Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Differential Relationship among Peer Group Indicators and Internalizing Symptoms in a Problematic Absenteeism Population

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Differential Relationship among Peer Group Indicators and Internalizing Symptoms in a Problematic Absenteeism Population

Article excerpt

Current estimates suggest that approximately 14% of the national student population has missed 14 or more school days in the academic school year (Office for Civil Rights, 2016). Problematic absenteeism is a serious concern for youths that can have detrimental outcomes on youths' emotional, social, and academic functioning, including implications for the psychological wellbeing of children and adolescents. Previous research has found an association between chronic absenteeism and physical violence (Garry, 1996) and other health outcomes, such as substance use (Chou, Ho, Chen, & Chen, 2006), teenage pregnancy (Hallfors, Vevea, Iritani, Cho, Khatapoush, & Sace, 2002), anxiety, depression (Egger, Costello, & Angold, 2003), and eventually dropping out of school (Guttmacher, Weitzman, Kapadia, & Weinberg, 2002). Given these past findings, it is important for research to consider risk and protective factors for problematic absenteeism to properly address this problem in school-aged youths. Most of the extant research has focused primarily on the youths (e.g., psychological wellbeing, dysfunctional behavior, etc.) and have failed to investigate the intersection between youths' health and broader systemic factors, such as family health, school environment, and peer group. The purpose of the present study is to assess the relationship a youth's peer group may have with their psychological health in a non-attending population.

Problematic school absenteeism may result from school refusal behavior, or child-motivated refusal to attend school (Kearney, 1996). This term encompasses many subtypes of absenteeism, including truancy, school phobia, and anxiety-based nonattendance, as well as the length of nonattendance (Kearney, 2003). Previous research has estimated that school refusal behavior may affect as many as 5 to 28% of youths in their lifetime (Kearney, 2001). Indeed, school absenteeism can manifest both short-term (i.e., immediate) difficulties for children, their families, and school communities, as well as yield broad societal impact and long-term consequences for youths if nonattendance leads to school dropout. Long-term consequences include such as lower socioeconomic attainment, lower overall life-earnings, downward social mobility, higher incidences of criminal activity, and larger families (Hathaway, Reynolds, & Monachesi 1969; Hibbett & Fogelman, 1990; Hibbett, Fogelman, & Manor, 1990; US Census Bureau, 2005).

To better understand factors that facilitate or contribute to school refusal behavior, and increase comparability across disciplines, researchers have hypothesized an Interdisciplinary Model that addresses both proximal and distal factors that contribute to a youth's absenteeism (Kearney, 2008). This model details five levels, each with furthering degrees of proximity to the youth. The Primary level focuses on youths' variables associated with nonattendance, such as psychopathology.

The Secondary level is parental characteristics associated with youths' nonattendance, such as parental disengagement, confusion, parent-based school withdrawal, or parent-based psychopathology. This level could and frequently does intersect with the Primary level. For example, nonattendance could be exacerbated by both the psychopathology of the youths as well as parental disengagement, confusion, parent-based school withdrawal, and/or parent-based psychopathology.

The Tertiary level is where previous factors (e.g., youth's psychopathology, family dysfunction) could intersect with more distal factors, such as youths' peers. A common example is youths who associate with deviant peers who, in turn, create further opportunities for nonattendance. On-going absences and continued engagement in deviant peer groups may then be propelled by parent disengagement.

The Quaternary level is where youths, parent/family, and peer influences could intersect with school-oriented factors. …

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