Eric J. Mash
David J. A. Dozois
This volume provides a comprehensive account of the characteristics, definitions, developmental course, correlates, causes, contexts, and outcomes of psychopathology in children.1 Our knowledge base of child and developmental psychopathology has grown exponentially over the past decade (Cicchetti & Cohen, 1995a, 1995b; Cicchetti & Sroufe, 2000; Mash & Wolfe, 2002; Ollendick & Hersen, 1998). New conceptual frameworks, research methods, and findings continue to advance our understanding of childhood disorders (Cicchetti & Rogosch, 1999; Rutter & Sroufe, 2000; Sameroff, Lewis, & Miller, 2000), as well as our ability to assess and treat children with problems (Mash & Barkley, 1998; Mash & Terdal, 1997a; Orvaschel, Faust, & Hersen, 2001; Shaffer, Lucas, & Richters, 1999). However, this knowledge base is compromised by the frequently atheoretical, unsystematic, and fragmented fashion in which research findings in child psychopathology have accrued, and by the conceptual and research complexities inherent in the study of such a rapidly changing and socially embedded organism as the child (Hinshaw, 2001; Jensen et al., 1993; Kazdin & Kagan, 1994). In this introductory chapter, we address several central themes and issues related to conceptualizing childhood dysfunction and its many determinants. In doing so, we provide a developmental– systems framework for understanding child psychopathology—one that emphasizes the role of developmental processes, the importance of context, and the influence of multiple and interacting events and processes in shaping adaptive and maladaptive development.
THE STUDY OF CHILD
Almost since modern views of mental illness began to emerge in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, far less attention has been given to the study of psychopathology in children than in adults (Silk, Nath, Siegel, & Kendall, 2000). For example, in 1812 Benjamin Rush, the first American psychiatrist, suggested that children were less likely to suffer from mental illness than adults, because the immaturity of their developing brains would prevent them from retaining the mental events that caused insanity (Silk et al., 2000). More recently, interest in the study of child psychopathology has increased dramatically. This is due to a growing realization that (1) many childhood problems have lifelong consequences and costs both for children and for society; (2) most adult disorders are rooted in early childhood con