Adjustment Problems in the Family and School Contexts, Attitude towards Authority, and Violent Behavior at School in Adolescence

Article excerpt

Research on behavioral problems of children and adolescents in school has been increasing steadily since the 1980s, probably due to the growing frequency and seriousness of these problems in the United States and some European countries (Skiba, 2000, Smith, 2003). These problems involve both antisocial behavior (theft, vandalism, and damage to school property) and aggressiveness (verbal and physical violence toward teachers and classmates) (Astor, Pitner, Benbenishty, & Meyer, 2002; Herrero, Estevez, & Musitu, in press). Regarding factors that may underlie these problems, previous research from an ecological point of view has documented an association between violent behavior in adolescence and adjustment problems in both family and school contexts.

Prior studies examining the association between family variables and violent behavior at school have shown that a negative family environment characterized by problems of communication between parents and children is an important risk factor for the development of behavioral problems in adolescence (Demaray & Malecki, 2002, Estevez, Musitu, & Herrero, 2005a). Recent investigations point out that the quality of communication with parents is closely related to adolescents' behavior and psychological adjustment (Liu, 2003; Stevens, De Bourdeaudhuij, & Van Oost, 2002); in particular, negative and offensive communication with parents may lead to misbehaviors in children (Lambert & Cashwell, 2003; Loeber, Drinkwater, Yin, Anderson, Schmidt, & Crawford, 2000). Another variable is the family self-concept. A negative family self-concept, which is, moreover, strongly associated with a parent-adolescent negative communication style (Jackson, Bijstra, Oostra, L., & Bosma, 1998; Musitu & Cava, 2001; Musitu & Garcia, 2004), has been linked to violence in adolescence (Estevez, Herrero, Martinez, & Musitu, 2006).

Some previous research has also analyzed the relationship between school variables and students' behavioral problems, indicating that adolescents who are violent in school also have more negative interactions with teachers (Blankemeyer, Flannery, & Vazsonyi, 2002; Jack, Shores, Denny, Gunter, DeBriere, & DePapape, 1996; Meehan, Hughes, & Cavell, 2003; Murray & Murray, 2004), have lower levels of school self-concept (Andreou, 2000; Boders, Earleywine, & Huey, 2004; O'Moore & Kirkham, 2001), and in some cases are rejected by peers (sociometric status) (Hay, Payne, & Chadwick, 2004; Rubin, Bukowski & Parker, 1998; Werner, 2004). It also has been shown that violent adolescents generally hold more negative attitudes toward authorities such as the police, the law, school, and teachers (Adair, Dixon, Moore, & Sutherland, 2000; Emler, Ohana, & Dickinson, 1990; Emler & Reicher, 1995). Moreover, recent studies point out important links among these school variables; for instance, adolescents with low socioeconomic status (rejected by peers) tend to have a negative school self-concept (Estevez et al., 2006). Thus, is it possible that some of these factors jointly contribute to the understanding, at least in part, of school violence.

This and other significant questions should be answered if we are to understand the relationship between adjustment problems in the family and school contexts and violent behavior by adolescents. For example, very little research has also jointly considered the role of father, mother, and teacher on adolescent behavioral problems. Research has traditionally examined the influence of the mother on a child's adjustment (Berg-Nielsen, Vika, & Dahl, 2003; Rey, 1995), while recent studies suggest that fathers and mothers may each independently contribute to the explanation for some behavioral problems in children (Veneziano, 2000). Along this line, some authors suggest that the closer association is between positive father-child relationship and adolescents' psychosocial adjustment (Estevez et al. …