Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

A Family Process Model of Problem Behaviors in Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

A Family Process Model of Problem Behaviors in Adolescents

Article excerpt

This study examines the ways in which different family processes and personal experiences of social contexts are related to the adjustment of adolescents in a subsample of 755 mother-child dyads drawn from the National Survey of Families and Households. Structural equation modeling was employed to examine a model in which joint family contexts (socioeconomic resources), mothers' and adolescents' experiences of outside-family contexts (perceived social network quality and experience of school stress, respectively), and individual characteristics of mothers (distress) were expected to relate to adolescents' externalizing and internalizing behaviors through their association with within-family contexts (mother-adolescent conflict, family warmth). This conceptual model was supported by the data. Pathways were consistent for boys and girls.

Key Words: adolescent well-being, problem behaviors, process model.

Family systems theory stresses the importance of family relationships for individual adjustment. From a systems perspective, behaviors of particular family members can only be understood in relation to the behaviors of other family members and interactions among family subsystems (Cox & Paley, 1997). Ecological theories of development take a similar stance, but stress how the quality of individuals' experiences in multiple nonfamily social contexts shape the nature of family life and interactions among family members (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Recent scholarship points to the explanatory strength of models incorporating notions of experiences in multiple contexts (both within and outside of families) and mediational processes in the study of adolescent adjustment and problem behaviors. Conger and his colleagues have demonstrated that economic distress affects adolescent adjustment by disrupting both marital quality and parent-child interactions (Conger et al., 1993; Conger, Ge, Elder, Lorenz, & Simons, 1994). Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey's (1989) proposal that stressful experiences with nonfamily increase parental distress, which increases parents' use of coercive and inconsistent discipline styles, which in turn contributes to the development of antisocial behaviors in boys has been similarly supported (Conger, Patterson, & Ge, 1995). McLoyd and her colleagues have documented that the Stressors and resource deficits associated with chronic poverty in African American families are detrimental to parental well-being, which in turn interferes with parenting, thus leading to lower levels of child adjustment (McLoyd, 1989; McLoyd & Wilson, 1991).

The present study adds to existing literature in two ways: (a) by explicitly including perceptions of experiences in important nonfamily contexts (school for adolescents and social network for mothers) in our model, and (b) by examining a model incorporating multiple influences on adolescent internalizing and externalizing behaviors in a national sample. The model incorporates constructs representing mother and adolescent experiences in four different spheres: (a) joint family contexts, (b) nonfamily contexts, (c) parent characteristics, and (d) within-family contexts. The paths connecting these constructs to one another specify the ways in which we expect experiences in these various contexts to act individually and jointly upon adolescent problem behavior.

Joint family contexts in the model are represented by the sole exogenous construct of family socioeconomic resources. Although it is most often measured (as it is in this study) using characteristics associated with adult family members (i.e., income, years of education), we view it as a resource affecting all family members and the quality of their experiences in nonfamily social contexts. Economic resources available to families shape the physical location and quality of housing, affect access to health care and education, and influence levels of family stress and interactions among family members (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997). …

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