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Frequency, stability and differentiation of self-reported school fear and truancy in a community sample

Hans-Christoph Steinhausen*, Nora Müller and Christa Winkler Metzke

Author Affiliations

Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Zurich, Neumuensterallee 9, CH 8032, Zurich, Switzerland

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Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 2008, 2:17  doi:10.1186/1753-2000-2-17

Published: 14 July 2008



Surprisingly little is known about the frequency, stability, and correlates of school fear and truancy based on self-reported data of adolescents.


Self-reported school fear and truancy were studied in a total of N = 834 subjects of the community-based Zurich Adolescent Psychology and Psychopathology Study (ZAPPS) at two times with an average age of thirteen and sixteen years. Group definitions were based on two behavioural items of the Youth Self-Report (YSR). Comparisons included a control group without indicators of school fear or truancy. The three groups were compared across questionnaires measuring emotional and behavioural problems, life-events, self-related cognitions, perceived parental behaviour, and perceived school environment.


The frequency of self-reported school fear decreased over time (6.9 vs. 3.6%) whereas there was an increase in truancy (5.0 vs. 18.4%). Subjects with school fear displayed a pattern of associated internalizing problems and truants were characterized by associated delinquent behaviour. Among other associated psychosocial features, the distress coming from the perceived school environment in students with school fear is most noteworthy.


These findings from a community study show that school fear and truancy are frequent and display different developmental trajectories. Furthermore, previous results are corroborated which are based on smaller and selected clinical samples indicating that the two groups display distinct types of school-related behaviour.