Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Quality of Parenting as Mediator of the Effect of Childhood Defiance on Adolescent Friendship Choices and Delinquency: A Growth Curve Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Quality of Parenting as Mediator of the Effect of Childhood Defiance on Adolescent Friendship Choices and Delinquency: A Growth Curve Analysis

Article excerpt

Social scientists agree that childhood antisocial behavior portends adolescent delinquency, but there is little agreement regarding the theoretical processes that account for this behavioral continuity. Latent growth curve modeling was used to test latent trait and social influence explanations for this association. The analyses used data collected annually over a 4-year period from a sample of 149 boys, 157 girls, and their parents. Contrary to latent trait theories, we found no direct association between oppositional/defiant behavior during childhood and a trajectory of increasing involvement with deviant peers and delinquency

during adolescence. Rather, early oppositional defiant behavior undermined effective parenting practices. The latter, in turn, predicted an increasing affiliation with deviant peers and delinquency during adolescence. Improvements in parenting during adolescence decreased delinquency indirectly by reducing affiliation with deviant peers. Overall, the results support a life course development model in which difficult behavior during childhood increases the probability of adolescent deviant behavior because of its disruptive effect on quality of parenting.

Key Words: adolescence, adolescent-peer relationships, child antisocial behavior, delinquency.

One of the most widely accepted findings in criminology is that childhood conduct problems are a strong predictor of subsequent involvement in antisocial behavior. Results from a variety of longitudinal studies show that children who are aggressive and noncompliant during elementary school are at risk for serious delinquency during adolescence (Caspi & Moffitt, 1995; Loeber, 1982; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Sampson & Laub, 1993). Evidence for such continuity is so strong that the recently revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) asserts that Oppositional/Defiant Disorder during childhood is a developmental antecedent to Conduct Disorder during adolescence. And although only about 50% of antisocial children become antisocial adults (Robins, 1978; West & Farrington, 1973), almost all antisocial adults displayed antisocial tendencies as children. As Robins (1978) has noted, "adult antisocial behavior virtually requires childhood antisocial behavior" (p. 611). The present study focuses on the period from late childhood to midadolescence. We use longitudinal data to test two popular theoretical explanations for the well-established finding that oppositional/ defiant children often graduate to delinquent behavior during adolescence.

The first theoretical explanation argues that continuity in antisocial behavior is largely an expression of an underlying trait (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Kazdin, 1987; Moffitt, 1993; Quay, Routh, & Shapiro, 1987). This latent-trait perspective asserts that some children are more impulsive, risk taking, shortsighted, and insensitive to the needs of others than other children. These antisocial tendencies are considered to be a consequence of a combination of family adversity, a difficult temperament, and neuropsychological deficits (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Lytton, 1990; Moffitt, 1993, 1997). Thus, this theoretical viewpoint posits that antisocial propensities first emerge during childhood and remain relatively stable across the life course. Behavioral tendencies such as aggression, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and risk taking lead to childhood oppositional/defiant behavior, adolescent delinquency, and adult criminal behavior

Although the latent-trait perspective does view parental behavior as an important cause of antisocial tendencies in children, the effect of parenting is seen as largely limited to the childhood years (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). By adolescence, the individual's antisocial tendencies are assumed to be rather stable and therefore immune to changes in parenting practices. …

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