Rural Adolescent Aggression and Parental Emotional Support

By Larsen, Debra; Dehle, Crystal | Adolescence, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Rural Adolescent Aggression and Parental Emotional Support


Larsen, Debra, Dehle, Crystal, Adolescence


The Surgeon General (2002) stated that youth violence is a pervasive problem of "epidemic proportions," demonstrating his increasing concern about adolescent aggression. This concern reflects changes in juvenile crime from 1984-1994 when juvenile arrests for violent crimes in the United States increased by 75%, and female arrests more than doubled (Cirillo, Pruitt, Colwell, Kingery, Hurley, & Ballard, 1998). Although arrest records indicate a subsequent decline in adolescent violence since 1994, rural adolescent violence and violent crimes have increased (Surgeon General, 2002). Additionally, national crime rate decreases are not representative of youth self-reports of aggressive behavior. Saner and Ellickson (1996) reported that the adolescent violence perpetration rate is at least 53% on self-report data of junior high students. Another study (Kingery, McCoy-Simandle, & Clayton, 1997) indicated that 43% of high school freshmen hit another student, 8% hit a teacher, and 16% carried a weapon to school during six months prior to sampling. More recently, Grunbaum et al. (2004), reported that more than one-third of responding high school students reported being in a physical fight during the past twelve months, and 6% reported carrying a weapon during the preceding 30 days. In other words, the violent crime index or arrest records do not accurately represent either the prevalence or qualitative variability (e.g., differences in severity of violence) that may be relevant to prediction and preventive interventions for adolescent aggression. Our study attempts to address this disparity by using a nonadjudicated sample of adolescents.

National statistics, while disturbing, have not impacted public awareness like the media coverage of multiple-victim school shootings has during the past several years. Between 1996 and 2000, an average of five multiple-victim events occurred each year, with extensive media coverage (Verlinden, Hersen, & Tomas, 2000). Although the estimated overall risk of fatal injury at school in less than 1% (Dahlbert, 1998), such tragedies have focused public attention on the need for understanding risk and protective factors for adolescent violence but not on the realization that there are differences in violent behavior relative to location--rural versus urban. It is important to note, for example, that of the 29 school shootings in the United States between 1996 and 2005 (Infoplease, 2005) fully 25 or 76% of the sites were schools serving nonmetropolitan or rural areas. With the risk of such incidents, understanding developmental contributors to rural adolescent aggression is clearly a critical domain of investigation The current study examines theory and research on family influences in rural adolescent aggression and identifies family-focused predictors of adolescent aggression in a rural sample of adolescents.

Defining Rural.

There appear to be almost as many definitions of "rural" as there are purposes for the definition and all are arbitrary and unsatisfactory on some level (Stamm et al., 2003). Population density remains the most typical apex of definitions. The U.S. Bureau of Census (2001) defines rural communities as those with less than 2,500 residents, and metropolitan areas (i.e., urban) as consisting of population bases of 50,000 or more. The psychological research literature has not been consistent or explicit about defining rural, despite the possible implications for research findings and interpretation. While areas identified as rural consistently meet the U.S. Census criteria, "rural" studies have focused on findings from participants in towns ranging in population from 2,500 to 25,000 (Scaramella & Keyes, 2001); thus, given the ambiguity of the rural definition and its use, it is perhaps most important that these variables (population size and community characteristics) be reported in order to facilitate accurate interpretation and generalization of findings. …

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