“The Dunedin Study”: Early Indicators/ Risk Factors of Criminality in Our Children… and what we can do about it, By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

jal collage

Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”

Our previous article about “The Dunedin Longitudinal Study” focused on the five personality types identified by the study: “Well Adjusted”, “Confident”,”Reserved”, “Undercontrolled” and “Inhibited”.  These are divided among the population as shown in the pie chart below (with some overlaps).

Pie 2

As discussed, study findings were that these personality types were fixed and could be identified in very young children.  Of the five types, “Undercontrolled” (10%) and “Inhibited” (7% of the total population) were the two conducive to what was called a “negative life outcome”, that is causing great angst, anxiety and unhappiness to both those with the personality type and to those around them.

“Inhibited”individuals tend to be overcome by shyness and social awkwardness to the point where they “hide from the world” and frequently struggle to complete High School, gain tertiary qualifications, maintain jobs or enter into (let alone maintain) relationships.  In general, “Inhibited”individuals are not, however, a “threat to society” and their personality trait, while harmful to themselves and concerning for those who love them, is not “dangerous”.

David Gray

David Gray

We say “in general”, because there are cases of such individuals “coming out of their shells” (as they are frequently hermits or recluses) and becoming violent, such as in the case of David Gray, who killed 13 people in the well-known Aramoana Massacre near Dunedin, New Zealand in 1990.

This article focuses on the 10% of the population classified as “Undercontrolled”, because these individuals have been shown to have the greatest tendency towards life outcomes which present not only  as negative for themselves, but frequently as criminal and violent.


Nature vs Nurture

Before going on to look at the “Undercontrolled” group in more detail, however, we at “The Forever Years” would also like to re-emphasise that, while the personality types are fixed, according to “The Dunedin Study”, whether or not those young children who present as”Undercontrolled” or “Inhibited”manifest a “negative life outcome” is hugely dependent on nurture (and we will discuss the nurturing of “Undercontrolled” children, in particular, in more detail below) as well as on “Self Control” (which is itself unfixed and can be strengthened with nurture, and which we will discuss in a later article).  Nature loads the gun, but nurture decides whether or not the trigger is pulled.


A homeless man

Study Director Professor Richie Poulton says that one of the biggest reasons for the credibility of “The Dunedin Study” findings (and part of the reason it is now an internationally recognised “gold standard” in human development), is that for more than 40 years 96% of the original participants (all born in 1972-3 in Dunedin, New Zealand) have remained involved.  Poulton says that these people range across all social strata, from top government employees and professionals through to the homeless, incarcerated, or those in institutional care.

downloadStudy findings showed that children identified as being in the “Undercontrolled” group for personality were frequently in trouble with the law by the time they reached their teenage years.  A pattern of criminality continued, often accelerating until they ended up being incarcerated for long periods of time, for more serious crimes, at some point before their thirties.  Five percent of individuals, the study discovered, were responsible for 50% of society’s crimes.  These individuals were also, mostly, males– as was identified when they were three years old.


Map showing the location of Pittsburgh in the USA

Because of concerns expressed that these may be “Dunedin only” statistics and that they perhaps applied only to this particular group of people born in the early 1970s, Dr. Terrie Moffat, Associate Director of “The Dunedin Study”, decided to do the experiment with boys growing up in inner-city Pittsburgh, in the USA.  These young men were living  thousands of miles away from New Zealand, were born in a different era and were of a different ethnic makeup (half of the Pittsburgh participants were African American). Findings in the Pittsburgh study were, however, always exactly parallel to those in “The Dunedin Study”: 50% of crimes were perpetrated by 5% of males and the most delinquent boys came from the most disadvantaged social backgrounds.  These findings demonstrate that there are fundamental truths (personality type, social background… nature plus nurture, if you like) driving all human behaviour, regardless of nationality or ethnic background.

Lower socioeconomic area in urban Pittsburgh

Lower socioeconomic area in urban Pittsburgh (Source: Google images)

There only differences between “The Dunedin Study” and the Pittsburgh study were in homicide and suicide.  While assault rates tended to be identical in both cities, homicide rates were higher in Pittsburgh.  This followed through from the easier access to lethal weapons for youth in the USA, which converted what would otherwise have been assaults into homicides.  The youth suicide rate was shown to be higher in Dunedin, which researchers believe may be due to a down turn in the New Zealand economy at the time when study members were leaving school and seeking out employment.  Overall, a comparison of the studies undertaken in Dunedin and Pittsburgh, as well as other similar studies of youth in various developed nations around the globe, indicates that concerns about “The Dunedin Study” findings not being relevant elsewhere can now be conclusively ruled out.  These findings, moreover, led to “The Dunedin Study” being awarded the Stockholm Prize for research into criminality  in 2007 and the Jacob Prize for groundbreaking research into youth offending in 2010.

When thinking in particular about children who present with the “Undercontrolled” personality type then, what practical measures will best help in improving possible “life outcomes”?  Some of these are summarised below:

  •  “Early intervention” (meaning protection from abuse or neglect) for identified vulnerable children.  Children with a  personality type identified as being “Undercontrolled” who are were also victims of abuse or neglect were highly likely to become involved in criminal behaviour as teenagers or adults, according to study findings.  The earlier the intervention the better.
  •  Support for those identified as “Undercontrolled” in personality type, as well as for their parents, carers and educators.  This would involve setting boundaries and developing the all-important quality of Self Control, which unlike personality type, is not fixed.  We will discuss the importance of Self Control in a later article.
  • Kids doing Karate (Source: Google images).

    Kids doing Karate (Source: Google images).

    Practical “outlets” for “Undercontrolled” children to develop self-discipline and self-regulation skills… particularly in “Undercontrolled” males, sports and / or martial arts were shown to be helpful.

  • Socialisation goals and monitoring for depression in “Inhibited” children, who tend to “retreat into themselves” during their teens if not adequately supported.  Socialisation goals can include “challenges” such as camping trips, overseas experiences for teens and group activities, whilst balancing this with a respect for the reserved nature of these children, but hopefully resulting in them developing into “Reserved” rather than “Inhibited” individuals, in terms of personality type.

    Kids camping.  Source: Google images.

    Kids camping. Source: Google images.

  • Investment by governments in Early Childhood Education in particular, but also in education at all levels.
  • A raising of awareness among parents, carers and educators of the different personality types and how each type is best nurtured, especially the “at risk” personality types (“Undercontrolled” and “Inhibited” ).  This would include emphasising the importance of structure, routine and predictability for the “at risk” group of children, who tend not to thrive when circumstances are changeable or random.

Professor James Heckman, at the Center for the Economics of Human Development (CEHD) at the University of Chicago says, “if we understand what makes people ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’, then we have a powerful new tool for tackling major social issues.”  Heckman says that in areas such as criminology, health and education problems have traditionally been treated “as they appear”, but now we can identify “at risk” individuals very early on… and hopefully apply study findings into real life applications which will alter these life trajectories… and, in doing so, also be immensely beneficial not only to these individuals, but also to society as a whole.


Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Our Boys, by Gayle Allen and Deborah Farmer Kris

Empathy, Boys

When searching for toys for their kids at chain toy stores, parents typically encounter the following scenario: toy aisles are color-coded pink and blue. They shouldn’t bother looking for LEGOS, blocks, and trucks in the pink aisle, and they certainly won’t find baby dolls in the blue aisle.

While parents, researchers, and educators decry the lack of STEM toys for girls — and rightly so — what often goes unnoticed is that assigning genders to toys harms boys, as well. Too often children’s playrooms reinforce gender stereotypes that put boys at risk of failing to gain skills critical for success in life and work. The most important of these? Empathy.

Meg Bear, Group Vice President of Oracle’s Social Cloud, calls empathy “the critical 21st century skill.” She believes it’s the “difference between good and great” when it comes to personal and professional success. Researchers at Greater Good Science Center out of the University of California, Berkeley, echo Bear’s assertion. They define empathy as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)


Abuse Survivor Gives Back and Changes Lives, by Stephanie March



Matt Pipkin created Speak Your Silence in 2012 to help raise awareness for survivors like himself and to raise money to provide free counseling services.

By selling red stitches that people apply to clothing and accessories to symbolize everyone’s unique voice waves his organization has already provided funding for over 500 counseling sessions for survivors across America. One hundred percent of their sales go to this cause.

In addition, they are contributing to breaking the silence against the widespread problem of childhood abuse and spreading awareness with the symbolic wearable stitch.

I am deeply inspired by what Mr. Pipkin is doing as a fellow survivor of childhood abuse. It takes actions like his and those invested in making a difference in social change to bust through the stereotypes and shame of an issue that impacts so many.

(Follow this link to read more…)


Why Having an Emotional Boy is The Best Thing, Not the Worst, by Meredith in the USA


When my oldest was born, I remember being so overwhelmed by motherhood. But as she grew, I was relieved that she seemingly inherited my husband’s temperament. Looking back, I realize now that she was an easy going baby. She adapted easily to moves across state lines more than once, and traveled well. She even used to sit with her toys and whisper as a 9 month old. I’m not even kidding.

I thought this parenting thing wasn’t so bad and as long as my kids all inherited my husband’s easy going nature, I might just figure out how to be a good mom. I was certainly relieved that she didn’t inherit my highly emotional mood swings, and constant worry.

Then, I had my son.

He was a colicky baby due to some severe food allergy issues that he suffered from as an infant. I cried all the time from frustration just trying to adapt to this tiny screaming bundle who seemed upset all the time. But, we all survived it, and I’m happy to say that he’s a thriving six year old now. He’s also still a very emotional child.

(To read more of this article, follow the link below…)


What is it Like to Raise Your Grandchild? By Ann Faust Anderson


His name is Brystol.  He has never had a responsible parent.  He is beautiful, smart, and above all else charming.  He is four years old.  I am often asked questions about the grandson I am raising.  The question I am asked most often is “Why do you have him?” followed quickly by some version of, “What is it like to raise your grandchild?”  The reason I have custody of him is important to him and to me and as an explanation of some of his behaviors.   The joy and difficulty of raising him is of interest to many.

I began raising him when he was four weeks old; I was 65.  My sons were all grown, I had a full time job as a teacher.  Since neither parent was able to take on the responsibility of parenting a baby, I was asked to take on that responsibility.  I gladly accepted.

The moment I held him, he held my heart.  From birth he was a sweet baby.  Because of circumstances surrounding his birth, he was not a pretty baby.  He had (still has) 5 cowlicks making his hair stick out from what seemed to be a hundred different places.  He was unable to hold his tongue in his mouth, and he was very skinny.  One physician pronounced him “one step from being a funny looking kid syndrome.”  With the exception of the cowlicks all of those things changed.  He only slept when being held.  The first weeks home from the hospital, the only time he slept was when wrapped tightly in a blanket and in my arms.  The sleep patterns caused our first problem.  Since he only slept when held, I was getting very little sleep.  Lack of sleep made for one very tired surrogate parent.  Thankfully, this phase only lasted 8 weeks.

I looked up research and read everything I could find on possible problems Brystol would or could have because of his parents’ choices.  All research pointed to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder,) anger issues, and possible learning problems.  I immediately began preparing for those to arise: I felt that being prepared could help to prevent some of the predicted problems.  Enriching his environment was imperative, in my opinion.   Of course, I had many different items to enrich his visual environment.  Since everything pointed to the importance of language, I talked to him nearly nonstop.  I explained everything that was going to happen and what was happening.  Yes, all my friends thought I had lost my mind explaining things to a 6 week old baby.  He was allowed to choose his clothing, foods, and playthings.  I believe that as a direct result of loving him unconditionally, enriching his environment, and giving him an abundance of language, it was evident very early that he was above average in intelligence.

Because I worked full time and had a new person to care for, I had to become an organized person.  Much of the research I read indicated that organization and routine would be very important to assist in controlling his ADHD.   I thank Brystol for the organization skills I learned at 65 years of age.


Ann with grandson Brystol

At seven months of age, Brystol went to live with his mother.  She refused to give him any structure in his life and repeatedly said that I had stifled him with all my structure.  He began to show some anger issues.  His mother continued to have difficulties and at 10 months, he was given back to me.  While still showing sweetness as his disposition, ADHD and anger issues were becoming apparent.  If he was told, “No.” for any reason or given more structure than he wanted, he would back into a door or the wall and scream at the top of his lungs.  I learned to turn my back without comment and walk away until he stopped screaming.  As soon as the screaming stopped, I was there to talk to him and love him and explain that the screaming would never get him what he wanted.  It took about 6 months to get the behavior completely under control, but he does not scream to get his way now.

It was about this time that his mother (who had asked me to take Brystol) became very angry that I had him.  She broke into my home, stole money and belongings, broke all of the windows in my son’s truck, and slashed my tires.  She would stand on a chair and bang on my windows until someone came to stop her.  The ugly voice mails and text messages were too numerous to count.  This behavior caused the most difficult and stressful time for Brystol and me.  An emotional roller coaster is not good for anyone, but when a child has ADHD and anger issues, it can be far worse.

I did not want Brystol to see my anger at his mother, nor did I want her issues to influence him.  She finally received a 7 month jail term and our lives simmered down.  During her time in jail, the Department of Human Resources who handled Brystol’s case, went to court with us to give me full physical custody and shared legal custody with my son.  This decision gave us a more secure feeling where Brystol was concerned.   His ADHD problems were very evident by this time and anger issues were arising on occasion.

After his mother was released from jail, her anger at me became worse.  It was very difficult.  After his supervised visits with his mother, Brystol would return angry at everyone.  He would cry, refuse to cooperate, have complete meltdowns that included breaking toys, and screaming  at me.  I learned to pick him up (no matter the amount of protest) hold him close, and talk softly to him telling him that I would always love him.  As he calmed down, I would explain that the behavior he was showing would not be tolerated.  At this time, I began to use a behavior management technique I learned in college.  It worked beautifully, and Brystol’s anger issues at this time are those of a typical 3 or 4 year old.

Just before he turned 4 his mother passed away.  I talked with a counselor who gave me wonderful advice on how and what to tell him.  He does not understand the meaning of dead, but he knows that he doesn’t see her any more.  He has had questions about not seeing her, but was okay with the situation.  He did ask me if he could live with me forever now that he wasn’t going to have to live with his mother ever.  He still sees her family.  His anger issues seem to be even less now than they were.  His ADHD is another issue.

I honestly don’t realize his ADHD is a problem until we are in large open areas or he is around children who do not have ADHD. I am still having to condition myself not to allow him to do certain things because while what he wants to do isn’t a problem at home, it may be a problem in the pre-k classroom, church, or while visiting others.  Remembering to watch for things that can cause problems in other areas has become a priority for me.  In order to become a productive member of society, it will be necessary for Brystol to know how to follow rules and get along with others.  It is my job to see that he has the skills to do this.

The job of raising Brystol has brought many joys to my life and a few problems.  The problems have caused me to look inward and change some of my methods and ways of thinking; it has all been for the better in both of our lives.  I do worry that as a senior citizen raising a preschooler, there will be problems because:  1.  His “mother” is old  2.  He will be embarrassed by my age one day  3.  I might miss things that younger mothers would pick up on  4.  As he gets older, he will realize he can get things over on me  5.  That I will pass away before he has the skills he needs.  I do not dwell on any of these things because Brystol keeps me busy loving him and enjoying him.


“The Forever Years” would like to thank Ann Faust Anderson for agreeing to share this story with us.  We wish her and her grandson Brystol all the best for the future.  Below are some links about grandparents raising their grandchildren, some of which are to support groups.

Related Links:

Facebook Groups:

Grandmothers Raising their Grandchildren

grandparents raising grandkids

Web Pages:

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren NZ:  http://www.grg.org.nz/

“Grand Familes” USA: http://www.gu.org/OURWORK/Grandfamilies.aspx?gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqbyC0MbsyAlWLdRXhdM4LWlFBxla46cyzgEpwMYJrPhBoCpuzw_wcB

Canada: https://www.bccf.ca/bccf/more-from-odin-books/grandparenting-and-aging/?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=CPC&utm_term=Raising%20grandchildren&utm_content=Grandparents&utm_campaign=Resources&gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqbzMGnsgz-HsB1EG0XEGfM0ksa5US-MEI6gzAUqbtaFhoCzcjw_wcB

Australia:  http://childaid.org/?page_id=28


UK:  http://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/network

Ireland: http://www.treoir.ie/?gclid=CjwKEAjwtr6sBRDv7uzB492H9XISJADj6aqbPY15Ontzp4HToBXeeuLWlIvNYoqaXpJD7Eu9DPaDqRoC4ybw_wcB

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Blog: http://www.grandparentingblog.com/


Pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond all recognition, by Allison Pearson

computer boy

Originally published in “The Telegraph”.

As a study reveals a sharp rise in the number of schoolgirls at risk of emotional problems, Allison Pearson says we need to embolden our daughters to fight back against pornography – however embarrassing it may be.

Sometimes you hear a story that is so awful that it refuses to leave your mind, no matter how fervently you beg it to go away.

I was told one such story recently by a family doctor. Readers of a squeamish disposition may want to look away now.

I was having dinner with a group of women when the conversation moved onto how we could raise happy, well-balanced sons and daughters who are capable of forming meaningful relationships in an age when internet pornography is as freely available as a glass of water. Porn has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond all recognition. Like other parents of our generation, we were on a journey without maps or lights, although the instinct to protect our children from the darkness was overwhelming.

(To read more, follow the link below).

Four Steps to Cultivating Compassion in Boys, by Kozo Hattori

Kozo Hattori interviewed researchers and spiritual leaders about how to raise compassionate boys. This is what he discovered.

 Boys CollageAs the father of two sons, I am trying to protect my children from the undercurrent of violence that is rippling through American schools in the forms of bullying, viral humiliations, and the occasional extremes of shootings and suicides.

Searching for an answer, I read widely and sought out public figures who have dedicated their lives to exploring and advocating for the alleviation of suffering—Dr. Rick Hanson, Dr. Dacher Keltner, Dr. Dan Siegel, Thich Nhat Hanh, Father Richard Rohr, and others.

(Continue Reading by following this link…)


“Boyhood”, the Movie: A Review by Chris Knopp

Boyhood Collage

With no plot whatsoever to speak of, no memorable action scenes, and no earth shattering new philosophy on life, Richard Linklater’s recent movie Boyhood has on the face of it, much to be underwhelmed by.  Already knowing the premise of the movie I had assumed that it would be ideal to review for ‘The Forever Years’ but now, only a month or so after viewing it, I struggle to recall much of the detail.

So I was curious that despite this, I would still rate it as a must see.  What was going on here?  What essence of the human condition did it cause to resonate in me? Why do I want my own kids to watch this movie?

Let’s be done with some of the more superficial reasons first.  Patricia Arquette – what’s not to like?  No surprises at all re her Best Supporting Actress Oscar win in her role of mum – a wonderfully nuanced performance.  The rest of the cast are solid too – especially Ellar Coltrane in the title role.

Mason Early

The character Mason (Coltrain) with his “Mum” and “sister” early on in the movie

And speaking of Coltrane, I’m sure most people are aware that this film was shot over twelve years with the same cast so that we actually do see the character Mason, literally grow up on the screen in front of us.  Much has been made of this – “different & daring”, “an important landmark in how great films can be made”, “a master stroke in casting” and so on.  For me, this aspect of the movie was irrelevant and frankly unnecessary – a cool thing to have done, sure, but it added nothing to the movie per se.  I’m perfectly used to effortlessly suspending disbelief when it comes to characters aging across lifetimes in movies.  If it hadn’t been such a talking point prior to its release, I would never have noticed it was the same actor throughout – simply because I had assumed, as I do in ALL such movies, that of course it was the same person!

The next possible reason for loving this movie is a much more subjective one and probably not one that will influence too many others.  Richard Linklater, the director.  The first movie of his I saw was Waking Life.  This is a mind-bending exploration of the fringes of dreams, perception, and reality, a ‘meaning of life’ movie  – a thinking man’s Matrix.  With both Ethan Hawke and Linklater’s own daughter, Loralei, featuring in both movies, there is a cross-over effect that makes it difficult for me not to view the second movie in the same light as the first.  I have watched Waking Life probably at least 15 times now and each time find in it something amazing and new.  How could a movie from such a director not be great?

I recently watched another classic coming of age movie with my older boys.  Stand by Me has to be one of my all-time top 10 movies.  It captures an essence of boyhood that we might all have wanted to experience – an exciting, yet serious and scary, adventure with our best friends, aged twelve, coloured with humour, loyalty, loss and grief.  All this narrated via the nostalgic voice of a middle aged man with his own children who desperately misses his “forever years” and the friends that inhabited them.  But Stand by Me isn’t actually how it was for most of us, and probably not even how it was for the author (Stephen King), on whose short story it was based. It depicts a golden age, an end to innocence, and that inexorable creep of the world turning from the primary colours of right and wrong, to the smudgy beige that life resigns us to.

But Boyhood is not nostalgic.  It doesn’t glorify the highs or over-dramatise the lows.  It depicts an average life.  It could as easily have based the story on your life or mine.  And it’s not just about the boy.  We see each character grow, change, evolve over the course of twelve years – and the multiple interactions between individual characters also develop and change.  It’s not the things that are said and done that are memorable, but as often the things that are not said or not done. It’s the expression that passes between mother and son, a pause in the conversation between the parents, a defiant pose by the sister, – it’s these, often tiny, subtleties that cause us to ‘know’ these people.

There’s almost a sense of The Truman Show here – though we’re not watching for entertainment, nor for a story line, nor action, nor thrills, – we’re watching real people, feeling what real people feel, and understanding why they do what they do. It’s almost too personal and slightly uncomfortable – it doesn’t give us the personal space we expect in most movies.  They are you, they are me, they are every person. We come away understanding a little better, the thing we might call the human condition.


Meet the cast: Dad (Ethan Hawke), Mason (Ellar Coltrane), Mum (Patricia Arquette), Grandma (Libby Villari), and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).  One of the later scenes of the film.

I said that I wanted my own children to some day see this movie.  I couldn’t initially pinpoint exactly why.  It occurred to me that it might be to illustrate some aspect of choices and consequences, and I’m sure there are probably some good examples that could be extracted here.  But somehow I felt it was something deeper than this.  It wasn’t really until the final scene that the idea came into focus.

The tough times, whether they applied to just the boy, or his mother, or the entire family, were always short-lived.  Sure, the movie skips ahead months or occasionally even years at a time, so of course things move on and things get better or people adjust.  But in our own lives, and especially in the lives of children, these times truly can seem like “forever”. We believe “things will always be this bad.  There’s no way I can see this getting better.  How can I face a future like this?” The movie provides a fast forward to the near future and gives real meaning to the wise advice from the well known anecdote, “it will pass”.

Seeing this repeatedly throughout the movie, reinforces the concept that life is a journey, not a destination.  It’s a bit like Dunedin weather – if you don’t like it, wait 20 minutes!  Understanding this about life gives you a resilience that bolsters your faith that dark clouds will give way to sunshine, and prepares you, without fear, for their return.

In the final scene there is a sense of newness, an exciting future, and a joie de vivre that allows Mason to truly take happiness from the fullness of his life so far, and take on with confidence, whatever the future holds for him. This resilience is the most important thing I would hope my own children might take from the wisdom of Boyhood.

Below:  The trailer for “Boyhood”.