Rural Adolescent Aggression and Parental Emotional Support
Larsen, Debra, Dehle, Crystal, Adolescence
The Surgeon General (2002) stated that youth violence is a pervasive problem of "epidemic proportions," demonstrating his increasing concern about adolescent aggression. This concern reflects changes in juvenile crime from 1984-1994 when juvenile arrests for violent crimes in the United States increased by 75%, and female arrests more than doubled (Cirillo, Pruitt, Colwell, Kingery, Hurley, & Ballard, 1998). Although arrest records indicate a subsequent decline in adolescent violence since 1994, rural adolescent violence and violent crimes have increased (Surgeon General, 2002). Additionally, national crime rate decreases are not representative of youth self-reports of aggressive behavior. Saner and Ellickson (1996) reported that the adolescent violence perpetration rate is at least 53% on self-report data of junior high students. Another study (Kingery, McCoy-Simandle, & Clayton, 1997) indicated that 43% of high school freshmen hit another student, 8% hit a teacher, and 16% carried a weapon to school during six months prior to sampling. More recently, Grunbaum et al. (2004), reported that more than one-third of responding high school students reported being in a physical fight during the past twelve months, and 6% reported carrying a weapon during the preceding 30 days. In other words, the violent crime index or arrest records do not accurately represent either the prevalence or qualitative variability (e.g., differences in severity of violence) that may be relevant to prediction and preventive interventions for adolescent aggression. Our study attempts to address this disparity by using a nonadjudicated sample of adolescents.
National statistics, while disturbing, have not impacted public awareness like the media coverage of multiple-victim school shootings has during the past several years. Between 1996 and 2000, an average of five multiple-victim events occurred each year, with extensive media coverage (Verlinden, Hersen, & Tomas, 2000). Although the estimated overall risk of fatal injury at school in less than 1% (Dahlbert, 1998), such tragedies have focused public attention on the need for understanding risk and protective factors for adolescent violence but not on the realization that there are differences in violent behavior relative to location--rural versus urban. It is important to note, for example, that of the 29 school shootings in the United States between 1996 and 2005 (Infoplease, 2005) fully 25 or 76% of the sites were schools serving nonmetropolitan or rural areas. With the risk of such incidents, understanding developmental contributors to rural adolescent aggression is clearly a critical domain of investigation The current study examines theory and research on family influences in rural adolescent aggression and identifies family-focused predictors of adolescent aggression in a rural sample of adolescents.
There appear to be almost as many definitions of "rural" as there are purposes for the definition and all are arbitrary and unsatisfactory on some level (Stamm et al., 2003). Population density remains the most typical apex of definitions. The U.S. Bureau of Census (2001) defines rural communities as those with less than 2,500 residents, and metropolitan areas (i.e., urban) as consisting of population bases of 50,000 or more. The psychological research literature has not been consistent or explicit about defining rural, despite the possible implications for research findings and interpretation. While areas identified as rural consistently meet the U.S. Census criteria, "rural" studies have focused on findings from participants in towns ranging in population from 2,500 to 25,000 (Scaramella & Keyes, 2001); thus, given the ambiguity of the rural definition and its use, it is perhaps most important that these variables (population size and community characteristics) be reported in order to facilitate accurate interpretation and generalization of findings.
Rural / Urban Distinctions in Adolescent Aggression.
The typical image of rural communities as serene settings immune from such larger social problems as adolescent aggression may be both premature and inaccurate. Some indicators of adolescent aggression, such as gang violence, appear to be more characteristic of urban settings, with gang violence reported in 87% of cities exceeding a population of 100,000 but only in 12% of rural county agencies (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2004). However, crime rates in some rural counties have been noted to exceed urban crime rates by as much as 25% (Spano & Nagy, 2005). Additionally, rural youth have identified violence among teens as a serious concern in rural communities (Kulig, Hall, & Halischuck, 2006).
Other findings suggest that risk factors for adolescent aggression appear to be moderated by rural/urban locale. For example, although poverty and low socioeconomic status are significant risk factors for adolescent aggression in urban youth samples (Gorman-Smith, Tolan, Zelli, & Huesmann, 1996), poverty and household income do not appear to be a significant risk factor for rural youth (Osgood & Chambers, 2003) despite significantly higher rural/frontier poverty levels (14% rural vs. 8.7-10% urban; Stamm et al., 2003). Research regarding rural/urban risk factor differences have been investigated mostly by sociologists and, consequently, have focused on demographic characteristics (e.g., socioeconomic status, household composition). Investigation regarding potentially unique psychological and interpersonal risk factors for rural populations is in it's infancy in psychological literature. This project began by examining the relationships among the interpersonal process of parental emotional support, rural adolescent substance use behavior, rural adolescent psychopathology, and rural adolescent aggression.
Direct Parental Impact and Adolescent Aggression
The interpersonal skill of self-regulating negative emotions is a skill critical to inhibiting aggressive responses and is ideally modeled for young children in the home environment (Maccoby, 1992). Social learning theory, the theoretical model most frequently cited in psychological literature regarding the development of aggressive and delinquent behavior, proposes that information processing, modeling, affective expression, and reinforcement contribute to the socialization process and the development of aggressive or nonaggressive behaviors (Snyder & Patterson, 1995). Using this foundation, the early starter model of delinquency (Patterson, Capaldi, & Bank, 1995) proposes that early experiences in the family setting provide reinforcement for aggressive behaviors, thus setting the stage for future antisocial processes. This model assumes that family socialization processes lead to aggressive or prosocial behaviors prior to any deviant peer associations. From this theoretical perspective, parental interactions may also provide significant protective influences through modeling and reinforcement. For example, social learning theory would suggest that parental emotional support behaviors, such as calm and supportive communication when discussing difficult topics, includes socialization processes that enhance self-regulation, thereby decreasing the likelihood of aggressive responses.
Using a social learning theory model, it is not immediately evident that rural/urban differences may exist. Indeed, one would anticipate a similar socialization process in both rural and urban parent-child interactions and parallel relationships between parental modeling of positive behaviors, emotional support, and self-regulation by the adolescent. However, the strength of this relationship may be moderated by lifestyle variables unique or more common to rural community living. For example, parents may more frequently play multiple roles (e.g., soccer coach, Sunday school teacher) or spend more time with their children due to unique childcare strategies (e.g., the child "hangs out" at the parent's small business after school rather than having a care provider). This creates the possibility for parental modeling to have a differential impact due to a "dose effect" while similar processes and directional relationships to urban processes exist.
In addition to the direct impact of parental interactions on aggression, social learning theory also predicts that interactions with parents influence individual characteristics of youth that are known risk factors for aggression while empirical findings support this contention. For example, adolescent psychopathology research has identified family interaction patterns to be critical to adolescent substance use (Saner & Ellickson, 1996; Verlinden et al., 2000) and adolescent internalizing and externalizing disorders (Fendrich, Warner, & Weissman, 1990). Given that both adolescent psychopathology and substance use have been repeatedly identified as risk factors for aggression (Dahlberg, 1998; Hawkins et al., 2000; Kashani, Jones, Bumby, & Thomas, 1999; Saner & Ellickson, 1996; Verlinden et al., 2000), it is theoretically sound to assume that parent-child interaction patterns indirectly affect adolescent aggression through their influence on adolescent psychopathology and substance abuse.
Parental Emotional Support and Adolescent Aggression
Rollins and Thomas (1979) originally defined parental support as any parental behavior that communicates acceptance and approval to the child. Recent research (Young, Miller, Norton, & Hill, 1995) examining the construct of parental support suggests that a multidimensional view of parental support is more accurate, including both instrumental and emotional dimensions (Van Beest & Baerveldt, 1999; Wills & Cleary, 1996; Young et al., 1995). Instrumental support encompasses behaviors that do not express open affection but still contribute to the child's sense of parental acceptance and approval (Van Beest & Baerveldt, 1999). Parental assistance or support with tasks, such as helping with homework or attending …
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Publication information: Article title: Rural Adolescent Aggression and Parental Emotional Support. Contributors: Larsen, Debra - Author, Dehle, Crystal - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 42. Issue: 165 Publication date: Spring 2007. Page number: 25+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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