 20% of socially maladjusted girls from the highest grade, and in only 5% of boys from this grade); the teachers gave no information whatever as to the taking of drugs by socially maladjusted children.

            In the obtained picture of social maladjustment among school children there was a variety of the types of behavior regarded as symptoms of maladjustment; the intercorrelations between separate symptoms were not strong. Connections between these symptoms are more frequent and stronger in the case of children from higher grades, in whom the process of social maladjustment is more intense. The child from the 3rd grade defined as socially maladjusted is first of all a neglected child: gallivanting, playing truant, keeping company of demoralized colleagues, often behaving aggressively. Among the 8th grade children a larger cumulation of various types of behavior was found and also other symptoms were noted much more frequently. In the lower grades, truancy is the behavior which initiates and intensifies the process of social maladjustment: among those playing truant the cumulation of other symptoms can be found much more often than among other children. In the case of older boys, it is the company of demoralized colleagues that acquires the initiating and intensifying role in the process of social maladjustment.. It increases and shapes aggressive attitudes, provides patterns and encouragement to drinking alcohol, and is also conducive to gallivanting, stealing and sexual demoralization.

            According to the teachers, the majority (over 2/3) of the socially maladjusted children had severe learning problems, which had distinct repercussion on their unsatisfactory school progress. Such children were termed maladjusted to school education. Apart from the socially maladjusted children, the teachers also named 6,2% of boys and 3,5% of girls from the examined classes as revealing symptoms of school maladjustment. Every sixth boy from the classes included in the study was socially maladjusted or maladjusted to school, and every sixteenth girl. As the children grew up, there was a trend to cumulation of the symptoms of social and school maladjustment in them. Among the socially maladjusted boys from the lowest grades, an essential dependence was found between their reading and writing problems and their truancy, which - as stated above - initiates the process of social maladjustment in these grades.

  1. When asked about the causes of the child’s learning problems, which occur among the half of socially maladjusted children, the teachers indicated the insufficient care at home and bad family situation as the cause. Among boys, this cause is particularly important in the case of socially maladjusted children from lower grades (2/3 of all cases), and diminishes in the higher grades when - according to the teachers - it is the child himself who is to blame, particularly for his laziness.

            According to the teachers, among the families of socially maladjusted children those are prevailing who - for various reasons - are incapable of coping with their protective and educational tasks. Among the socially maladjusted children, the contribution of those from incomplete families (approximately 1/3 of the families of socially maladjusted boys and as many as 42.2% of the families of girls) and those brought up by mothers alone (approximately 1/4 of boys and 1/3 of girls) is much greater than in the average population. The degree of education of the parents is usually low with physical workers prevailing, and while the fathers usually have some professional training, the majority of mothers have no profession at all. In the families examined both parents usually work out of home (which is typical of a Polish urban family).

            In the families of over 1/3 of maladjusted boys and nearly 1/2 of girls, there are conditions that decided about their distinct socially deprived character as educational environment. According to the teachers, alcoholism or excessive drinking of one of the parent accurs in over 1/3 of these families. The family background of socially maladjusted girls is more socially negative than this of boys. The intensity of negative characteristics of the environment was particularly explicit among the children whose social and school maladjustment symptoms were cumulated.

            The majority of socially maladjusted children had learning problems concerning at least two school subjects. The majority had also problems in learning to read and write and were still below the level of their grade at the time of the study as regards their command of these skills which are essential for school education.

            Protective and educational activities undertaken by schools in respect of socially maladjusted children are minimal as compared with the needs. Only 10% of boys and 15% of girls visit day-rooms or day stay-in schools. As few as 11% of boys and 8% of girls attend youth clubs in the culture clubs. While the day-rooms and day stay-in schools are visited by children from worse family environment, usually those taken better care of in their families attend youth clubs.

            A large part (approximately 2/3) of socially maladjusted children were included in the "summer holiday action” and participated in holiday camps. Also, regarding a large part of them psychologists and educators were consulted; however, the teachers await assistance of guidance centre not only in the form of diagnosis but also of a long-term treatment of maladjusted child and his family.


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