Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Implications of Childhood Externalizing Problems for Young Adults

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Implications of Childhood Externalizing Problems for Young Adults

Article excerpt

This study uses data from a national sample of married individuals and their offspring to explore the relationships between childhood externalizing problems and adult psychological well-being, social support, and intimate relationship quality. The results indicate that childhood problems predict lower levels of adult psychological well-being, kin support, and relationship quality. The relationship between childhood problems and adult intimate relationship quality, and that between childhood problems and later parent-child relationship quality, is explained after accounting for the reciprocal influences of childhood problems and the quality of teen parent-child relations. This finding suggests that the best way for parents to prevent and offset their offspring's difficulties is to maintain quality relationships with them.

Key Words: adult well-being, childhood behavior problems, parent-child relationships.

Evidence that links childhood and adult behaviors is most convincing for the continuity of similar behaviors or phenotypic attributes (Sampson & Laub, 1992). Relative stability between individual differences in the display of aggressiveness, antisocial behavior, and criminality are examples of such continuity (Loeber, 1982). Yet there is also literature that points to the continuity of an inferred genotypic attribute that is thought to underlie diverse phenotypic behaviors (Caspi & Bern, 1990). Childhood behaviors might also predict conceptually consistent adult behaviors (Caspi & Moffitt, 1995). The associations between childhood behavior problems and substance abuse, low educational attainment, job instability, marital instability, and mental health problems in adulthood are evidence of an inferred genotypic attribute (Miech, Caspi, Moffitt, Entner Wright, & Silva, 1999; Sampson & Laub, 1990, 1992).

We do not know the extent to which childhood problems lead to difficulties in adulthood. It may be that early family experiences can explain the association between childhood problems and adult outcomes. Pinpointing the mechanisms that account for connections between childhood problems and adult outcomes is necessary in order to inform attempts at intervention.

The purpose of the this study is to examine the relationships between childhood externalizing problems and adult psychological well-being, social support, and relationship quality. The expectations of two conceptual frameworks are assessed: the family environment perspective and the life course-persistent perspective.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Family Environment Perspective

Intergenerational family systems theory asserts that early family experiences are a primary determinant of outcomes in childhood and adulthood. The effect of family experiences persists regardless of whether family members remain in contact with one another (Bartle-Haring & Sabatelli, 1998). There are three mechanisms by which early family experiences may lead to associations between externalizing childhood problems and psychological well-being, social support, and relationship quality in young adulthood.

First, both childhood problems and adult outcomes may be a function of early family experiences. Ineffective parenting (e.g., insufficient support, discipline, and supervision) increases the risk that offspring will display conduct problems in childhood (Amato & Rivera, 1999; Capaldi, Chamberlain, & Patterson, 1997) and fail to develop adequate self-esteem or social skills necessary for the performance of adult roles (Amato & Booth, 1991). Contextual factors that may be associated with ineffective parenting include parents' education, levels of distress, and family size (Capaldi et al; Cooksey, Menaghan, & Jekielik, 1997; Sampson & Laub, 1994). Stressors such as interparental conflict, parent-child conflict, and financial difficulties adversely affect children's development as well (Amato & Booth; Grych & Fincham, 1990; Menaghan, Kowaleski-Jones, & Mott, 1997). …

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