Academic journal article Family Relations

The Influence of Family Characteristics on Problem Behaviors in a Sample of High-Risk Caribbean Adolescents

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Influence of Family Characteristics on Problem Behaviors in a Sample of High-Risk Caribbean Adolescents

Article excerpt

Special Issue Guest Editor's Note: In this article the authors examine family risk factors that impact adolescents' social decision making and behavior. This article builds on the paired article, "Neurological Bases of Executive Function and Social-Emotional Development: Typical and Atypical Brain Changes" (this issue, pp. 108-119), in which Barrasso-Catanzaro and Eslinger present an overview of the role of the prefrontal cortex in supporting emotional and social behavior as well as moral judgment.

A growing scientific literature focuses on a variety of risk and protective factors thought to influence adolescent problem behaviors, including antisocial conduct, substance use and abuse, and other risky behaviors. One of the most well-known frameworks for thinking about the risk and protective factors that influence problem behaviors is the social development model, an integrative theory that includes ideas from social learning theory, control theory, and differential association theory (Brewer, Hawkins, Catalano, & Neckerman, 1995; Catalano & Hawkins, 1996; Hawkins & Catalano, 1992; Sullivan & Hirschfield, 2011). The social development model specifies four domains of risk and protective factors thought to affect adolescent development: (a) communities, (b) schools, (c) families, and (d) peers. Research has found that all of these domains influence adolescent behavior, including a wide range of risky, illegal, and otherwise problematic behaviors.

Drawing on this body of research, in the present study we examined the extent to which measures of risk and protective factors derived from the social development model influence adolescent problem behaviors. The study is based on survey data from a sample of youth in Trinidad and Tobago, a developing nation struggling with social problems associated with gangs, violence, crime, and substance use among both youth and adults (e.g., Katz & Fox, 2010; Kuhns & Maguire, 2012; Maguire, Willis, Snipes, & Gantley, 2008; Wells, Katz, & Kim, 2010). Although all four of the domains specified by the social development model play key roles in the lives of adolescents, our specific focus in this article is on family risk and protective factors. Family issues are routinely cited in the media and in policy discussions as part of the reason for the increase in gang-related violence in Trinidad and Tobago (Townsend, 2009; "When Fear Rules the Land," 2010). Given the proximate influence of families on adolescent behavior, it is expected that measures of family risk and protective factors will be associated with a variety of behavioral outcomes.

Family Risk and Protective Factors

The family environment is the most profound influence on child development through adolescence in multiple domains of functioning (Institute of Medicine, 2009). An evidence base has established a relationship between exposure to certain deleterious child-rearing conditions and behavioral self-regulation (Caspi, Taylor, Moffitt, & Plomin, 2000; Goodnight et al., 2012). The quality of the home child-rearing environment appears to be particularly impactful because of its implications for the proximal influences of family functioning, parenting, and enriching experiences that directly affect child development. In the absence of nurturing family conditions, children are more likely to manifest poorly developed social skills, cognitive deficits, and behavioral problems (Byford, Kuh, & Richards, 2012; El Nokali, Bachman, & Votruba-Drzal, 2010; Heckman, 2006; Wasserman, Miller, Pinner, & Jaramillo, 1996).

Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable developmental period because of challenges associated with newfound autonomy, peer pressures, and the relative prematurity of cognitive skill systems that support effective decision making and problem solving. Certain family dynamics can provide youth with the scaffolding to resist impulses and avoid harmful consequences, whereas others can increase developmental risk, endangering the prospects for youth to achieve a healthy future (Farah et al. …

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