Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Structural and Dynamic Process Family Risk Factors: Consequences for Holistic Adolescent Functioning

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Structural and Dynamic Process Family Risk Factors: Consequences for Holistic Adolescent Functioning

Article excerpt

This study utilized a dynamic cumulative family risk model to explain changes in adolescent functioning. We used a person-centered approach to detect patterns of academic, emotional, and behavioral functioning and the stability of these patterns using two waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 10,173). Four adjustment profiles emerged at both time points. Although most (91%) adolescents remained in the same classifications at both waves, some experienced shifts in functioning. Changes in family process risk factors predicted these shifts in adjustment, whereas changes in structural risk factors predicted stable adjustment. We concluded that even short-term changes in family processes are significant sources of risk for some adolescents.

Key Words: adolescence, cluster analysis, family stress, multinomial logistic regression.

According to Sarafino (1998), stress is the condition that results when person-environment transactions lead individuals to perceive a discrepancy between environmental demands and their personal resources. The condition of stress, in turn, can lead individuals to experience lowered levels of behavioral, emotional, and academic functioning (Sarafino). When the home environment does not provide adolescents with adequate resources, whether financial, emotional, or psychological, such perceived discrepancies may result (Simmons, Burgeson, Carlton-Ford, & Blyth, 1987). If the adolescent perceives multiple missing resources, stress becomes particularly likely (Appleyard, Egeland, van Dülmen, & Sroufe, 2005). Poverty, single-parent families, and poor parent-adolescent relationships, for example, can limit the amount of resources available to adolescents and may therefore lead them to feel stress. Poverty can limit adolescents' access to adequate food, doming, and shelter (Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1994); single-parent families and stepfamilies can limit adolescents' access to at least one, if not both, parents (Elder, Eccles, Ardelt, & Lord, 1995); and poor parent-adolescent relationships can inhibit adolescents' access to the psychological support they need (Steinberg, 1990). Past studies have shown that these missing resources tend to co-occur, and the cumulative effect is greater than that of a single missing resource (Appleyard et al., 2005). Depending on the number of missing resources, the family context can be viewed as a stressful, or high-risk, environment for adolescents.

One way to measure the number of missing resources is through a cumulative risk model in which risk factors, or stressors, are used to predict various facets of adolescent adjustment (e.g., Gerard & Buehler, 2004; Rutter, 1984; Sameroff, Seifer, & Bartko, 1997). In particular, the cumulative risk model conceptualizes risk as an accumulation of potentially stressful life events in the environment that are aggregated and summed into a total risk index. Central to the cumulative risk model is the assumption that as exposure to risk factors increases, the probability of maladjustment increases (Gerard & Buehler; Sameroff et al., 1997). In an original study using the cumulative risk model, Rutter (1979) found it was not any particular risk factor that led to maladjustment but rather the number of risk factors in a child's background that led to less than optimal functioning. In his study, psychiatric risk rose from 2% in families with zero or one risk factor to 20% in families with four or more risk factors. Drawing from his work, Sameroff and Seifer (1983) posited that "no single risk factor can be identified that explains the effects of context on child development," instead "the many explanatory variables overlap in complex ways" (p. 1263).

Although the cumulative risk model sheds light on stressors that originate in multiple contexts, the cumulative family risk model singles out the risk factors that originate within families. In particular, the cumulative family risk model pinpoints missing family resources (e. …

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