Tall toddlers `more likely to grow into delinquents'

John von Radowitz
Sunday 16 August 1998 23:02

TALL YOUNGSTERS who crave stimulation stand a greater than average chance of turning into classroom bullies and possibly even violent criminals, a controversial new study suggests.

Researchers found three-year-olds, whether boys or girls, just half an inch taller than their peers tended to be unusually aggressive by the age of 11. The same was true of toddlers who were more fearless and stimulation-seeking than other children.

Earlier research has shown that the most aggressive children aged 11 have an increased chance of growing up to be violent criminals.

Dr Adrian Raine, of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who led the study, said: "There appears to be a critical period in development, some time after age three but before age 11, when a child learns to use his physical advantage to aggressive ends.

"Parents of tall toddlers - especially those who are very stimulation- seeking and fearless - need to take extra care to drive home the message that there are a lot better ways than physical force to get what you want in life."

Dr Raine, a clinical neuroscientist, measured the height and weight of 1,130 male and female three-year-olds in Mauritius, a racially mixed country with a low emigration rate.

The toddlers were scored for stimulation-seeking behaviour - such as their willingness to explore toys away from their mother - and fearlessness.

When the children reached 11 their mothers were questioned about the degree to which their sons or daughters fought, swore, threatened or displayed "cruel" tendencies to establish an aggression scale.

It was found that children ranked near the top of the scale were generally half an inch taller than average when they were three years old.

Similarly the most aggressive 11-year-olds were particularly stimulation seeking and fearless at the age of three. But weight was not as strong a predictor of aggressiveness as height.

The findings were published in this month's issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry. Dr Raine thought both physical and psychological factors may account for the trend.

But the link between toddler height, or desire for stimulation, and later aggressive behaviour could not be explained by differences in family income, parents' education, or any other aspect of a child's socio-economic background. The association applied equally among Mauritus's Indians and Creoles.

However, Dr Raine warned against using the trend to predict whether a particular child would grow up to be a criminal.

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